Insomnia

Originally published on May 23, 2002 | Joblo.com | written by Mike Sampson

Robin Williams walks in slowly, almost demurely. A publicist escorts him to his seat; a tall, leather executive chair. Quietly sipping from a bottle of water, he looks more GOOD WILL HUNTING than DEATH TO SMOOCHY. This is the Robin Williams I've been warned about? He's about to sit when he abruptly stops. His eye catches something on the table. Picking up the card in front of his seat marked "TALENT" his face contorts. Then in a flash, The Robin Williams Show begins. "Talent? BullSHIT!" he says and rips the card to pieces. Ahem... what was I saying?

(So you think I have it easy, don't you? I did see STAR WARS a week-and-a-half before its release, I hang out on the red carpet, I meet fancy celebrities... but let me tell you it ain't all sittin' pretty sister. YOU try interviewing Robin Williams. What's more, YOU try transcribing that interview. I went in assuming this wouldn't be your stereotypical interview but had no idea just how off-track we'd veer. Keep that in mind as you read that interview. Many jokes were too complicated or visual in nature to reproduce here. I hope I did the best to represent just how manic this interview was. Good luck...)

RW: (Looks at tiny microphone on table) Nice that you brought the good shit.

It works...it works. GODFATHER 4--will it be seen?
(in GODFATHER voice) A lot of people have asked me...

Really?
You know what would be funny? (in fey voice) GODFATHER ON ICE! (breaking into song) Freeeedo! No, I like working with Al. Al's a good man. Very good guy. I love the blonde hair. You like that?

What's up with that?
Well, he's playing Roy Cohn. (mocking previous question in teenage girl voice) What's up with that? Hel-lo?! Roy Cohn... he was J. Edgar Hoover's right-hand man. (in news announcer voice) Meanwhile, across town J. Edgar Hoover's putting on a teddy!

When was the first time you ever met Al?
Years ago. Two years before but that we'll talk about with our lawyers. About being in the women's room with a transvestite singing and there's Al, (as Pacino) Hey this is great! There is a great story actually, it was The Night of 100 Stars, the first one. And there was a party afterwards and there was Al and Robert De Niro contemplating which one was going to pick up Elizabeth Taylor. And at that time they weren't literally trying to pick her up. That'd be really rough now. (makes straining noise, then as Pacino) Bobby! (begins making the beeping noise of a truck backing up.) But yeah, I remember him from those days.

Did you enjoy doing this dark role?
Yeah, very much.

What was the challenge?
Playing a very compulsive... very quiet man who's done something so brutal. And then to work against Al and like you said, we have a great admiration for him.

Did you watch the original film?
No. I think I'll see it in a couple of months. That way it's enough time to go "Oh... why did you do this?"

Did Christopher Nolan tell you not to?
Oh, no. (Does his quiet, British Christopher Nolan impersonation) Don't watch this film, Robin. Why? (Again as Nolan) Because that man is so much better than you. And I don't want you to have that in your mind. I don't want you to be worried about these things and I want you to be open to being good now. No, I didn't see it.

Were you intimidated to work with Al?
(in fey voice) Fuck no! He's a little man. A little tiny man. He's just a shrimp, let's kick his ass. Some [reporter] over there said "Oh c'mon, a journalist couldn't kick a cop's ass." Bullshit! Any of you guys could kick a cop's ass! Let's go outside right now!

[The reporter] bitched about that the whole time.
He bitched about saying I couldn't kick his ass. He's such a fucking liar. It's not like I went one-on-one in a ring with Mike Tyson. No, I got a running start, I hit him with a thing, knocked him down and then I waled on his ass! Bring it on! You want a piece of me! This guy's just going (in French voice) I'm going to find something hate about this. I'm from Canada. He's an angry Canadian. That's an oxymoron, "angry Canadian." That's like "nerf vibrator." They don't make it out of that for a reason. It wouldn't work. (back to making fun of the Canadian with mock sympathy) Ohhh, somebody didn't have a good time? Ohhh. He said Patch Adams couldn't kick Don Corleone's ass. It's not the same movie, FUCKER.

What happened to DEATH TO SMOOCHY?
I don't know, man.

It was great.
Yeah, it was funny. People who saw it laughed their ass off... but the problem was (laughs) not many people saw it.

And then you've got ONE HOUR PHOTO...
That's another thing... It's more disturbing in a direct way because... people think that when they bring their photos into a Fotomat that no one sees them. But if you talk to most people who worked at a Fotomat, they get back copies and test them for corrections. And if they see a picture of a guy in a thong, they're going to keep it, you know, for their wall of shame. So this just extrapolates that idea to a man who lives vicariously through other peoples' photographs.

Are you getting a lot of darker scripts now?
(Deadpans) Yeah, and they're hard to read. (After a few seconds crowd realizes joke and cracks up.)

You should do STAR WARS just to lighten it up.
Oh that was good. They got Jar Jar Binks back. I said to George Lucas, "Man, how did you not realize that was Steppin Fetchit." (Launches into full-scale Jar Jar impersonation.) And the villains all sounded Chinese! (With Asian accent) So Jedi Knight... where's Obi Ron Kerobi...

Have you taped your one-man show for HBO yet?
Not yet, on the 14th (of July).

Can you tell us a little bit about it?
It's this show I've been doing all over the country, which has been great. Thirty cities and a couple in Canada too, just to test it out a little, you know. See how it works with real people. (Rolls eyes.) We're gonna talk about handguns. (in Canadian accent) What are those?

Have you ever done a Broadway show?
Never done a Broadway show. I wanted to. (in fey voice) "I wanted to be in "Godspell."

So the whole STAR WARS thing...
I gotta go see it today. My wife is there right now. She's probably halfway through (long pause) Natalie Portman. I saw that interview when she said (in a sad voice) I didn't know what I was talking to. Honey, I know, it's called a green-screen.

Since Chris Nolan is so young, was he intimidated by you and Al at all on set?
Not at all. And Al wasn't. I knew how relaxed Al was, and that's a great sign. He said, (in Al voice) This guy's good. I went, (whistles through his teeth) Michael said that! So immediately I knew that this was a great thing, 'cause if Al senses someone doesn't know what they're doing, he'll be on them until they figure it out, until they really get a clear vision because he's about making it the best possible. He's very much that way, he doesn't give up. And neither do I in a different way. I'll try different things. We were basically coming at it two different ways, we both would know that it was right when we hit it. Like in that scene on the boat, we'd both would go that was it, we don't need to do it again. Like, you don't need to go find something to help. It's the right note, the right combination, the right uneasiness, the right gem. The play back and forth is like jazz. You know, when you've got a great riff and that's it. And you know it 'cause it just meshes.

So do you think it's more exciting to do something collaborative or something like a one-man show?
It's totally different. You know, one's hang-gliding and one is doing this group project in archeology. For me, the one man show is me. You're out there on the road for bout two hours, in some places, an hour and a half. It's free-form. But things like this it's all about details. It's all very minutiae of playing back and forth, and working with great people like Al, Chris Nolan, and Hilary. People say, what about your stand-up? and it's a different being, you know, it's a whole other animal.

Did you find you enjoyed doing it again?
Yeah, I loved it. It's great to be out working again in places like New Orleans where they're carrying around entire barrels of these drinks. You can walk around New Orleans with an entire cocktail whereas in most places tell you to dump out your drink. In New Orleans they stop you and go (with Cajun accent) Stop! Stop, right there. You have a cocktail? No? Take this.

Did you and Al joke around between takes?
Yeah, we used to do this slow-motion fight. But I would always have to lose. He'd look at me and start (slowing down his voice considerably) moooving in sloooow motion. That was probably the running gag.

Do you think you could play someone with the ferocity of a sociopath?
Yeah, I watched the interviews of guys like Dahmer and they, except for Charles Manson who was out of his fucking mind. Walks into a parole board meeting with a swastika gouged into his forehead, going "I'm better!" So yeah, it can be done. It's just finding the right character to do it with. This one wasn't that type of character. And from watching those interviews, a lot of them have a kind of a terrifying normalcy about them. And the ferocity of when they really go at it, yeah, I kind of got that when I got to beat the shit out of them.

Could you take that kind of energy you have on-stage and transfer that to a villain?
Yeah, you could do that. Usually you find that type of energy in the military. Where you find a man who is allowed total access to that barbarism, then in the middle of combat that's released. In FULL METAL JACKET or BLACK HAWK DOWN, where you find in the midst of that... I've seen it. You see pictures of guys who've just come back.

Have you started working on something else?
Nothing yet.

Did you know they mentioned your name as a possibility for the new SPIDER-MAN villain?
They mentioned me as a villain?! I'd do that in a red second! [RWF Note: Robin did not play a villain in any Spider-Man movie.]

As Dr. Octopus?...
Really?! That'd be great!

I don't know Dr. Octopus.
You don't know Dr. Octopus?! He's great. You know Cyclops? He's another very cool character. All the guys here are going we know all of that shit! I just got all the new SPAWN collectibles!

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