Get Ready to See Double—No, Quadruple—Robert Downey Jr. in ‘The Sympathizer’

the sympathizer
Get Ready for RDJ in ‘The Sympathizer’HBO

Robert Downey Jr. is bringing his Oscar-winning talent to the small screen for another post-MCU role. Actually, we should say roles—plural. In HBO’s upcoming series The Sympathizer, Downey will have “several antagonist supporting roles,” according to the network. The Sympathizer’s latest trailer flashes some of those wacky parts, showing four Downey characters back-to-back—each more outlandish looking than the last.

In Esquire’s new cover story, Downey spoke about how excited he was to join The Sympathizer after starring in Oppenheimer. “I knew that playing Strauss, in Oppenheimer, was going to be like picking fly shit out of pepper,” he said. “That it was going to be extremely exacting, that it was going to be … not confining, but liberating by its varied implicit limitations of what my usual toolbox was. So I had a feeling that, like a coiled spring, Sympathizer would be my unwind.” The upcoming HBO series is based on Viet Thanh Nguyen's Pulitzer Prize–winning novel of the same name, which follows a half-Vietnamese, half-French communist spy (Hoa Xuande).

After spying for the Vietcong during the Vietnam War, he flees his country and moves to a community of South Vietnamese refugees in Los Angeles. There the spy finds out that his days of espionage are far from over. The upcoming series is directed by acclaimed filmmaker Park Chan-wook (Decision to Leave) and executive-produced by Don McKellar (The Drowsy Chaperone). Did we mention The Sympathizer also stars the great Sandra Oh (Killing Eve)?

Xuande told Esquire that Downey helped ease his nerves on set. When they began filming, Downey approached him and said, “Brother, we’re going to screw this up together. Don’t worry about it.” Xuande was grateful for the icebreaker. “He could see how nervous I was, and I appreciated that.”

Though the satirical story of dueling allegiances will make for a hell of a series, audiences will surely love Downey’s mix of supporting roles. For any Downey heads, the glimpses of his characters give off the wackiness of Wayne Gale from Natural Born Killers mixed with Kirk Lazarus from Tropic Thunder. While speaking with Esquire, Park marveled at Downey’s quick wit. “I started to wonder whether Robert had ten writers at his house who he hired to come up with different lines which he would memorize and pretend they were improv,” he said. “How could it be that he comes up with such lines so quickly?”

Well, we don’t know how Downey does it, but we’re excited to see his talents on full display when The Sympathizer hits HBO and Max on April 14, 2024.

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