Just Kidding

Originally published on July 21, 1996 | Calgary Sun | written by Louis B. Hobson

MARINA DEL REY--Robin Williams is determined to grow up.

It's just that he's having a tough time convincing Hollywood producers he's not the eternal child.

Williams has played the man/child in such films as Hook, The Fisher King, Toys and Jumanji.

On Aug. 2, Williams stars in Jack, the bittersweet comedy about a child trapped in a man's body.

Jack Powell suffers from a rare disease which makes his body age at four times the rate of his mind. At 10, Jack has the appearance of a 40-year-old man but all the youthful energy of a child.

"When the script for Jack came to me, I gave it a resounding no. I told Disney I'd been there and done that enough," recalls Williams.

"I'm 44 and furry. The only thing I'm really suited for is the musical version of Congo."

That was then, this is now. Williams is Jack Powell.

"Disney pulled out the big guns. They called my friend Francis Ford Coppola to direct and he assured me I'd never played this kind of character before."

Coppola says Williams is "childlike but not childish or even remotely a child. His inventiveness and enthusiasm are what make Robin seem so childlike."

Coppola even enlisted a 10-year-old child to act as Williams' adviser.

"Robin would go through each scene first. Then his adviser would do it independently with Robin watching. There were things the boy would do that would absolutely amaze Robin and he would adjust what he was doing," recalls Coppola.

The director also recalls he had Williams spend two weeks bonding with the actors who play Jack's friends.

"It was like Lord of the Flies day-care centre," recalls Williams, who went camping with his co-stars, told ghost stories and played basketball.

On Aug. 13, Williams reprises one of his most famous roles. In the direct-to-video release of Aladdin and the King of Thieves, Williams once again loans his voice to the genie.

"I absolutely love doing the genie. He's me. He morphs into everybody and everything," says Williams, who takes the genie into the personas of Sylvester Stallone, Elvis Presley, Bob Hope, Marlon Brando, Woody Allen, Tom Hanks as well as such Disney characters as Pocahontas, Pumbaa, Pluto, Mickey Mouse, Snow White and the White Rabbit.

"I was shocked with just how many of my impressions made it into the film. I just kept churning them out never believing half of them would see the light of day."

Williams and Disney had a falling out shortly after the release of the original Aladdin, with Williams vowing he'd never work for the studio again. All has been patched up and Williams has a Picasso painting on his wall courtesy of The Mouse.

"The Picasso was a wonderful gesture on the part of Disney. It wasn't a bribe. We'd already worked out our differences.

"What was happening was that the more Disney used me, the less they were paying me. That's not the case any more."

Because of the box-office success of Mrs. Doubtfire, Jumanji and The Birdcage, Williams' career is in overdrive.

He has a cameo in Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet, which opens later this year; he is currently filming Fathers' Day with Billy Crystal and has signed to star opposite John Cleese in Don Quixote [RWF Note: this movie has not yet been made] and to star in the Disney remake of the 1961 comedy The Absent Minded Professor.

Williams' career has had its share of slumps, so it was little wonder Jim Carrey unburdened himself to Williams over the failure of The Cable Guy.

"I talked with Jim recently at Tom Hanks' birthday party," explains Williams. "Like Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, John Cleese and I, Jim is a member of the brotherhood of the bozo. We're clowns who have our good days and our not-so-good days.

"He doesn't deserve the beating he's getting for The Cable Guy.

"I told him not to worry because he has signed to do a movie with (director Peter Weir). I told him Peter would take him places he hasn't been before. That's what he did for me with Dead Poets Society."

As far as his winning streak goes, Williams insists he feels "no pressure to keep turning out box-office hits. It's the studios who want to capitalize on me while I'm a bit hot again. When I cool off, they'll forget who I am again."

Coppola says although Williams "could play with the kids as if he were their peer, the moment one of them was doing something dangerous, the parent in Robin came out."

Williams says he's as excited that Eddie Murphy has a hit with The Nutty Professor.

"Eddie went through a really rough period, but I knew that getting into all that special effects makeup would free him. It worked for me in Mrs. Doubtfire.

"Look what Roxanne did for Steve Martin."

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