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How Do You Insure a Drunken Superhero?

An interesting little sidebar to the success of the Ironman films, are the reports about how Robert Downey Jr. has had a hard time landing roles in Hollywood for insurance reasons. Even considering Downey's decades of drug abuse and public nudity arrests, it turns out that when you establish a reputation as "the guy who was kicked off Ally McBeal" you become a serious financial liability for any production company. "How bad can this guy be?" I imagine insurance executives asking each other, as they pore over actuarial tables.

Regular readers of my "Risk Management Korner" column will be aware of my long-standing fascination with the insurance industry. Yet it had never occurred to me before that the possibility of your lead actor driving naked down Sunset Boulevard while throwing phantom rats out the window (this actually happened) was something that had to be accounted for and insured against. In some insurance company out there, there's a spreadsheet calculating the possibility of "drug fueled, imaginary-rodent-ejecting car ride (nude)" It was someone's job to make this spreadsheet. This tickles me to no end.

Of course, once you think about it, this kind of insurance makes perfect sense. A movie requires a huge amount of capital up front to be made, none of which can be recouped until the film is finished and released. If filming gets delayed or canceled because your lead actor got caught humping a bus shelter (I made that one up) the production company would be out of some serious money.

I'm guessing that the original intent of these insurance policies was to protect against delays caused by illness or injury, and not to protect against the possibility of the production being kicked out of a country because your lead tackled the monarch to during a publicity event "to protect him from bees" (I made that one up too.) These kind of insurance policies would make a Hollywood executive in the 1940's sleep a little easier knowing about Humphrey Bogart's fourteen pack a day smoking habit, but it amazes me to think they've now grown to encompass the possibility of your lead actor swinging across a hotel ballroom on a chandelier and then striking Jodie Foster in the face with his penis. (I'm kinda having fun with this.)

Most of Downey's troubles with insurance bonds should be in the past now. He's reportedly been clean for several years, and has even managed to make a couple films without hostage negotiators getting involved. So it was evidently fairly straightforward for Ironman's producers to secure insurance for him for the movie. But there's still a wrinkle: no-one was planning on making a single Ironman movie.

As I type this I'm wearing my usual writing get-up: a Spider Man 3 promotional T-shirt, an X-Men III promotional golf visor, and some original 1983 Batman Underoos. (I'm also sipping an alcohol-flavored beverage from a promotional Pirates of the Caribbean grog mug.) As you should be able to deduce from my entirely normal attire, there's not a single summer movie being made these days that isn't being deliberately designed to be the first of a seven movie franchise. And not withstanding the excellent work of Val Kilmer and George Clooney, it's pretty hard to make a successful franchise when your lead role keeps changing hands. Sure, we can all be pretty confident that Tobey McGuire isn't going to get in a fistfight with a transvestite over half a handle of Wild Turkey. But even considering his recent good behavior, it must take some large, steely, painfully heavy balls to take the same multi-million dollar leap of faith on Robert Downey Jr.

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Chris Bucholz

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