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Robert Downey Jr. Recalls Working at a Shoe Store and Being 'Fired After 2 Weeks': 'I Had Sticky Fingers'

Robert Downey Jr. spoke to his five decades of success in Hollywood as he received the Santa Barbara Film Festival's Maltin Modern Master award

<p>Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty</p> Robert Downey Jr. on Feb. 9, 2024

Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty

Robert Downey Jr. on Feb. 9, 2024

Robert Downey Jr. is dishing on jobs he held long before becoming a movie star.

The Oppenheimer actor, 58, received the Maltin Modern Master Award at the 2024 Santa Barbara International Film Festival on Friday. During a conversation with film critic Leonard Maltin at the event, Downey reflected on whether he ever considered any career paths outside acting.

"Well, I worked at a sandwich shop. I worked at a shoe store, but I had sticky fingers and I got fired after two weeks," he said. "This is before those closed-circuit cameras where they monitor who might be sitting. … I was not very good at it."

"And I worked in clubs and I worked at Thrifty's in Santa Monica," he added. "I made it to busboy, but I didn't really have the panache to be a waiter, I was told, so I had to resort to theater."

Downey grew up in and around the entertainment industry as the son of director Robert Downey Sr., who died at 85 in 2021.

As critic Maltin noted during the pair's conversation Friday, Downey made his onscreen debut at 5 years old with an appearance in his father's 1970 movie Pound, still years before he broke out in the 1980s and later reinvented himself.

Related: Robert Downey Jr. Says He Pitched Himself as Batman Villain Scarecrow to Christopher Nolan: Didn't 'Go Anywhere'

<p>Tibrina Hobson/Getty </p> Robert Downey Jr. on Feb. 9, 2024

Tibrina Hobson/Getty

Robert Downey Jr. on Feb. 9, 2024

"Yeah, I think this is what I was supposed to do," Downey said, after Maltin asked him whether he felt he owes his career's successes to "destiny."

The accolade Downey received at the film festival is named after Maltin; it was first created in 1995 “to honor an individual who has enriched our culture through accomplishments in the motion picture industry," according to the film festival.

Friday's event featured Downey's longtime friend Rob Lowe and his Oppenheimer costar Cillian Murphy showering him with praise in speeches.

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Related: Robert Downey Jr. Launches a Joyful New Coffee Company: 'I Credit Coffee, in Part, for My Sanity' (Exclusive)

<p>Rebecca Sapp/Getty</p> Cillian Murphy, Robert Downey Jr. and Rob Lowe on Feb. 9, 2024

Rebecca Sapp/Getty

Cillian Murphy, Robert Downey Jr. and Rob Lowe on Feb. 9, 2024

Maltin and Downey covered a range of topics from his five-decade career, including his past Oscar nominations for 1992’s Chaplin, 2008's Tropic Thunder and his latest role as Lewis Strauss in Oppenheimer, for which he is nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the upcoming Academy Awards on March 10.

"Cillian is straight man to no one. He is just, I think, beginning to understand by the reaction he gets when he comes to places that he's a f---ing force of nature," the Iron Man actor said of working with Murphy, 47, on the Christopher Nolan film.

Murphy is also nominated for Best Actor for playing Oppenheimer's title character. The film as a whole received 13 total nominations at the upcoming Oscars.

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