Robert Downey Jr. Says ‘The Sympathizer’ Star Hoa Xuande Pulled ‘All the Same Moves’ as Cillian Murphy in ‘Oppenheimer’

“All I saw was this guy sacrifice and sacrifice,” the HBO star and EP says of his similar costars

Hopper Stone/HBO

When Robert Downey Jr. stepped on the set of “The Sympathizer,” he wasn’t prepared for the miniseries to remind him so much of “Oppenheimer.” And it’s all thanks to Hoa Xuande’s performance.

“I had this great thing that I watched twice. I watched Cillian [Murphy] do ‘Oppenheimer,’ and all I saw was this guy sacrifice and sacrifice. Then I went right into this, and I was like, ‘Oh, he’s doing what Cillian just did.’ It was all the same moves,” Downey Jr. said on Monday during a screening for the finale of the HBO original hosted at The Paley Center for Media in New York.

“‘Did you guys go out to dinner? I’m not. Did you guys have a fun weekend? I’m not. I’ll have fun on set. I’ll try to stay alive, and I’ll try to keep in touch with my close friends so I don’t get inhuman about it. But I’m basically doing time and sacrificing so that the result — that you guys just witnessed — can be full,’” Downey Jr. said of Xuande and Murphy’s similar approaches.

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name by Viet Thanh Nguyen, “The Sympathizer” follows the story of the Captain (Xuande), a North Vietnam plant in the South Vietnam army. He is forced to flee to the United States during the Vietnam War where he continues to spy on a community of South Vietnamese refugees. As the series progresses, it dives deeper into the Captain’s struggle between his original loyalties and his new life.

For his part, Xuande called his time on the series “probably one of the best experiences of my life,” noting that he felt supported by the crew, creators and cast.

“[They were] people who were masters of their craft, diligent in the ways they wanted to tell this story and supportive and generous, not just to me but to everybody around them,” Xuande said. He also called out Downey Jr., Sandra Oh and the series’ showrunners Park Chan-wook and Don McKellar by name. “I was only emulating what was being received.”

McKellar explained that Downey Jr.’s performance “sort of liberated” the storytelling of this dense, emotional series and allowed the audience to see the series beyond a “dry history.” The former Marvel star plays five different influential white men who appear in the Captain’s life, each with his own schtick. These range from the exploitative and occasionally shirtless Professor Hammer to the sunglass-sporting Francis Ford Coppola-wannabe Niko Damianos.

“[The Captain’s] ultimate liberation is the fact that he can’t help but tell a good story. That’s what keeps him from being a sort of doctrinaire communist in the end. He sees the humanity. We want that energy and — wit is the word I often use — as a contrast to the trauma,” McKellar said.

“Art is — you can’t right the wrongs, but you can fix the song a little bit,” Downey Jr. added, referring to the “super gifted Asian artists who were de-dimensionalized in Western culture.” “I purposely came in, particularly after ‘Oppenheimer,’ I was just thrashed. I came in, and I was like, ‘I’m here to party, to do as many two-dimensional performances as possible.’ [The cast] started picking up on it. They’d go, ‘Oh, great. We’re multi-dimensional. You stay right there in that hole that, intentionally or otherwise, you f–king put us in.’”

“The Sympathizer” is available to stream on Max.

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