This week Robert Downey Jr and his wife Susan release the first production under the Team Downey banner.
It’s a slight departure from the franchises that have made him the highest paid actor in H’wood. The latest issue of Vanity Fair, delves into that choice slightly (link below). But when Robert was interviewed for the story, he hadn’t yet wrote the emotional tribute to his mother (wait for it).
The screenplay for THE JUDGE was picked up by Team Downey about the time it appeared on the blacklist’s annual report: https://www.blcklst.com/lists/
The script went through some changes and added another writer when it went into development, but the core of the story is the same mainly because it also came from the film’s director. Here is a taste to wet your whistle and give you an idea of what Team Downey saw in those first pages to make them read on until they bought it as a star vehicle for Robert.
The Hollywood Reporter released a similar look (10.10.14 issue) with both of the Downeys and producer, Susan Downey, says it’s not a tentpole or a franchise but they knew it was what they were going to make.
The Judge 1st 10 pages (from the blacklist version)
Pg 1 the tone is set and introduces hank (Downey) — oftentimes the protagonist or antagonist is introduced 1st, but more often than not, when a role appeals to A list talent it’s when the main character is led to and revealed in a compelling moment. Like peeing on an asshole. The other thing that is very evident is that the writer is skilled at description with very few words — we hear, see and feel repeatedly in just 2 action lines with no sacrifice to setting the scene. The same can be said for the dialogue that tells us they are opposing counsel without belaboring the case, because it is irrelevant to the main plot.
Pg 2 this continues as we learn that Hank is his own kind of lawyer, one who understands the flaws of the system and works around them, feeling quite content with his nice home and wife. it literally took me more space to explain this than the script itself. Also during this sorkin-esque retort Hank gets the call that will send him home — followed by his character mantra, “innocent people scare the shit out of me” The big thing to note about his ‘character statement’ is how organically it fits I to the conversation. All of this on page 2!
Pg 3 is a bit of business in the true sense of the word – but it’s needed to not only reveal Hank’s skill in the courtroom but also to build and lead up to that phone call that won’t leave him alone.
Pg 4 his mother has died, and as he readies we see his home life isn’t as nice as he described to his rival, but he does care for the flowers and his little daughter — so even though he’s acerbic he has a nurturing side when it matters.
Pg 5 we learn he in no way wants to stay with the Judge (he doesn’t even mention said judge is his father) but if he’s stuck with him he will spray shit all over (this too is a set up of a scene to come)
And then in a very innocent conversation we learn the Judge is his father
Pg 6/7 we see just how much he loves his daughter and how broken his marriage is — but in an interesting turn it was his wife, giving away that nice ass of hers that broke it — and he’s fighting for custody of their daughter with all intentions of winning, like he does every case he closes with the zinger that she can’t even water the flowers — proving he’ll be the more responsible parent
Pg 7/8 and he’s arrived in his little hometown still trying to handle business even though the cell service sucks in this podunk place — but he consoles himself that it’s only 48 hours and it will all be over.
Pg 9 he’s at the funeral home — raw at the loss of his mother and we meet the low end of the family gene pool his brother Dale
Pg 10 we meet his older brother and rival, Glenn who grills him about where his family is — Hank gets in the last word by paying for the hefty funeral expenses and asks ‘where is he?’
On page 11 we meet ‘He’ aka the Judge.
FYI at the 1st act turn is when the Judge’s car is implicated in the hit and run.
Now, what makes this so poignant is that just last week as Robert was prepping for the usual publicity junket promoting the film, he lost his dear mother Elsie. Here is what he had to say…
As promotion for “The Judge” kicks off this weekend, I feel the need to run the risk of over sharing…..
My mom passed away early this week….I wanna say something about her life, and a generic “obit” won’t suffice…
Elsie Ann Ford was born outside Pittsburgh in April of 1934, daughter of an engineer who worked on the Panama Canal, and mother who ran a jewelry shop in Huntingdon, where they settled….a bona fide “Daughter Of The American Revolution.”
In the mid ’50s, she dropped out of college and headed to NY, with dreams of becoming a comedienne. In ’62, she met my dad, (who proposed at a Yankees/Orioles game). They married, had my sister Allyson in ’63 and me in ’65…
There was another “revolution” of sorts going on at that time, of underground counter-culture film and theatre…and with her as Bob Sr’s muse, they jumped in wholeheartedly…
“Chafed Elbows” (a man marries his mother and goes on welfare), “Greaser’s Palace” (a woman relentlessly persecuted by God who never utters a word), and “Moment To Moment” AKA “Two Tons Of Turquoise To Taos Tonight” (in which she played 17 characters) were the stand outs.
By the mid ’70s, the downside of drug culture caught up with many artists. She was an alcoholic…
As the marriage suffered, she continued to work, but not for long. A recurring role on “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman” (’76-’77) was her last paying job…not that she cared, she’d have done it for free.
I remember living with her and her boyfriend Jonas, (who became a second father to me) in a 2 room 5 story walk up in Manhattan after that…Bunsen burner for a stove, cockroaches, broken dreams…
By 1990, she’d had enough, went to treatment, got sober. Just in time to enjoy several decades of heart disease, bypasses, you name it….
While I strived to have the kind of success that eluded her, my own addiction repeatedly forbade it.
In the summer of 2004, I was in bad shape. She called me out of the blue, and I admitted everything. I don’t remember what she said, but I haven’t drank or used since.
Eventually, when finances allowed, we were able to move her out to LA. She had a special affinity for my firstborn son Indio, and really got a kick out of Exton. Got an iPad, pictures, videos, the whole 9….
Her doctors basically titled her a “Medical Incredible,” said there was little they could do, and were frankly amazed she was up and walking….
Many fond memories of her in the last few years…holidays, kid-stuff, her strutting around with a walking stick. I knew it was difficult, and understood as the visits got shorter.
In March, she suffered another cardiac arrest and was put on life support.
Her wishes were to be left to die if there wasn’t a reasonable chance of recovery, which for some time there was.
I returned from filming the “Avengers” sequel in June, went straight to see her.
To my amazement, she was completely lucid, interactive, mugging + pulling faces.
We couldn’t speak ’cause she had a tracheal tube. I wondered if she might just beat the odds once more.
Another set of seizures answered that, and we brought her home for hospice.
She died @ 11 p.m., September 22nd, survived by her extremely loving and tolerant partner of 37 years, Jonas Kerr.
She was my role model as an actor, and as a woman who got sober and stayed that way.
She was also reclusive, self-deprecating, a stoic Scotch-German rural Pennsylvanian, a ball buster, stubborn, and happy to hold a grudge.
My ambition, tenacity, loyalty, “moods,” grandiosity, occasional passive aggression, and my faith….
That’s all her…and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
If anyone out there has a mother, and she’s not perfect, please call her and say you love her anyway…
Elsie Ann Downey. 1934-2014
There’s no doubt that a lot of elements aligned for this, and as Robert has asked, please support films about real people by seeing this. Especially if you are tired of Super Hero franchises and box office copycats — if you are see it twice, so human stories can continue to get made. Team Downey has an interesting slate of projects in development which will have a much more difficult time getting the greenlight if this one doesn’t show up well. We need to set our trend for movies and not let China dictate it.
The movie’s official site and trailer can be found here: THE JUDGE MOVIE
Vanity Fair’s article and photos here: VF OCT
The first 10 pages of the blacklist version of the script are here: THE JUDGE 1st 10
Enjoy, and ‘defend your honor’