Did Robert Downey Jr Wear Contacts in The Sympathizer?

Image Credit: Hopper Stone/HBO

Over the years, Robert Downey Jr. has made a reputation for himself for slipping into the skin of the parts he is tasked with playing with such precision that it seems impossible to imagine anyone else in those roles. His role in HBO’s ‘The Sympathizer’ is now on the list. In the first episode, the actor brings to life the character of a CIA agent named Claude, who is active during the Vietnam War. The story unfolds from the perspective of a Viet Cong spy, known as the Captain, who works closely with Claude, though he knows better than to trust the American.

Claude’s role was one of the many American archetypes that author Viet Thanh Nguyen created as a satire for the story. RDJ brings his own charm to the role and goes so deep into it that he is unrecognisable, on a passing glance at least. How did he transform into the character, and what sets his role in ‘The Sympathizer’ apart from the roles he has played before?

Robert Downey Jr. Transforms Into Multiple Characters in The Sympathiser

Image Credit: Hopper Stone/HBO

In the black comedy-drama series, which is based on Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer-winning novel, the clash of identities and ideologies, and yet the similarities between them, becomes a focal point on which the whole plot rests. When Park Chan-wook took on the task of adapting the book, he immediately recognized the need to cast a single actor for the varied roles, all of which would present a different but essentially the same type of American man.

One of those roles includes the CIA man, Claude. While Claude himself is quite an interesting character, he had to be made even more distinct so that the audience would not confuse him with other characters that RDJ plays in the show. The actor found different accents and mannerisms for all his roles, reportedly constantly improvising to bring a new side of the characters to light. But it was also clear that all the characters needed to look as different as they could.

Starting with Claude, a passably shady look was given to him. His slightly ginger hair with a receding hairline set the look, but the eyes set him apart. For the role, the actor wore blue contact lenses, which appear hazel in certain light. With the audience used to his brown eyes, the touch of blue catches the audience off guard and, to some extent, separates the actor from the familiarity the audience has with him. Claude’s eyes also make him seem more mysterious, as it is clear that he has his own agenda and is hiding a lot more than he is letting on.

It wasn’t just the contacts that the actor donned for the role. He even shaved his head, which admittedly would be more practical considering he had to morph into at least four different roles, each with its own hairstyle and a completely different look. The creators of the show, especially Park Chan-wook, were very particular about the differences between all the characters. The director was heavily involved in deciding everything from the characters’ hair to their eyes to their costumes to make sure that there was no common ground between them, at least in terms of appearances.

Dedicated to playing his part(s) right, RDJ decided to go all in and was ready for anything the costume and make-up department threw at him. For one role, he wore fake yellow teeth and a thin mustache that gave him a rather sleazy look. Whatever the challenges may have been, the actor welcomed the transformations and delivered an incredible performance.

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