Robert Downey Jr. Teases Christopher Nolan for Being an Introvert as He Honors Director with Sundance Award

'Oppenheimer' director Nolan received the inaugural Trailblazer Award during the Sundance Film Festival's Opening Night Gala on Thursday in Park City, Utah

<p>Chelsea Lauren/Shutterstock</p> Robert Downey Jr. and Christopher Nolan at the Sundance Film Festival

Chelsea Lauren/Shutterstock

Robert Downey Jr. and Christopher Nolan at the Sundance Film Festival's Opening Night Gala in Park City, Utah, on Jan. 18, 2024

Christopher Nolan is continuing to rack up the accolades this awards season.

On Thursday, Robert Downey Jr. presented his Oppenheimer director with the inaugural Sundance Institute Trailblazer Award at the Sundance Film Festival, during the event's Opening Night Gala in Park City, Utah.

While presenting Nolan with his award, Downey Jr., 58, joked that Oppenheimer's huge success had an unwelcome impact on the "enigmatic auteur," in that it made him more recognizable to the general public.

"He needs his spirits lifted — he's a bit blue because a terrible tragedy has befallen him," Downey Jr. quipped of Nolan, joking of the 53-year-old director, "I don't mean to bring this up, I know it's very personal, but he has become recognizable on the street."

Continuing to poke fun at Nolan's reserved character, Downey Jr. said, "We have become extremely close, as in we had dinner on location once."

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<p>Stephen Lovekin/Shutterstock</p> Christopher Nolan and Robert Downey Jr. at the Sundance Film Festival's Opening Night Gala in Park City, Utah, on Jan. 18, 2024

Stephen Lovekin/Shutterstock

Christopher Nolan and Robert Downey Jr. at the Sundance Film Festival's Opening Night Gala in Park City, Utah, on Jan. 18, 2024

Related: Kristen Stewart to Receive Visionary Award at 2024 Sundance Film Festival: 'Honored to Be Acknowledged'

The actor went on to share that Nolan had once asked him if "death by schmoozing" was possible.

"During this wildly social season in the wake of resounding global reaction to the Oppenheimer phenomenon, Chris and I shared a vulnerable moment of existential query. He placed his hand on my shoulder, got a little misty and whispered, 'I'm beginning to wonder, is it possible ... death by schmoozing,' " Downey Jr. shared in a mock-serious hush tone.

Meanwhile, upon receiving the honor, Nolan sweetly credited his wife, producer Emma Thomas, saying that she "produced all of my films and all of my children." The pair married in 1997 and share four children: Flora, Magnus, Oliver and Rory.

Nolan, whose summer blockbuster Oppenheimer is the now highest-grossing biopic of all-time, received acclaim at Sundance over two decades ago when his sophomore feature Memento screened at the festival in 2001. He referenced that early success in his Thursday speech.

"The experiences you have here [at Sundance] as a filmmaker is unique," he said. "You carry it with you throughout your career, and I couldn't be more grateful for the experience that I had here 23 years ago [with Memento] and for getting this award tonight."

<p>Cindy Ord/Getty</p> Christopher Nolan in New York City on Jan. 3, 2024

Cindy Ord/Getty

Christopher Nolan in New York City on Jan. 3, 2024

Sundance's Trailblazer Award is meant to recognize "an artist’s unwavering dedication and notable contributions to the field of independent film," per a release.

“Presenting Memento at the Sundance Film Festival marked a pivotal moment in my career," Nolan said in a statement on Nov. 1, 2023. "This award is a full-circle moment and testament to the extraordinary influence of independent filmmaking."

Presenting Nolan with the award on Thursday, Downey Jr. said, "A trailblazer ventures where no one has gone before, and is hard to follow," joking, "This delights him — the very possibility of not having to see anybody along the way in front of him at all. Ever."

The honor is only the latest for Nolan in recent weeks, after the London-born filmmaker took home best director for Oppenheimer at both the Golden Globe Awards and Critics Choice Awards earlier this month.

Downey Jr. also walked away with awards at both ceremonies, for best supporting actor in the film about father of the atomic bomb J. Robert Oppenheimer, played by Cillian Murphy.

<p>Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal Pictures</p> Robert Downey Jr. as Lewis Strauss in <em>Oppenheimer</em> (2023)

Melinda Sue Gordon/Universal Pictures

Robert Downey Jr. as Lewis Strauss in Oppenheimer (2023)

Related: Robert Downey Jr. Declares 'Oppenheimer' the 'Best Film I've Ever Been In'

During his acceptance speech at the Globes on Jan. 7, Nolan recalled of the year his 2008 film The Dark Knight was up for awards, "The only time I've ever been on this stage before was accepting one of these on behalf of our dear friend, [the late] Heath Ledger, and that was complicated and challenging for me."

"And in the middle of speaking, I looked down at Robert Downey Jr., [who] caught my eye and gave me a look of support. The same look [he's] giving me now — the same love and support he showed so many people in your community over the years," added Nolan.

The admiration and respect is mutual, as Downey Jr. recently reflected on Nolan's influence on his craft following his badly reviewed 2020 film Dolittle, after he'd come off the heels of playing Tony Stark/Iron Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe for so long.

"They say when the student is ready, the Nolan will come," Downey Jr. said on the Jan. 11 episode of Rob Lowe's Literally! podcast. "I mean, the teacher will come. And that's what happened."

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