EXCLUSIVE: After officially hanging up his Iron Man suit in Avengers: Endgame, Robert Downey Jr. looks to have found his next big role to tackle while also marking his first starring TV venture. Sources tell Deadline, HBO has ordered the A24 drama series adaptation of Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Sympathizer, with Downey attached to co-star.
The novel is an espionage thriller and cross-culture satire about the struggles of a half-French, half-Vietnamese communist spy during the final days of the Vietnam War and his resulting exile in the United States. A worldwide search is underway for the lead role and the rest of the predominantly Vietnamese ensemble.
Described as a “blistering exploration of identity and America, a gripping spy novel and a powerful story of love and friendship,” the novel is hailed as a new classic of war fiction and has been compared to the works of Kafka, Orwell, and le Carré.
Execs now will look to cast the title character who will co-star opposite Downey.
Oldboy director Park Chan-wook is on board as co-showrunner, along with Don McKellar, and also will direct the series. Park and McKellar will also exec produce along with Downey, Susan Downey and Amanda Burrell for Team Downey. Niv Fichman will also exec produce through Rhombus Media as will Kim Ly. The series is a co-production between HBO, A24 and Rhombus Media in association with Cinetic Media and Moho Film.
The project marks the first role for Robert Downey since his final appearance as the iconic Tony Stark aka Iron Man, and the Oscar nominee has been particular since the end of his run. (Production on his 2020 film Dolittle began before Endgame‘s release.) After weighing several offers, sources say what made this role so appealing, besides an incredible story, was the opportunity to show his range as an actor. According to insiders, he is set to play multiple supporting roles as 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.
“Adapting Mr. Nguyen’s important and masterful work requires a visionary team,” Robert Downey said. “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. 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.”
The partnership makes sense following the collaboration between Team Downey and HBO on Perry Mason, with Team Downey producing the HBO series. Matthew Rhys, who stars in the series, was nominated for an Emmy this week. Following the success of that first season, HBO and Team Downey re-upped their overall deal.
This marks the latest collaboration between A24 and HBO, who have worked together on the Emmy-winning Euphoria and the anticipated Olivier Assayas remake of his own Irma Vep, starring Alicia Vikander.
Park is best known for directing Oldboy, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. He is repped by WME, Industry Entertainment Partners and Hansen Jacobson Teller.
Robert Downey — who recurred on Ally McBeal in the early 2000s — is repped by WME and Hansen Jacobson Teller. McKellar is represented by Great North Artists Management.
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