Courtesy photoSpecial chemistry: Robert Downey Jr.

Robert Downey Jr. is a master of disguise in ‘Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows’

Robert Downey Jr. never hesitated to slip back into the shoes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s meticulously methodical, impeccably perceptive detective in “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows,” opening Friday. The only question, really, was whether he’d be wearing traditional leather loafers or high heels.

“I believe I put everyone under the impression that I required myself to be in drag,” says Downey, who demanded so many costume changes for “Game of Shadows” that neither he nor director Guy Ritchie could keep count. “By the time [Guy] agreed to it, I was blaming it on him, and we ended up with twice as many disguises as we needed.

“From the first film, there was an assumption that something was going on between [Holmes and Dr. Watson]. I thought we needed to push it further, to the point that I’m laying in drag, having taken my pantaloonies off, saying ‘Lie down with me, Watson,’ in the middle of an action scene.”

Clearly, Downey enjoys ratcheting up the seemingly homoerotic tension implicit in his odd-couple bickering with co-star Jude Law, who plays an irritable but staunchly loyal Watson.

Yet his end game is not simply to confound the expectations of fans accustomed to Ritchie’s highly stylized, testosterone-drenched adventures.

Downey, who enjoys a playful chemistry with Law away from the camera, admits his androgynous outbursts are intended as a wink to both the audience and to his on-screen partners in crime-solving.

During a shoot he describes as “stressful, bordering on criminally insane,” he deemed it critically important to keep the mood light and his colleagues as close as family.

In at least one case, that wasn’t terribly difficult. As she has several of his movies, dating back to 2005’s “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” his wife Susan co-produced “Game of Shadows.” And though the couple is expecting their first child together in February 2012, they have always treated their movies as kids — and as a way to spend time together, for better or worse, despite hectic schedules.

Does Downey like taking orders from his better half behind the scenes? “First of all, I’m definitely the boss at home, and I’m the boss on the set, so that doesn’t leave a lot of room for discussion, does it?” he says, tongue firmly in cheek. “She’s sitting in back of me, where she belongs.

“But really, she knows me well enough that she can tell me when we’re going to cut a scene, or some line of dialogue, and I hate that. She and [co-producer Lionel Wigram] are the real midwives of what it takes to take a movie from what you think it should be to what it needs to be to seem watchable. It’s like they’re these ob/gyns who constantly have their heads together above an emergency C-section.”

IF YOU GO

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Starring Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Jared Harris,  Noomi Rapace, Stephen Fry,  Rachel McAdams, Kelly Reilly, Eddie Marsan,  Geraldine James

Written by Michele Mulroney, Kieran Mulroney

Directed by Guy Ritchie

Rated PG-13

Running time 2 hours 9 minutes

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