BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — Circumstances changed quickly for Robert Downey Jr., because in a few short years, he went from proving he could handle the responsibility of single movie roles to being trusted with valuable, high-stakes franchises. With “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” reserving space at the top of the box office for the holidays and the actor leading two series with one character in “Iron Man” and “The Avengers,” Downey wears the pressure as comfortably as the European-cut blazer he rocked at a recent “Holmes” news conference at Beverly Hills' Peninsula Hotel.
But while Downey feels comfortable with the level of faith placed in him these days, he still worries about getting the details right. With 2009's “Sherlock Holmes,” Downey, co-star Jude Law and director Guy Ritchie gave Arthur Conan Doyle's Victorian sleuth an adrenaline shot, and the obvious challenge is to maintain the energy on the second time out.
“Well, after the first one worked out pretty good, we were pretty much doing the press tour and talking about things we would like to improve, other directions we could go, blah blah blah,” Downey said. “And then there is the reality of doing it. Anybody who's ever been involved in making the second part to a first that worked ... there should be a whole online support team for this.
“And we happened through it. There's so much to learn, and the greatest disguise was us disguising ourselves as consummate, by-the-numbers professionals when we are, in fact, all kind of incredibly eccentric,” he said.
But eccentricity is the magic fuel that makes “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows” hum like a well-oiled steam engine.
In this installment, Holmes and Watson must deal directly with archnemesis Professor Moriarty, played by Jared Harris of “Mad Men,” as he attempts to engineer an evil monopoly based on pitting segments of Europe against one another for the foreseeable future.
“It needed to be a different version of the characters than you had seen beforehand,” Harris said. “It was a big mountain in the sense that the character has to be a formidable problem to Sherlock's character.”
Downey said that Harris acclimated to the spirit of things, as did Noomi Rapace, who joins the cast as Sim, a fortunetelling gypsy with finely tuned survival instincts.
“It felt we created the character together in a way. I was kind of surprised at the way they opened their family to me and I became one of the boys pretty much,” said Rapace, who shot to fame as Lisbeth Salander in the original version of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.”
Downey said that while Harris generally thrives on scripted material, he quickly learned that Law, Ritchie and Downey keep things loose.
“Jude and I are pretty close, but Guy and I are practically brothers, which makes things really interesting,” he said. “There have been times when I've wanted to lop off his head with a machete.
“But it's only because I love you so much,” Downey said, turning to the director. “You know what I mean?”
“Yes ...,” Ritchie said, dragging the syllable out for maximum effect.
“There's no one you love more, is there? Think about it.”
But even with a spirit of spontaneous creativity in play, Downey said that maintaining a sense of balance is important to the overall success of the “Holmes” films. He is the star, and the success of “A Game of Shadows” rests greatly on how he performs his elementary duties, but Downey said that it cannot just be The Robert Downey Jr. Show. That recent rise in professional responsibility Downey now shoulders must extend to Holmes' originator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and to his fellow actors and collaborators.
“You just keep Doyle in mind — I respect the guy more and more,” he said. “I think the other thing is, what's required — particularly if you're in a central position — is you have to let go.
“You have to let go of the things that are darling to you, you have to take the focus off yourself and put it on the shape of the scene and what everyone else needs,” Downey said. “You have to give people something to write music to, so you're not just running your mouth all the time.”
Travel and accommodations provided by Warner Bros.