The Sympathizer, Viet Thanh Nguyen’s best-selling espionage thriller that took home the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, is getting a TV adaptation. Both HBO and A24 are working on the series, and they’ve tapped Robert Downey Jr. to star as an American antagonist — marking the first TV co-star role of his career.
For those who’ve never read it before, The Sympathizer is an absorbing novel about a half-French, half-Vietnamese communist spy during the end of the Vietnam War and his exile in the US. It’s equal parts thrilling and moving, with the plot exploring themes of identity, patriotism, love, and friendship while also serving as a cross-culture satire. It’s widely considered to be a “new classic” when it comes to modern fiction, and it’s obviously ripe with drama that’s perfect for a visual interpretation like a TV show.
The series adaptation of The Sympathizer will be directed by the legendary Park Chan-Wook (Oldboy, The Handmaiden) so fans can expect some pitch-perfect tension and action in the show. Park and Don McKellar will serve as co-showrunners and will executive produce alongside Downey Jr., Susan Downey, and Amanda Burrell (aka Team Downey).
The lead role and the rest of the predominantly Vietnamese ensemble are not yet cast, and executives are reportedly on a worldwide search to fill the roles. As for Downey Jr., this marks his first major role since his long run as Tony Stark in Iron Man and other Avengers movies. According to Deadline, The Sympathizer stood out to Downey Jr. in particular because of its “incredible story” and the fact it would allow him to “play multiple supporting roles as the main antagonists — all of whom represent a different arm of the American establishment including an up-and-coming Orange County congressman, a CIA agent and a Hollywood film director, among others.”
“Adapting Mr. Nguyen’s important and masterful work requires a visionary team,” said Downey Jr. in a statement. “With director Park at the helm, I expect this to be a creative producing adventure for Susan, me and Team Downey and a stimulating process for myself in playing these complex supporting roles. A24 and HBO are the perfect combination of partners and co-parents… It’s exactly the type of challenge I’ve been craving, and I believe we will deliver an exceptional viewing experience to our audience.”
Downey Jr.’s most recent movie, the less-than-good Dolittle remake that quickly faded in 2020, earned an infamous Razzie nomination earlier this year alongside some other frowned-upon competitors. Last week, Robert Downey Sr., the actor’s dad and longtime accomplished underground filmmaker, passed away at the age of 85. Read Downey Jr.’s tribute to his late father here.