He's the voice of an automaton in the new animated "Robots," but when it comes to freedom of expression, Robin Williams is very human. The man who has always been dangerously funny ran up against ABC's censors who wanted him to tone down his Oscar rants.
While promoting his new movie "Robots," opening Friday, luckily those censors weren't around. Williams couldn't resist riffing on the sexual identity of certain recent movie characters.
ROBIN... ON EVERYTHING: A lightning-quick round
On doing a movie based on his own life: It would be called "Hairy Guy."
On Martha Stewart in prison: I can see her holding up a plate of pasta in the prison mess hall and asking, "Is this al dente?"
On directing someday: I wouldn't want to direct. Peter Weir said a great thing: "There are people who direct and then there's plumbers who go, 'I can direct.'" Some actors can direct and I'm not one of them.
On the backlash over his political comments: Backlash? I live in San Francisco. It's as blue as you can get. Have I performed in red states? Yes. I just come out and say, "Come on." I think if you hit 'em on it, but not in an angry way, you're fine.
On the CIA: Now, it's the Central Intuitive Agency. They have two psychics from L.A. on call.
"Forget SpongeBob SquarePants. What about Oliver Stone's Alexander? Ollie made Alexander so gay he was no longer Alexander the Great but Alexander the Fabulous!" Williams said.
And when he's not engaged in controversy or commentary, Williams has even managed to make his movie career fabulous again.
Next month, he will star for director David Duchovny in the drama "House of D" with Tea Leoni and Erykah Badu. Adding with a mad laugh: "In David's movie I play a mentally challenged delivery boy, which wasn't that much of a challenge for me," Williams said.
He will star later this year opposite Woody Harrelson in "The Big White." Here he plays a travel agent protecting a frozen corpse that two hit men want to examine. He does another voice in the upcoming "Happy Feet," directed by George Miller, about a musically gifted penguin in Antarctica.
In "The Krazees," due next year, he's a psychologist father who can't deal with the idea of his daughter reaching puberty, and he morphs into several different characters to get his emotions under control.
And then there's the animated "Robots," which marks his return to animation after playing the genie in the now classic Disney film "Aladdin."
Directed by Chris Wedge ("Ice Age"), an Academy Award winner for the short film "Bunny," the film revolves around the wacky world of robots.
There's a young 'bot inventor, Rodney (Ewan McGregor), who dreams of helping robots everywhere including his crush, Cappy, a gorgeous 'bot (Halle Berry). There is Bigweld, the master inventor (Mel Brooks), and a misfit 'bot group whose leader is Fender (Williams).
Other celebrity voices include Greg Kinnear, Drew Carey, Jim Broadbent, Amanda Bynes, Paul Giamatti and Dianne Wiest.
Fender, whose limbs can't stay attached to his body, becomes friends with Rodney, who regularly repairs Fender.
"They called me to play the damaged 'bot. Boy, that was a stretch," he said. "I guess that's because I'm 53! Old age! Let me sit down."
He stood for some 32 hours to tape "Robots," although not all his ad-libs made the family-friendly film. He mentions outtakes so graphic that they can't even be put on the DVD. "I guess I got too adult," Williams said. "I can't help it. I feel inspired, and words just roll off my tongue."
And then there are times when Williams prefers to shut up.
He took a tiny break from movies because there wasn't much that really challenged him.
"Good is worth waiting for," said Williams, who admits he hasn't been onscreen as much lately because "the scripts just haven't been that exciting."
He has become beloved to movie audiences with sentimental roles in "Mrs. Doubtfire" (1993) and "Good Will Hunting" (1997), which earned him an Oscar.
"Those were wonderful roles, but for a long time afterward, I was offered the same sweet type of man again and again," he said. "I longed to do something different."
So he began dabbling in darker roles ("One Hour Photo," "Insomnia"). Truth be told, Williams wants to play every character.
"I'm fascinated by examining behavior," he said. "I love to explore characters who are lonely and how they make human connections."
But strange characters aren't exactly the most gratifying characters.
"Gratifying is different," he said. "Gratifying is doing 'Awakenings' and meeting [famed neurologist] Dr. Oliver Sacks. That's interesting and fascinating to me on a deeper level."
Working with friends is also good in his book. He took the role in the upcoming "House of D" to be around his pal Duchovny. "I remember when I was shooting 'Jumanji,' and I was a huge fan of 'The X-Files' so I visited the set one day," Williams recalled. "David refused to believe I was there."
"He thought they were playing some kind of UFO joke on him. It was like Mork had shown up on the 'X-Files' set for his cameo with Mulder," he said, adding that the two have been close friends since that day and always planned on working together.
Williams became fascinated with the arts while growing up in the Chicago suburbs. He ditched his political science studies to enroll in the Juilliard School to study acting. Stand-up comedy led to his big break on the sitcom "Mork and Mindy" in the late '70s.
He doesn't rule out a return to stand-up. "I took a long time off from stand-up, but when I went back, I realized just how much I missed it. I'm working on a new show now."
During a recent lull in movies "where I wasn't getting offered anything interesting," Williams took his act out on the road.
"Acting in a movie is precise work. But once I stand on a stage, it's just me. I'm in free form," he said. "Live is the best because there is no going back. It's like parachuting out of a plane, and I love the idea that the chute might not open. That's the fear and the joy."
The joy is also his family, including 15-year-old Zelda and 12-year-old Cody with wife Marcia Garces. There is also 21-year-old Zachary from his first marriage to Valerie Velardi.
The kids are following in his footsteps. Zelda has a small role in "House of D," and Zach has been offered parts in movies. "The kid is so studly, but he's not interested. He's studying linguistics at New York University."
"Being my kid, it's amazing Zach turned out so well," he said, laughing.
But don't believe him, because Williams is very serious about fatherhood. He laments that Zelda is actually dating and thus driving her famous father nuts.
"When you have a teenage daughter, your whole life comes back at you," he said. "You know exactly what the boys are thinking when they turn up at your door."
Expect to hear more about it in his new live show--or not. "Oh, Dad can't let it all flow," he says. "Do you want me to get in trouble?"