Robin's Wife Insurance

Originally published on September 18, 1999 | Calgary Sun | written by Calgary Sun Staff

TORONTO--Life is beautiful for Robin Williams.

He is one of the most beloved and powerful men in the entertainment industry. Gone are the days when he was considered a quirky, strung-out comedian.

Mork, the alien from planet Ork, has long ago been dwarfed by a string of memorable, award-winning characterizations in such films as Awakenings, Good Morning Vietnam, Dead Poets Society, The Fisher King, The Birdcage and Patch Adams.

On Friday, Williams brings his unique brand of humour laced with pathos to the Holocaust drama Jakob the Liar.

Williams plays Jakob, a former restaurant owner living in a Jewish ghetto in Nazi-occupied Poland.

Jakob is a little man whose innate cowardice is transformed into epic heroism when his neighbours believe he has a radio.

Jakob's fabricated news flashes give his fellow ghetto dwellers the hope they had lost.

Jakob the Liar is a project Williams' wife and business partner, the former Marsha Garces, developed for him.

How this project evolved reveals a great deal about Robin and Marsha's relationship.

Hungarian filmmaker Peter Kassovitz developed the screenplay 10 years ago in French, but producers were frightened by the sensitive material.

"I then decided to rewrite the screenplay in English and tailor it for Robin Williams," recalls Kassovitz.

There was one major problem.

"You can't go directly to Robin. You have to go through agents and lawyers to get to Marsha and then she decides if Robin gets to see the material."

In this case, Marsha was moved by the material and decided she would consider eventually letting her husband see the screenplay.

"I met with Peter after I read the script and we worked on it for about a year before I gave it to Robin. This is not a unique situation," Marsha says.

"I worked on Mrs. Doubtfire for a year before Robin ever saw the script. I look for characters I don't think he has done before. Much of what producers and writers want Robin to do is stuff he's already done."

Marsha insists she is not some Svengali, but rather she treats her husband "like any other actor. I wouldn't think of giving an actor a screenplay until it was pretty much at production level."

After working with Marsha as a producer and Robin as a star, Kassovitz concludes: "Robin relies a great deal on Marsha and she has a great deal of power because she has Robin and people want him in their movies."

For his part, Williams says he defers to his wife because "she is the only person who is brutally honest with me. Most people would prefer to tell me what they think I want to hear.

"Not Marsha. She refuses to let me recycle old schtick just because it works.

"It's vital to have someone who is determined to see that I grow as an actor."

Marsha says she knows "in his heart, Robin would love to play a great villain. The dilemma is that he doesn't want his children to see him gunning people down in some needlessly violent manner.

"Someone else can do that."

Williams knows that many of his fans want him to do a flat-out, frivolous comedy. They feel he has become too serious.

Marsha points out: "The comedy scripts we're getting, other people could do just as well, or Robin has been there before, so we've decided that he should do six months worth of standup comedy again instead.

"This will give him the chance to exercise his comedy muscles."

Unless his standup shows are filmed for one of the cable networks and video, Williams' millions of fans around the world will not get the opportunity to see him flexing those incredible and entirely unique muscles.

Bob Balaban, the actor and filmmaker who stars with Williams in Jakob the Liar, has seen the Williams mystique first-hand.

"Robin is a universal everyman. There are no barriers between him and the outside world. Forty thousand people in the wilds of Poland were pointing at him and saying hello. Robin is so accessible that people feel they know him."

Williams admits he's flattered by such comments, but insists: "This is more a perception of me than the reality. That's why I'm going back to standup. I have to mix things up again, so I can shatter those perceptions.

"The only way for me to deal with this surreal thing called celebrity is by making fun of it."

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