Death to Smoochy

Originally published on April 4, 2002 | | written by Andrew Phillips

And here's another junket I want to tell you about... Meeting Robin Williams and listening to him just go off in a twenty-minute roundtable interview was one of the most fun things I've gotten to do out here in H-wood. At the junket for "Death to Smoochy," which was packed to the gills with a whole slew of reporters all on one long table at the Park Hyatt in Century City (home of the Saturn Awards!), Williams showed up first and was so full of wit, insanity, and mania that it was genuinely like watching a stand-up routine (one of the first albums that ever made me love stand-up was "Robin Williams: Live at the Met"--this was at that energy level). I will endeavor to capture some of that in this transcript, but will likely fail miserably.

In "Smoochy," Robin plays Rainbow Randolph, a deposed television children's host busted for taking bribes to put certain parents' children up front where the cameras can really see them. Once on the ropes, he blames a lot of his problems on his successor, the squeaky clean Smoochy the Rhino, played by Edward Norton, and plots to destroy Smoochy's career and get back his show.

"Death to Smoochy" is a very funny movie and easily my favorite comedy of the year thus far. I was blown away by some of the insanity Williams went through on screen and it's my favorite performance of his since "Aladdin."

Without further ado, here's Robin Williams:

Do you think this film makes a statement about violence in the media? (this guy was writing an article on this and asked all the talent this question first)
(dead-pans) In a really weird way.

What do you think that statement is?
Avoid cookies? A statement about violence in the media? I don't know. That's a nice one, right off the bat. But I don't know if this is like the violence portrayed by the media, against the media or within the media...

All of it.
Gosh. It's all there. It's all nasty. I don't know, I've always thought that this has this kind of darker side of... having done television and having played a character for four years and had network executives say, "God, you're funnier than Jack Carter," and then when they cancelled "Mork & Mindy..." (a reporter looks up from writing) Hey. How're you doing? Welcome back. (goes into a shy voice) Aw... man, I didn't mean to bust ya! I time my medication, too. (back to Robin-voice) I know where you were, you were writing. Me, too. In terms of violence in the media, I have to really think about that one because the violence in this is directed at... only Robert Evans could answer that question. (does Robert Evans) "That's why the kid stays in the corridor."

Where does the nastiness of this character come from?

Oh, you mean the bitterness?

What the fuck does that mean? No, I mean the bitterness comes from when they cancelled "Mork & Mindy..." (someone sneezes) That's okay, save it. Um... that they, uh... (fakes a MASSIVE sneeze) Haa-choo! Welcome to Miami. Haayahhh!!! I never voted for him. Haaayahhh! (he finds one of the microcassette recorders in front of him funny-looking--it looks, indeed, like a small .22 pistol. Naturally, he picks it up and starts playing with it) Shut up or the bitch gets it! Yeah, this is the one where they'll go, "step away from the camera!" They took a nailclipper away from a friend of mine--why? Because he's going to take the plane? Like, "sit down or the bitch loses a hang-nail!!!" Violence in the media. I think, uh... (finally breaks down and laughs) What was your question?

The nastiness...
Ah, the nastiness. Is it inside. Yes, I have a darker memory of television, oh sure. That's why I get to perform on stage. It gets it out. If I didn't have that... (whistles)

Is it easy to play that kind of character?
Oh, really easy.

Compared to, say, "One Hour Photo?"
No, this is easier to play because you have access and you can explode and get it out. "One Hour Photo" is so retentive. I'm beginning to understand Ashcroft--a man who lost to a dead man, if I may say so.

In regards to your musical sequences, do you consider yourself a disciple of Bob Fosse?
I do. I go to the Church of Fosse. Where you dance up for Communion and say, "showtime!" (sings) "Jesus appear, don't you see him?" Yeah, I do. I always wanted to do a musical, because I can't skate the chances of doing "Bicentennial Man on Ice" are really low--for two reasons. I mean, number one... (notices someone else at the table) Hi, Hedda, how are you doing down there? Nice to see you. L.A. Eyeworks, nice choice. (she's wearing a Rolling Stones t-shirt) Rolling Stones, great! Good tour. They're going back out. Mick's palimony tour. (does a voice) Gotta pay for all those babies.

Yeah, the tickets are $600 a seat.
Is it? $600 a fucking seat? Wow! Just to see Keith walk. I think Keith could take anthrax and go, (Keith accent) "Fuck it, alright. Fuck all, I'm read-yyy." By God, he's the Elephant Man Walking.

You've probably gotten this a lot lately, but with this, "Insomnia" and "One-Hour Photo" all in a row...
Why so dark? Why so dark, my man. I think because, first of all, I asked him to look for one, but he found three. An agent. He found three? Who is "him?" Shut up! I can finish this, Mr. Nash. I'm not anti-semitic. It's basically... he found one character, "One Hour Photo" was the first one and then "Smoochy" came through which I went, God, it's Danny and this is nasty-funny. And Fosse. I'm in. And enough sequins to make Liberace go, (catty) "Shut up!" Finally "Insomnia," that showed up and that was Chris Nolan and Pacino and I went, man, these are great choices. I know they're all nasty and dark, but hey, what else?

How was it working with Al?
Great. Al... (laughs) Al. I bet you called De Niro "Bobby?" (everybody cracks up) And you call Marlon, "M." (does Brando quite well) "Get over here, you little rugrat. Come on, we're going to have chicken."

I mean, did you learn anything from him?
I learned from him... just stay out of his eye-line. No! I learned that he basically, for having the reputation of being Mr. Method, he's really funny. He really has a good time. But he's also... he stays in character and he did a weird thing. The first day I was there, I visited the set and some time while he was preparing his character he started going, "Rooooo-waaaaaaaa!!!! ROOOOO-WAAAAA!!!" And from the background, I went, (like a really quiet sheep) "mee-ee-ee-ee..." And he starts to go, "WHO THE FUCK...???" I went, "it's me," and he went, "oh, hi, nice to meet you." So, we established territory right away. This will not be your normal method experience. He knew that I worked differently, shuffle to the beat of a different drummer, and we had a good time. Working with him is a blast because it's a seduction. My character is just talking him through, trying to convince him that what I did was all right.

What about your return to stand-up?
Oh, it's been a blast.

Can you talk about why, at this point in your life...?
Because the medication wore off. No, it's been good because I started doing it initially there was a benefit, not a benefit, it was a tribute to Whoopi Goldberg, which is also a benefit. (does Whoopi) "Stop giving away stuff!" It was in Washington and it was about a month after 9-11 and first of all, she didn't want to fly out, but then Ted Kennedy called and said, (does Ted) "I-yuuh, want you to be here. I can't make it that night, there's a buffet." And, she showed up and we did the benefit and it was weird, because the audience was just like they'd been under siege because no one had performed in Washington except for George in a long time. And everybody else noticed that he waved at Stevie Wonder, right? Okay, good. And even Stevie went (does Stevie), "Brother's crazy. I know he's out of his goddamn mind. He's waving at me. Motherfucker's dumb! I don't care what you say... children of the damned." But, when we performed that night, it was a great thing to have... the response was pretty good. It was huge, actually. It was kind of this thing afterwards that, "you've got to go out and do this." Then I started performing in a club in New York, a place called the Comedy Cellar. I thought, if there's going to be any place that'll be a good test, it would be New York. The audiences are great--tough, but great, because they were saying, "you've got to talk about this stuff." I went, okay, maybe it's time to go back.

What does 9-11 do then to the way you approach humor?
Oh, well, George is pretty easy. The fact that he almost died from a pretzel. The fact that we have hundreds of millions of dollars flying air cover over Washington and he dies from a snack food. Even the Secret Service is going, "Fuck! That's it!" Do they actually have to have a guy going, "chew, sir!" "Fluid, sir?" "Fluid now, sir?" And the dogs didn't even do anything! They just licked his face for the salt. Even the dogs didn't give a shit and he raised them! But what has it done for comedy? I mean, somebody was on "Letterman" last night and they had a great point. He was saying that, "they can't find Bin Laden, but he's a six foot five Arab on dialysis." I mean, just look for tracks in the sand! There's a guy at a listening point--(makes noises like a dialysis machine), "I think we found the machine!" "Aim for the machine!" (Military voice) Operation Extreme Redundancy carries on. I've been talking about all this stuff, the security measures at the airport--I live in San Francisco. We have the Golden Gate Bridge. Defending the bridge is one Hummer--and I'm talking about the car--one Hummer here with two National Guardsmen in complete camouflage. They don't get out of the fucking truck. They're in complete camouflage, but I have one thing to tell them, "the bridge is bright gold." It's like it's from the Elmer Fudd School of Defense like, (does Fudd) "Be vewwy, vewwy, quiet. I'm wooking for an Awab. Huhuhuhuhuh." And they're just sitting there. They'll let people walk across the bridge back and forth and they're thinking that some kid with a backpack is going, "I'm going to take it out!" And they won't let bicyclists go across like somebody's going to have something in pants that are so tight you can tell what religion you are. (Does gruff soldier) "Get off the bike! Oh, it's you." It's just insane all the stuff that's going on. Patting down. My friend's daughter was seven months old, they patted her down like she's got a grenade in the diaper. But, as we saw with the man who tried to--the Mid-Air Jordans--you have to be careful. Here's a guy trying to light up his shoe. (Flight attendant) "No smoking shoe section, sir. Step away. Thank you."

Can you talk a little about working with Danny DeVito?
Oh, he's so nasty-funny.

Did he just allow you...?
Oh, anything. Because he himself is so nasty. He's a troll without a bridge. He pushes the envelope. He will shoot until he drops because he's nocturnal. He's just, (does DeVito) "ah, we've got to keep going." And he's got that laugh, (DeVito again) "Ha-ha-ha! Buddy!" He was a blast and he's also got Ed and Catherine Keener, who is so knock-out beautiful. Just to do one scene with her, I just feel like, (Shy fifth-grader) "Hi, you're so pretty. Real pretty." He would just push it, rather than say, "back up," I got worried that he wouldn't stop me and would let me go over the edge, which he did. In the end, then, they're using some really interesting things.

Was Ed used to working like that?
I don't know. I think Ed's used to doing whatever's needed for the character. He would go crazy with me like when I had the scene in the car with him it was the first time we got to work. If you notice, there's two different accents in the car. One is Scottish, one is almost a... (does the accent) New Zealand, Australian thing, which is, "God, Nicole's great! She's a tall piece of work!" Then we'd do complete takes in the Scottish. Then he combined the two. But Ed, I would say weird things like, "Oh, you know that Randolph, he's a pillow-biter, you know?" He'd go, "I don't know anything about his sleeping habits..." Heh, I like you. He'd take anything you say and incorporate it in character into what you're doing. This is great. This is a guy who can hit the ball back.

How's he compared to Pacino? They're both sort of Method-y...
Method-y is a good way to say it, which is a kind of Method-lite, without Marlon saying, "just give me a pat of butter."

At Julliard, were you hit over the head with Method?
No, really it was the opposite. They had one teacher, there... the scary thing was, one of our teachers was a psychoanalyst and he'd chainsmoke and sweat like Elizabeth Taylor after a Mexican meal. He was like this horrible kind of, (does INTENSE, heavy-breathing teacher) "Get your character!" He was always hitting on some of the guys in the class. No, we didn't have method, we had (goes into over-the-top, Shakespearean actor on crack) People Training You To Speak, Like This! To Enunciate For No Fucking Reason! To Be Like The Classically Trained Shakespearean Act-or and then you could never get commercial work because you could never go, (back into character) "Dos Equis--A Beer For Now! More Head Than Monica On Speed! Never Before Has A Beer Addressed The Problem Of Our Generation To The Sum Of Liquid Refreshment... (Smilin' Jack note: Robin started speaking really fast and I can't understand in the slightest the last few words of his remark, though everyone's laughing) Brought hither for all to see and care, and yet, all place it there, upon strange curly hair. What is this I have said to you? This place, this time. Now, I'm going to find a way to rhyme, with strange enlightenment. And all the words have come to none and now we've spoken and done our junket. And what rhymes with junket? Except plunket. Dr. Seuss will see I am. I am Sam... (goes into Sean Penn's "I Am Sam" character) A good choice! Very good choice. I want Sean to win, because it'll be interesting. Very good choice. And don't cut Russell off. Don't cut him off. It will be bad. At the Kodak Theatre. For those people. Bad. (going back to Robin) Okay, I needed the stage time. This has been really good. How much money did we raise?

And we all laughed and should've applauded. It was unbelievable. Robin stayed in there for awhile, looked at the "Smoochy" dartboard (said, "this is the weirdest fucking swag in the world"), talked a little more, but the insanity was pretty much past. It was one of the wildest junket rooms ever and Robin was on (somebody set the dial to "911") and it was a sight to see.

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