Robert Downey Jr. Will Play Multiple Villains in HBO’s The Sympathizer

Following his retirement from playing Iron Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Robert Downey Jr. has set up his next big project on the small screen. Per Deadline, HBO has ordered A24’s limited series adaptation of Viet Thanh Nguyen’s novel The Sympathizer with RDJ attached to co-star in multiple supporting roles as the main antagonists. The story is described as a “blistering exploration of identity and America, a gripping spy novel and a powerful story of love and friendship.”

This is the first live-action acting role for Robert Downey Jr. on the small screen since appearing on Ally McBeal in the early 2000s. Following his run in the MCU, the actor has been more selective with the roles he’s willing to take on, and what was enticing about The Sympathizer was that it gives him the chance to really delve into his range as an actor. He’ll reportedly be playing all of the main antagonists, all of whom represent “a different arm of the American establishment – including an up-and-coming Orange County Congressman, a CIA agent and a Hollywood film director, among others.”

For better or for worse, it appears that Downey really is retired from playing Tony Stark. While many original voice actors returned to voice animated versions of their characters for the series What If…?, RDJ was not among them. As the actor explains, he’s more interested in seeking out new challenges at this stage of his career, and he was enticed by the concept of playing different roles for a single project in The Sympathizer.

“Adapting Mr. Nguyen’s important and masterful work requires a visionary team. With Director Park at the helm, I expect this to be a creative producing adventure for Susan, me and Team Downey, and a stimulating process for myself in playing these complex supporting roles,” RDJ said in a statement. “A24 and HBO are the perfect combination of partners and co-parents… It’s exactly the type of challenge I’ve been craving, and I believe we will deliver an exceptional viewing experience to our audience.”

Park Chan-wook (Oldboy) will serve as co-showrunner on The Sympathizer along with series director Don McKeller. The duo will also executive produce alongside Downey, Susan Downey, and Amanda Burrell for Team Downey, as well as Niv Fichman through Rhombus Media and Kim Ly. The show is a co-production between HBO, A24, and Rhombus Media produced in association with Cinetic Media and Moho Film.

This is new territory for RDJ, though he does have a certain level of experience in playing multiple characters in one movie – well, sort of. In Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder, Downey plays an Australian method actor who’d been cast as a Black character in a movie and refuses to break character. The portrayal has drawn some controversy in recent years, but it earned RDJ great acclaim at the time. For the role, he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards.

A release date hasn’t been set for The Sympathizer and it’s not clear at this time when filming will begin. Meanwhile, the search for a lead actor to star opposite Downey is currently underway. This news was first published at Deadline.

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