Actor Robert Downey Jr has in the past been applauded for his edgy roles.
But his latest may be a step too far—as the actor dons make-up to play a rather convincing looking black man in a new Hollywood film starring comic actor Ben Stiller.
With his afro hair and brown skin, he is virtually unrecognisable as the 42-year-old star of stage and screen.
Downey Jr plays a worthy Oscar-winning actor taking on a role originally written for a black actor, and rather than re-write the part, he goes method.
Clearing anticipating a backlash, Downey Jr told a US magazine: “If it’s done right, it could be the type of role you called Peter Sellers to do 35 years ago. If you don’t do it right, we’re going to hell.”
But the backlash has clearly begun as one comment on a showbiz blog Just Jared said: “I’m not black and I find it offensive; are there not any talented enough black actors out in the world that they feel the need to hire a white guy to do a black guy?”
“They are infering that there are no good enough black actors to play a black person.
“What is the significance of hiring a white guy to play a black part? what are they trying to prove? I bet its to get more publicity.”
But in support of Downey’s satirical role another comment on the blog said: “I’m black too, and if they were satirising black people yes it would be offensive. but they’re not.
“It’s FUNNY because they’re NOT legitimising negative racial stereotypes, anyone with a brain in his/her head can see how painfully clear that is.”
The film centres on a group of pompous actors making the most expensive Vietnam war movie ever made.
Fed up with their self-involved cast, the film’s makers drop them into the jungle to take care of themselves, where they get caught up in a conflict they don’t realise is real.
The cast also includes Steve Coogan, Nick Nolte and cameos from Tom Cruise and Tobey Maguire.
Stiller said he was “trying to push it as far as you can within reality,” with the intent of satirising over-the-top actors, not African-Americans.
“I had no idea how people would respond to it,” Stiller told the magazine. But at a recent screening, black viewers liked the film”, he said.
The film, Stiller’s first as director since Zoolander, also sees his character adopt an Asian baby but worries “that all the good ones have gone”.
Left: Black Robert Downey Jr.. Right: White Robert Downey Jr.