HOLLYWOOD (CNN)--Getting a handle on Robin Williams has never been easy, but it grows progressively more difficult as the comic continues to reach out into dramatic roles.
For example, "Good Morning, Vietnam" put him in the thick of a controversial war. He got inside the head of a man traumatized into psychosis in "The Fisher King," and tried to help a mentally unstable genius in "Good Will Hunting." And his latest, a turn in the current release "What Dreams May Come," gave him a taste of the afterlife.
There is humor in "What Dreams May Come"--after all, Robin Williams is the star. But the subject matter, the meanings of life, death, and love, is so serious that it almost kept Williams away.
"It deals with such emotionally intense issues, I didn't know if I'd want to do this for four or five months, be near this kind of dark pain and loss that are at the core of it," he says.
"But as we kept doing it, I thought, 'Well, it's certainly interesting.' And it makes you look at your own life and how you live your life--but that's a side effect of being near this kind of intense emotion."
Williams did find himself taking stock of his life. In the end, he concluded that what he's got is pretty darned good.
"Someone asked me about my vision of the afterlife," he said--in "Dreams," each person's subconscious defines how he sees heaven and hell. Because Williams' character was married to an artist in his life on Earth, his afterworld resembles a series of impressionistic paintings.
But for Williams personally, it's much harder to envision the afterlife "because this life is so extraordinary. I'm truly enjoying this life," he says. "This is pretty close to Paradise for me."
He pauses, then knocks on wood. "Don't want to all of a sudden be talking and go 'urkkkk'!" he jokes.
Williams' life hit its latest high point last spring, when he won his first Academy Award for best supporting actor in "Good Will Hunting." Simultaneously, he says, he has "this amazing life with my wife and children, friends... I live in San Francisco, which to me is close to heaven. It's not, but it's real close."
And with his Oscar comes a growing reputation as a dramatic actor. When matched with his decades of praise as a brilliant comedian, he makes a pretty fair double-bill.
"It's nice to have, like Bertold Brecht said, a passport to go anywhere. It's nice to have that option, to have that kind of opportunity where people say, 'You can try this, because you've proven you can do a character, a full-out character, a character who has this emotional range.'
"That allows you just more opportunities to have the comedic, which is wonderful, and to have these dramatic roles," he concludes. "It just gives you a larger range, a bigger field to play on."