LOS ANGELES – Robert Downey Jr. knows he has amassed an impressive collection of classic cars — one he self-deprecatingly refers to as artifacts of his success.
Despite his expectations of what the “accouterments are supposed to be” when one reaches a certain level of fame and wealth, trophies, it turns out for the actor, are not all they are cracked up to be. It's that dissatisfaction that helped to inspire “Downey’s Dream Cars,” his latest project debuting Thursday on Max.
“The cash and prizes, it’s never been what motivated me. So, I shouldn’t be surprised that it’s still not,” Downey said at the show's premiere, held last week at the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles.
While “Downey’s Dream Cars” is very much a show for gearheads, it isn't restricted to that audience. Downey experiments with genre in a kind of eco-friendly “Pimp My Ride” that is also part memoir and a documentary about the latest advancements in clean technology.
“That was certainly the idea, was to try to innovate a little bit in this kind of storytelling,” he said.
In each episode, Downey relinquishes control of his prized possessions, letting experts modify his classic cars to be more environmentally sustainable by making them electric, converting them to run on biodiesel fuel or even affixing them with mushroom leather. Downey hopes it will be a glimpse into the future of sustainability and espouses optimism by featuring what's attainable now as well as what technological progress promises.
It is indeed a show about cars and technology, but in it Downey conveys a surprising amount of tenderness and introspection. It's a window into the ways he's grown from very public struggles with drug addiction that informed his image for years before “Iron Man” and the Marvel Cinematic Universe came calling.
He exhibits a self-awareness of the “machismo” cinematic influences and capitalistic values that prompted him to build such a collection. Throughout the show, Downey weaves in reflections on his life, family and shifting priories in recent years, specifically as they relate to the future of the planet.
Susan Downey, a producer who frequently collaborates with her husband, shares his commitment to environmental activism and worked as an executive producer for the show.
Although she said they both feel a personal responsibility in the fight against climate change, she praised her husband for his efforts to hold corporations accountable.
“It’s not to absolve the everyday person of any responsibility they have, but really recognizing, to make the significant changes, they have to operate at a much higher level,” she said.
The actor has in recent years become widely associated with his activism, particularly after he founded FootPrint Coalition, a venture capital fund that invests in climate technology and artificial intelligence.
In the series, Downey bemoans society’s inefficiency and lack of collective will in making progress on these fronts, a frustration that contributed to his decisions to create both the company and the series.
And despite many people’s concerns over the uncharted territory AI has already traversed, Downey believes in its ability to fight climate change and suspects fears of its capabilities may be to some extent unwarranted.
“Any time there’s been a real emerging technology that was probably going to be significant, there’s always a well of fear and hope,” he said, arguing that both ought to be tempered even if he does think it can be used for good. “I’m not worried about it, but it is something I think we should have proper guidelines for.”