Scottish sex line sheep noise

Originally published in 2002 | | written by Phil Mason

Phil Mason enters the disturbing but hilarious world of Robin Williams

You have recently taken several darker roles. Is it a deliberate shift?
Ah yes, the brown period. I didn't consciously go after darker movies, things just kind of happened that way in a weird synchronicity--first One Hour Photo, then Death to Smoochy, then Insomnia. They were so good and so strange, I thought, I have to do these, especially with these directors attached. I saw [Insomnia director Chris Nolan's] Memento with twelve people and they were all like 'What was that? I have to get a tattoo now: See Movie Again.'

Are you going to continue to play villains?
If another nasty character comes along I'll probably do it, but if I keep on taking these roles it'll be like, 'Oh, I see you're doing another one of those characters Mr Williams.' I love playing characters like this because you're no longer bound by the laws of likeability and the audience get a surprise attack. People think 'Oh, it's that nice man, he wouldn't do anything awful.' And then they realise... He's a prick!

Do you have to change your acting style for roles such as these?
No, I behaved the same way as I always do. When you're acting in roles like these you get very concentrated, but then you blow it off because if you were to stay method the whole time it would drive people crazy--you'd be stalking PAs on the way home. I did Insomnia with Al Pacino and he prepared each day by roaring like a lion. I made this kind of Scottish sex line sheep noise between takes to lighten things up.

Have you ever had a stalker of your own?
I've had a few, but that is more or less a given with celebrity--people sometimes associate with you to the point where they think you've spoken to them and nobody else. I've done some strange characters and once a guy showed up saying 'Tell Robin the unicorns are in the park.' Most of the time you get letters first, which are usually about 'If you and I were together we would have wonderful strange furry children.' You get letters from prison like [adopts street hustler voice] 'Dear Mr Williams, you are the funniest man alive, I have written a story about my life that I want you to play. If you don't want to do it, please pass this on to Eddie Murphy.'

What did you make of all the dreadful reviews of your recent work?
Oh God, it was frightening. I'd read reviews about other movies and they would attack me again. One woman said the film she was reviewing was so bad the director should be put on a desert island with the people that made Patch Adams and may they all drown with Robin Williams. I was like, 'Oh lady, come on, you don't have to beat me up again.' I think these last few movies have changed people's perception a bit, though.

Why did you go back on stage after so long?
I started out just wanting to recharge the batteries a bit, and ended up overloading them. It was just after September 11 and people were really needing something to help them deal with it, and that's what I ended up doing--not talking about the incident directly, but how the world has changed because of it. For instance, you can't bring nail clippers on a plane now, because they're afraid you might hi-jack it. 'Step away from the controls now, I've got an emery board!' Every day George Bush does something different and it's like a comedy gift.

Wall of Tributes >