Into Ally McBeal's life comes a mysterious stranger with a past

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The Independent Online

Fresh out of prison, where he served just under a year for drug-related offences, the Hollywood actor Robert Downey Jr is plunging back into work with an eight-episode stint on the popular television legal drama Ally McBeal.

Fresh out of prison, where he served just under a year for drug-related offences, the Hollywood actor Robert Downey Jr is plunging back into work with an eight-episode stint on the popular television legal drama Ally McBeal.

The 36-year-old actor, who is as well respected in the industry for his prodigious talent and prolific output as he is known outside the industry for his addiction problems and constant brushes with the law, has been inundated with film and television work offers since being released from Corcoran state prison last week.

He accepted the role of a "mysterious stranger" on Ally McBeal partly because the show's executive producer, David E Kelley, had stayed in touch with him while he was behind bars and made sure he would have a work offer as soon as he came out.

Filming begins on Monday, and Mr Kelley apparently hopes to persuade Downey to stay on the show beyond the agreed eight episodes. Unperturbed by the show's legal setting, the actor said he welcomed having "a choice of shirt colours" again.

Downey, perhaps best known for playing the title role in Richard Attenborough's Chaplin, was sentenced to three years in prison last summer for repeated parole violations and what his trial judge described as "manipulation" of the counsellors assigned to help him with his heroin, cocaine and alcohol addictions.

He was released on a technicality relating to the language of his sentencing but there was also a widespread feeling that he had been punished enough.

Corcoran is one of the United States's toughest jails, notorious for its staged gladiator fights, serial rape, and trigger-happy guards, who have killed at least seven prisoners in the past decade. Asked what Downey would take away from his experience there, his lawyer replied last week: "His life."

Downey is following a drug-rehabilitation programme and other counselling. It is not clear what insurance arrangements the Ally McBeal producers are taking: in the past the actor has been required to undergo random drug tests on set as conditions of his freedom.

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