Comedy Impact Report '08: Bigscreen Big Shots

Sixteen years ago, he earned an Oscar nom for revealing Chaplin’s melancholy side. Now there’s talk Robert Downey Jr. could be recognized again for poking fun at serious actors.

In the year’s riskiest comedic move, the “Tropic Thunder” star skirted controversy as an Oscar hog who undergoes an ill-advised pigmentation procedure to play a black soldier.

In the hands of a less-gifted actor, the blackface shtick could have backfired, but Downey found the balance by skewering his own intense, once-troubled image.

“It was important not to cast someone known as just ‘a comedy guy,'” says director Ben Stiller. “It had to be someone the audience did respect as a great actor, but who also had a great comedic talent, and he made it work.”

The coup tops a massive comeback for Downey, who rocketed to action-star status earlier this summer with a sly, tongue-in-cheek turn in “Iron Man.” Next up is the more serious-minded “The Soloist,” followed by the lead role in Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes,” now shooting in London.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more