At ease with Robin Williams

Originally published on March 6, 2005 | USA Today | written by Susan Wloszczyna

Robin Williams, who speaks for a mechanical man in the 3-D animated Robots, opening Friday, has a multi-track mind. He easily bounces from Tex Avery cartoons and the Oscars to electrical inventor Nikola Tesla and Iraq. Williams shares his thoughts with USA TODAY. (Related story: Williams will be heard but not seen)

How do you feel about the Oscar changes, such as bringing all the nominees onstage?
I don't like the idea that they make them seem like they're on American Idol. You felt that at any moment they were going to make them do a Fear Factor. I guess they thought if they brought them all up onstage, they would get their moment. But not for two seconds. They were taken to the back room. "Here is a small swag bag. Here's an iPod--good luck."

You once co-hosted the Academy Awards in 1986 with Jane Fonda and Alan Alda. Have they asked you to come back and do it solo?
Yeah, but it's nothing I would want to do. It's a tough gig. Billy (Crystal) was able to master it. If it ever hits me, I would go back to the big musical numbers--"Ladies and gentlemen, he sings!"--when you come flying in.

Is it strange to get a lifetime award at the Golden Globes at 53?
One English newspaper said (Williams affects a posh Brit accent), "So, is it over? Are you finished?"

In Robots, there is a parallel with the upgrades foisted upon the mechanical characters and our obsession with makeovers. You must see this a lot in your profession.
You see augmentations and you are going, "Why?" When a 23-year-old is doing Botox, you're going, "Sweetheart, that line is OK. It's called expression."

Isn't it hypocritical in a way that animated features such as Shrek or Robots promote messages like "Beauty is skin deep" and "You can shine no matter what you are made of"? If there's any business designed to make us feel inferior, it is the entertainment industry.
It's saying "Be yourself, but we may not hire you." If you are a 35-year-old woman and don't look like this, please don't call.

Robots also pokes fun at corporate takeovers, the big guys taking over from the little guys who invented the products. It's interesting that a multimedia conglomerate like Fox is releasing it.
It's like, "Take that, Nikola Tesla. Yeah, Mr. Edison has got your stuff, bright boy. Way to go, immigrant."

Did you always like cartoons?
I was always a hard-core Warner Bros. fan. Elmer and Daffy and (animator) Tex Avery. I collect a lot of Japanese animé. I am waiting to see Steamboy. The Japanese are very aware that animation isn't just for kids, to the point of making pornography. They make deeply dark movies, science-fiction movies.

Are you still doing standup?
Yeah, I've been back out again, especially now with all the politics. I've got a lot to talk about. I did a couple visits to Iraq. They're great audiences and it's good to say, "You ain't forgotten, boy." Especially when you go to Afghanistan. Today, in the papers, it's like a third-page thing and they have been there four years. There's nothing to be scared of, flying in and out and being on the bases.

You've signed on for a big picture, RV, with director Barry Sonnenfeld (Men in Black). Sounds like National Lampoon's Vacation.
It could go that way. But he's going to make it about a blue-state family going into the hinterlands.

Is it true you are doing a film version of Armistead Maupin's novel The Night Listener, about a gay radio host who gets involved with a young listener, for only $65,000?
If that. "Will work for art." It's based on a true story. It's like One Hour Photo but from the other side.

You're at a place in your career where you can do what you want.
Yeah, once you stash away enough coin. It's nice that way.

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