PARK CITY, Utah (AP) _ Robert Downey Jr. understands the public's curiosity with his past drug and alcohol troubles. The self-deprecating actor even beats people to the punch to toss out a wisecrack.
``Thank you, I'll be drunk by 10,'' Downey told an audience at the Sundance Film Festival over the weekend, after a viewer asked him what he drew from his own life to help play the title character in ``The Singing Detective,'' his first film since completing probation and rehabilitation that followed years of substance abuse.
``The Singing Detective'' marks an edgy comeback for Downey, 37, an Academy Awards nominee for 1992's ``Chaplin'' and an Emmy nominee for ``Ally McBeal,'' a TV gig he ultimately lost because of ongoing drug arrests.
Adapted by Dennis Potter from his 1986 miniseries, ``The Singing Detective'' is a film-noir musical fantasy about a mystery writer afflicted with a disease that attacks the joints and causes agonizing skin psoriasis. Potter, who died in 1994, suffered from the same disease.
Downey's character flits from bedridden reality, to fantasies where he's a tough, crooning gumshoe, to painful recollections of childhood trauma.
The actor said his own experiences _ including a stay at a rehab center that followed a year in prison _ gave him inspiration to tackle Potter's deliciously cynical character.
``Sure, there's that whole idea of being able to use an affliction as a weapon, and there's nothing better for someone who's abused drugs as frequently as I,'' Downey said in an interview at Sundance, which runs through Sunday. ``The best defense is a good offense.''
``The Singing Detective'' co-stars Robin Wright Penn, Katie Holmes, Jeremy Northam and Mel Gibson, whose company produced the film. The producers premiered it at Sundance hoping to land a distributor to put the film into theaters.
Downey's legal troubles began in 1996 when police found cocaine, heroin and a pistol in his vehicle. Years of probation, drug treatment and periodic arrests followed. Last summer, Downey ended probation after satisfying a judge he had been clean and sober for more than a year.
For much of that time, Downey managed to land roles in movies, among them ``Bowfinger'' and ``U.S. Marshals,'' though it has been three years since his last film, ``Wonder Boys.''
``He's a very sweet man. That's why people wanted to give him so many chances and why they've stuck with him,'' said Keith Gordon, director of ``The Singing Detective,'' who co-starred with Downey in Rodney Dangerfield's 1980s comedy ``Back to School.'' ``He's a goodhearted soul. Whatever his personal demons and struggles, he seems like he's doing great. Clean and clear-eyed and focused. Enjoying life and feeling free of that past.''
Downey rolled his eyes and groaned a bit as reporters and movie fans at Sundance peppered him with questions about his substance-abuse problems. Still, he handled it with grace, noting that he himself liked to hear about other people's carousing.
``I love it when people go on benders, get arrested, get (messed) up, hit-and-runs, as long as no one gets killed,'' he said. ``I just think it's amazing how screwy people are. So that's definitely a big part of my story.''