Williams is the focus of attention at the Dorchester

Story by Jack Foley

ROBIN Williams may have entered his ‘dark period’ as an actor, but the real-life ‘funnyman’ has lost none of his wackiness away from the screen.

Spending time in his company is rather like stumbling, uninvited, into a stand-up comedy routine, albeit improvised, or entering some kind of alternate reality.

Journalists arrived at the Dorchester Hotel in London intending to quiz the star about his performance in Mark Romanek’s creepy One Hour Photo, in which he plays a lonely obsessive who stalks a family; but were instead treated to a virtuoso performance of sheer breathless energy and lightning fast wit, taking in everything from frank social commentary to John Wayne impressions and pot-shots at President Bush (‘every day, he does something that’s a comedy gift’, he candidly confesses.).

Yet while the actor has managed to convert some of the biggest Williams sceptics into taking him seriously once again, the criticisms which followed career choices such as Patch Adams and Bicentennial Man obviously hit hard - even though, publicly, he pokes fun at them.

When asked whether his roles in One Hour Photo, Insomnia and Death To Smoochy were deliberate choices, Williams is quick to say no - talking, instead, about the privilege of taking on such a role and of working with some acclaimed directors.

"Did I consciously say I was just going to do dark roles? No, they came in kind of a weird synchronicity," he explains. "First One Hour Photo, then Death to Smoochy, and then Insomnia.

"They were so good and so strange, that I had to do them. I know they were not normally roles I’d get offered, which was great.

"The chance to work with Chris Nolan, I mean… after seeing Memento. I saw it with 12 people and everyone came out saying, [in stoned voice] ‘what was that? I have to get a tattoo now, see movie again!’

"And then I got to work with Ed Norton and Danny DeVito, which was great, and then when I read this movie, which was the first one, I thought this was so strange; and when I saw Mark Romanek’s videos, then I had to do it.

"So will I continue to keep playing nasty characters? Well if they send me one more, then probably, but if I keep doing that they’ll start saying, ‘oh, another dark character, Mr Williams?' And I’ll have to leave the brown period and find something else, some other type of movie.

"But it’s been great to have the privilege to play these type of characters who are no longer bound by the laws of likeability. And when you start off, it also gives you kind of a surprise attack because people think, ‘oh, it’s that nice man’, you know?

"Even with Insomnia, people thought, ‘oh, he wouldn’t do anything awful, and even if he did it wouldn’t be that bad’, and then they realise, he’s a prick! He’s a little bastard.

"But it helped the movie, in that way, because I think it kind of confused people, so that when it starts to take a turn, it is great for the mystery, and that’s good."

Yet anyone thinking that Williams went down the method route in order to get in touch with his dark side, should think again. The star doesn’t believe in it, opting instead to break out into the zany persona that has become his hallmark in between takes.

"If you stay in method all the time, you can drive people crazy," he continued, after alluding to Al Pacino’s ‘desire’ to see him in ‘nipple clips’. "When we were acting and working, I’d get very concentrated and then blow it off, because you have to, especially with One Hour Photo.

"Near the end, it was 18 Hour Photo, it was crazy the amount of work people were doing and if you’re doing that method thing where, like, ‘you must call me by my character’s name’, it’s like ‘uh-ho’; or stalking PAs on the way home, ‘I’m just following you, don’t be afraid’.

"We can do wild stuff and then be these dark, nasty, very contained characters and it really helps to have both."

Whether this all means that Williams is planning a return to the type of sentimental roles which earned him such scathing reviews remains to be seen, however, for the actor confesses to being completely surprised by the level of abuse which greeted the likes of Patch Adams.

"It was frightening. It got to the point where I would read reviews about other movies and they would attack me again.

"One reviewer said that ‘the people who made this movie should be put on the same desert island as the people who made Patch Adams, and then drowned with Robin Williams’ and I was like, ‘oh really, come on!’ Someone must have had an awful experience with a clown, that’s all I can say."

Since completing work on the three dark movies, however, Williams has gone back to stage work and stand-up, details of which can be found in part two of Indielondon's special feature on One Hour Photo. (Click here).

Posted: Thursday, October 3, 2002

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