Relationships

Why Susan Levin is Known as the Miracle That Saved Robert Downey Jr.

With over a decade of wedded bliss to their name, Robert Downey Jr. and Susan Levin (now Downey) make up one of Hollywood’s most enviable couples. Their love story isn’t a traditional one, however.

Susan actually met the actor at one of the lowest points in his life, right after he spent close to a year in jail and had just finished court-ordered rehab for an addiction that often made headlines.

Robert could have lost his movie career for good, but then, in 2002, he talked his way into a role in a thriller called Gothika by agreeing to get most of his pay after shooting ended. The experience would change his life in more ways than one. 

Not only did Robert meet his future bride, but she also ended up turning his entire world upside down  — for the better. In August 2005, the couple said “I do” after two years of being engaged. In 2012, they had their first child, son Exton Elias Downey, then welcomed daughter Avri Roel Downey in 2014.

Here’s how Susan Levin and Robert Downey Jr worked through their differences:

She thought he was strange at first

Susan Downey and Robert Downey Jr. (Photo by Michael Buckner/WireImage for New Line Cinema)

When Robert Downey Jr. and Susan Levin first met on the 2003 set of Gothika, which starred Halle Berry and marked Susan’s “first full-credit producing job,” it wasn’t exactly love at first sight. Far from it, in fact.

In 2009, Harper’s Bazaar asked Susan if she had been immediately attracted to her husband and she laughingly admitted, “Not even a little bit. The main thing I remember about meeting him was thinking how strange he was.”

She added, “I thought he was a brilliant actor, but it didn’t go beyond that. I saw him more like a professor or someone’s older brother.”  

Years later, when she spoke with The Hollywood Reporter in 2014, Susan again noted how she first thought Robert was “interesting but weird” and, to illustrate her point, recalled a particular cast and crew dinner during which “everybody else ordered Japanese, but Robert told us how oatmeal was the ‘superfood’. He brought his own packets of oatmeal to have at lunch. And he had this box of various herbs and stuff. And then he started doing these yoga moves.” 

The producer’s feelings began to change a few weeks later, however, as the pair got to know each other.

Remembering the exact moment when she began to see the actor in a different light, she told Harper’s Bazaar, “one day [after filming], when we were on the treadmills, Robert goes, ‘Levin, you wanna go to dinner?’ and I said, ‘Eh, I’ll grab something to eat.’ So we agreed to go change and meet in the lobby and as he walked down the stairs toward me, I remember looking up at him and suddenly thinking, ‘He’s really cute.’”

She believed in “running toward what scares you”

An attraction may have begun to develop, but the fact was that the actor and producer couldn’t have been more different.

As The Hollywood Reporter pointed out, Susan was an honor student who graduated summa cum laude from the University of Southern California while Robert was a high school drop-out and recovering addict who had struggled with substance abuse for years.

Luckily, the differences didn’t phase Susan one bit. “I think there’s something about running toward what scares you,” she told Harper’s Bazaar, admitting that she chose to follow her heart rather than get hung up on fears or reservations about them being incompatible.

“More than anything, I never doubted it,” she proclaimed. “There was something in my gut that knew really quickly. I knew three months in that this was it.”

Six months later, Robert proposed, but just because Susan was following her gut didn’t mean she was doing so blindly.

When he nearly reverted to his old ways after filming, she wasn’t having any of it

“I did meet Darth Vader, for like a minute, right after the movie wrapped,” Susan recalled of Robert’s addiction problems. “I said immediately, ‘This isn’t gonna work.’ I made it clear that to stay with me, nothing could happen.”

Their love was so strong that it gave Robert the ultimate push he needed to change things for good. In July 2003, he reportedly tossed the drugs he had left into the ocean and vowed to never touch them again.

Susan credited the power of true love, noting, “I think he saw what we had. There was something magical there, something we couldn’t put our finger on.”

Their relationship is “perfectly symbiotic”

According to Harper’s Bazaar, Susan’s unofficial nickname in Hollywood is “The Miracle That Saved Robert Downey Jr.” and the actor certainly agrees. As he told the mag, she inspired him to do better.

“I guess the only way to explain it is that I’ve become more like her,” he revealed.

She didn’t just help him overcome his demons, she also helped him build a successful career

Speaking with the Herald in 2010, Robert admitted, “The old saying is true — behind every good man there’s an incredible woman. I owe a huge amount — if not all — of my success to Susan. We make a great team.”

Case in point: His love helped Robert snag some of his most high-profile roles, including the lead in Sherlock Holmes after she told director Guy Ritchie that he’d be great for the part.

But it wasn’t a one-way street by any means. Robert has also had a positive impact on his wife.

As she told THR, before meeting him, Susan was “very focused, driven, rigid, work-oriented. I didn’t care about having a family or making a home. I didn’t think about kids […]  And then I had someone who came in as a tornado, this creative, beautiful ball of insane energy and passion. And it completely opened me up.”

All in all, they make each other better

As Susan shared with Harper’s Bazaar, they’re stronger as a unit than they’ve ever been apart.

“He always says that we became this third thing when we got together — something that neither of us could have become by ourselves — and I think that’s true,” she gushed.

Sherlock Holmes director Guy Ritchie, who has worked with the couple, may have summed it up best, however, when he called their relationship “perfectly symbiotic,” proclaiming, “They each represent the other side of each other’s coin. There’s no clashing over the same space, although they’re always looking in the same direction. It’s a very rare thing they have.”

If there’s one thing everyone can learn from Robert and Susan, it’s that a successful relationship requires mutual respect and admiration.

The union cannot be lopsided. Rather, it must be a perfect balance in which both parties feel fulfilled and empowered to be the best possible versions of themselves at all times, both individually and together.

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Barbara Pavone

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Barbara Pavone