After heart surgery, the 60-year-old comedian-actor is learning 'be a little more present'
Robin Williams wants everyone to know that he's happy.
When fans stop the actor-comedian to snap a photo with him on their cell phones, Williams says he usually always obliges but often finds people complain that something seems wrong with him - even though he's smiling. "I think people always want zany, goofy (expletive) from me," said Williams, who recently returned from a honeymoon to France with new wife, graphic designer Susan Schneider. "It takes a lot of energy to do that. If you do that all the time, you'll burn out."
Williams, who underwent surgery to replace an aortic valve in 2009, is far from retirement, but he acknowledges that he's taking it easier even though he's playing two separate parts in "Happy Feet Two," out Friday.
The funnyman reprises his roles as chivalrous Adelie penguin Ramon and bombastic rockhopper Lovelace in the follow-up to the 2006 Oscar-winning animated film about singing-and-dancing penguins. The 3-D sequel finds Ramon attempting to woo a sultry bird named Carmen (voiced by Sofia Vergara), while Lovelace is hyping a "flying penguin" named Sven (Hank Azaria).
During a recent interview to promote the animated film, Williams discussed - with the help of some Irish, Australian and robotic accents - what his life is like at age 60 and why he almost passed out in the sound booth while recording his part in Australia.
Q: What kind of pressure, if any, did you feel working on a "Happy Feet" sequel?
A: Well, you have to do it better than the first time to make it worthwhile, not just for the sake of the franchise. (Director) George (Miller) kicked it hard. I asked him after he saw it what he thought, and he said, "Well, I don't know, but I think it's better." I said, "I think so, too." He used the technology, performances, everything, and took it to a new level.
Q: You're known for your improvisational skills, which I'm sure were prevalent on this film because the voice actors all recorded their parts together. What was your most memorable improv moment while working on this project?
A: There was one moment as Lovelace where I started speaking in tongues. I got so kind of crazy that I almost passed out. George said, "That's great. Keep going!" I told him that if I kept going, I would fall down. I just started doing this Baptist hymnal thing. "Hmmmmhmmmmhmmmm." I think that's actually what led to the gospel song that's in the movie. Slideshow: November movies (on this page)
Q: It sounds like you had a religious experience right there in the sound booth.
A(in an Australian accent): "He had an epiphany right there in Australia!" "Epiphany? Isn't that a singer?" "No, that's Tiffany." You do get close to it. There are just these times when you're in the sound booth working together and just really having fun. Being in the same room with people and creating something together is a good thing.
Q: It seems like you can do any accent. Which one gives you the most trouble?
A (in an Irish accent): I have a difficult time doing an Irish accent, even now it kind of fades slowly into Scottish. You just have to remember it's all sung: "What are you doing? (Expletive) off." You have to be a big fan of U2 and Bono. It's vocal. It's singing. This is actually the best time I've ever done it. Thank God you're recording this now.
Q: As a big technology buff, what gadgets or games are you into at the moment?
A: I'm fascinated by the new iPhone. I bought it and kept trying to use it in France. "Siri, what is a good restaurant?" (In a robotic voice.) "I'm sorry, Robin. I can't give locations in France." "Why, Siri?" "I don't know." It's like she was upset with the French or something. "They seem to have an attitude I can't understand. Should I look for Germans, Robin?"
Q: What's life like for you now that all your children are adults?
A: It's quiet. I just saw my daughter, Zelda, the other night. My oldest son is married, and my youngest son just went off to college. It's like they've left the earth's gravity, and I'm watching them. "There he gooooes!" I'm just so proud. I don't have a college degree, and my father didn't have a college degree, so when my son, Zachary, graduated from college, I said, "My boy's got learnin'!"
Q: What about your heart surgery? How has that affected how you live your life now?
A: I learned to appreciate the idea of just taking it a little bit easier. You just have to be a little more present. It's really wonderful. It makes you appreciate everything - like breath, and friends and family. Taking it down just a little bit and traveling at the speed of life is a much easier journey.
Q: It seems like you've done everything. What do you want to tackle next?
Williams: After getting married and just coming back from the honeymoon, I have to look at what I want to do in the next year. I want to do a movie, but it has to be the right movie, whether it's independent or a studio movie. I'm much more open to being a supporting actor right now. At the age of 60, I'll be second fiddle. Fine. I'm happy to do it.