How many characters did Robert Downey Jr. play in The Sympathizer? Every character explained

Los Angeles Premiere Of HBO Original Limited Series "The Sympathizer" - Arrivals
Robert Downey Jr. at the LA Premiere of "The Sympathizer" (Image via Getty/Emma McIntyre)

HBO's latest spy drama, The Sympathizer, which premiered on April 14, is making waves for several reasons. The series follows the story of a North Vietnamese spy who has integrated himself into the South Vietnamese army unbeknownst to his friends and colleagues.

With most of its cast being of Vietnamese origin and the dialogues being in their native language, the series gained significant attention from the Vietnamese American community. In Vietnam, the series was not only denied filming permission, but was also banned from being shown due to its political nature.

Robert Downey Jr., who serves as executive producer for the series with wife Susan, appears in the show as several American characters. He plays four distinct characters in the limited series - C.I.A. agent Claude, Professor Hammer, filmmaker Niko, and Congressman Ned Godwin.

All four characters played by Robert Downey Jr. in The Sympathizer

1) Claude

Robert Downey Jr. as Claude in 'The Sympathizer' (Image via IMDb)
Robert Downey Jr. as Claude in 'The Sympathizer' (Image via IMDb)

The first of Downey's characters that viewers meet is CIA operative Claude in the very first episode. He and the Captain meet four months before the fall of Saigon. Portrayed as a witty man with a tan and receding curly hair, Claude aids the Captain and his comrades in escaping South Vietnam's impending communist takeover. However, he is kept in the dark about the Captain's role as a double agent who is secretly spying on his South Vietnamese general.

Despite learning about a possible mole with speculations made against the Captain, Claude initially brushes them off. Instead, he facilitates an introduction to a filmmaker making a Vietnam War movie, urging the Captain to join as a consultant.

2) Professor Hammer

Robert Downey Jr. as Hammer in 'The Sympathizer' (Image via Instagram/@sympathizerhbo)
Robert Downey Jr. as Hammer in 'The Sympathizer' (Image via Instagram/@sympathizerhbo)

Downey's next character is Professor Hammer, an eccentric person introduced in the second episode. He is an East Asian Studies graduate school professor in Los Angeles who sponsors the Captain and his associates in their relocation from the Arkansas refugee camp to California.

With a bald head and a thin moustache, Hammer is obsessed with East Asian cultures. He converses in Japanese, dons kimonos, and decks his home and office with Japanese decor.

Hammer is both captivated and slightly envious of the Captain's mixed identity. Meanwhile, Hammer's Japanese American secretary, Sofia Mori, engages in a casual physical relationship with the Captain. As Hammer delves into his research on East Asia, he becomes entangled in the production of The Hamlet, the Vietnam War film that the Captain is involved with.

3) Ned Godwin

Robert Downey Jr. as Ned Godwin in 'The Sympathizer' (Image via HBO)
Robert Downey Jr. as Ned Godwin in 'The Sympathizer' (Image via HBO)

After coming to Southern California, the Captain crosses paths with Congressman Ned Godwin, a former Army Green Beret who transitioned into a successful career in conservative politics. Exuding a cheerful and polite demeanor, Godwin is depicted with impeccably styled sandy hair and perfectly tailored suits. He is ever ready for the cameras, adept at transforming any situation into a positive opportunity to bolster his public image.

However, behind closed doors, Godwin is revealed to be a corrupt politician who indulges in unsavory practices. In an attempt to garner support from the burgeoning Vietnamese American community in his California constituency, Congressman Godwin finds himself engaging with the Captain and the production of The Hamlet.

4) Niko Damianos

Robert Downey Jr. as Niko in 'The Sympathizer' (Image via Instagram/@sympathizerhbo)
Robert Downey Jr. as Niko in 'The Sympathizer' (Image via Instagram/@sympathizerhbo)

Introduced in the third episode of The Sympathizer, Niko is a filmmaker who vocally opposed the United States' involvement in the Vietnam War. He wants to capture the raw emotional realities endured by American soldiers in his forthcoming film and enlists the Captain as a consultant, seeking authenticity and accuracy in his portrayal.

Despite his public liberalism, Niko's use of racial slurs against the Captain and his camaraderie with Congressman Godwin exposes him as a hypocrite.

The cast of HBO's The Sympathizer

Sandra Oh as Sofia Mori (Image via IMDb)
Sandra Oh as Sofia Mori (Image via IMDb)

Besides Robert Downey Jr., several others appear in the limited series. The full cast list includes:

  • Hoa Xuande as the Captain
  • Toan Le as the General
  • Fred Nguyen Khan as Bon
  • Duy Nguyễn as Man
  • Vy Le as Lana
  • Ky Duyen as Madame
  • Phanxinê as the Major
  • Kieu Chinh as the Major's Mother
  • Alan Trong as Sonny Tran
  • Sandra Oh as Sofia Mori


Based on the Pulitzer-winning novel of the same name, The Sympathizer is currently being aired weekly on HBO, with its final episode set to be released on May 26, 2024.

Quick Links

App download animated image Get the free App now