Atta Boy, Man

Originally published on April 4, 1996 | | written by Bob Thompson

NEW YORK--Casting can be easy. Here's an example:

Need somebody to play a boy who looks like a man? How about the original boy-man himself, Robin Williams?

"Yeah, that was left field,"says a pretending-to-be-serious Williams.

The film is tentatively called Jack, "a child with a disorder who ages four times faster than he should so he's a boy, but biologically a man."

The comedy, directed by Francis Coppola, is expected to be one of the big fall hits. But then, anything Williams does these days comes with major expectations.

Take The Birdcage, for instance. The Mike Nichols' remake of the French farce La Cage Aux Folles is hitting the $100-million mark and may surpass the numbers of Williams' other mega-hit, Mrs. Doubtfire.

"But movies are risky things," says the actor, who can cite his flops, Toys and Being Human (but doesn't even mention Popeye any more) as proof.

Hit or miss is not the criterion for Williams, anyway. If it were, and if money were a motive, he'd be well into filming another Mrs. Doubtfire.

Instead, he just signed to do another French remake. This time it's [Fathers' Day], in which he'll star with Billy Crystal. "We're the father of the same runaway boy we're trying to track down," reports Williams. "Ivan Reitman brought it to me."

A lot of movie people bring Williams things. Even Coppola made Williams an offer he couldn't refuse, with Jack.

"We did Godfather Camp Coppola for three weeks to get ready for the movie," he says. "It was great. Bill Cosby plays my tutor. We kinda testified to the crew between lines."

Funny, but Williams assures that Jack will also have something to say in a definitive way. That's important to Williams, and it was one of the reasons he accepted the Birdcage assignment.

"I think comedy is such a great tool," Williams says. "In the process of laughing you can also get acceptance. It's a great time for it, because politicians are trying to rewrite the American Constitution on an Etch-A-Sketch.

"Americans can sometimes forget that in a harbor there is a statue that says, "Give me your tired and your poor"--and not just for two weeks to do light housework."

Interesting. So are you active politically? "I'm barely active mentally," says Williams, going from sombre to silly at the drop of a hat.

"And wait, did I say before I was from San Francisco? Wrong. I live in Canada on an island near Vancouver surrounded by killer seals."

Afraid to speak your mind?

"Afraid?" says Williams in fake hero voice. "They expect you to be afraid. I'm not afraid.

"I wasn't afraid to dress like an ottoman in Mrs. Doubtfire."

Good point. And you weren't afraid to play one of the gravediggers in Kenneth Branagh's upcoming movie production of Hamlet.

"Ah yes," says Williams in his most polite voice. "It was hip to be with Lord Kenneth B."

Friends are good.

"Friends," says Williams, feigning disgust. "They bust my chops. Y'know Bobcat Goldthwait? Toys bombs. A few weeks later he leaves this message on my machine.

"'HELL-O-O. Toys.'"

Williams smiles--just like a little boy.

Wall of Tributes >