A chameleon-like Robert Downey Jr shines in the intriguing The Sympathizer

Master of disguise.

Bringing Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 2015 novel The Sympathizer to the screen was exactly the type of challenge Hollywood A-lister Robert Downey Jr says he’d been “craving”.

The seven-episode HBO series centres around “The Captain” (Hoa Xuande) – a half-French, half-Vietnamese spy for the Communist Viet Cong during the Vietnam War – who flees to a community of refugees from South Vietnam in Los Angeles at war’s end.

(Image: HBO)

But in the US, he soon realises his spying days are far from over…

On the back of his Academy Award-winning performance in Oppenheimer, Robert appears opposite Hoa as several characters, ranging from an up-and-coming congressman, to a CIA operative and a Hollywood power player.

In a pre-production statement, the 58-year-old said he was excited about “playing these complex supporting roles”.

(Image: HBO)

The series’ director, writer and producer, South Korea’s Park Chan-wook, told Vanity Fair each of Robert’s characters represent a different arm of the American establishment.

“Having a colonialist side is something they [the characters ]share,” he says. “They’re not typical saints or villains, but complicated people with both virtues and flaws.”

The filmmaker added that he was blown away by Robert’s chameleonic ability to quickly “come up with a very different performance”.

(Image: HBO)

Meanwhile, Australian actor Hoa told Vanity Fair it was nerve-racking working opposite the Hollywood heavyweight. In fact, his very first scene was alongside both the Iron Man star and Emmy Award winner Sandra Oh, who has a recurring role in the series. Pleasingly, Hoa felt fully supported.

“It can be intimidating when you work with someone like Robert and know he’s going to run circles around you,” Hoa says. “But he lent this comforting hand on my shoulder and said, ‘We’re in this together.’”

Stream The Sympathizer on BINGE from $10/mth, with a 7-day free trial.

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