Interviews - Actors
> Feature Interviews U
to Z > Robin Williams
TAKES A WILD RIDE IN RV
by Brad Balfour
©2006 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
April 25, 2006.
Though it's nearly
impossible to capture a Robin Williams conversation as text, he's mastered
enough restraint over the years to lend his movie insights a measure of
coherency. He brings the same maturity to director Barry Sonnenfeld's
droll new family comedy, RV.
This time Williams
plays a dad who – forced to give up a Hawaiian vacation for a Colorado
business meeting – drags the family on a bonding R.V. road trip instead.
Obviously things go awry, and either because or in spite of the fact that
Williams isn't flooding the gas, it's still funny as hell.
Mork and Mindy and films like Good Morning
Though it was
through the hit show
Vietnam, Mrs. Doubtfire
and The Birdcage that Williams sealed his funnyman reputation, it
was on stage that he became known as a comic genius. He has also proven
himself a remarkably elastic talent in such underappreciated dramas such
as Bicentennial Man and One Hour Photo.
Now with RV,
Williams returns to comedy full force. A relentless improviser, Williams
can take any comment and find a riff – as he does in his everything he
participates in, even an interview scenario [and think about what couldn't
be translated to text].
So when you heard
this was called
RV, what did you think?
vehicle. [In French accent:] Recreation vehicle. We have ze
student riots every year. We have what we call “the running of ze
This film has a
glove-fit role for you.
Ah, the glove fit…
It seems perfect for
you in a way.
In a weird way,
yeah. It's kind of me and the technology as we are here surrounded by. We
have two iPods, [some digital recorders] and one old cassette player.
Thank you, Lord.
How did Barry
Sonnenfeld manage you?
Oh, he controlled
me. He's got a great sense of humor, himself. He had a thing like, "Try
it, it'll be fun!" That's him on the side of the RV.
Oh you mean Irv, the
RV salesman played by Sonnenfeld himself.
Irv! He would give
You were with the
project before Sonnenfeld.
Yeah. Then when they
hooked it up with him, I'll do it. This in the wrong hands, we'll talk.
What comes first for
I thought it was
Matzoh, ooh. What
comes first? Usually me. [Laughter.] Okay. The script came with
this one. Sometimes you get both, which is great. If a director comes with
a great script, like this movie I'm doing next, License to Wed,
which I found out yesterday. I'm a counselor, basically.
You tell [Mandy
Moore] she has to be celibate for two weeks?
Yes, isn't that
amazing? Me telling someone that?
Is it a comedy or
It's a comedy.
What about the
choice you made here [with
The choice here was
made easier after Barry was attached, because it really helps to know that
you've got a number on a guy with great visual style and a great sense of
humor to push it further.
It's the first time
in a while you've done a comedy.
Yeah, especially a
studio comedy. I haven't done one – when I was on a studio movie, I went,
"there's food! I'm on a studio movie!" When you're doing really small
movies, you realize [with studio films], "wow, look, there's a full crew!
And we don't have to worry about where the film will come from tomorrow."
But it was interesting working with him, especially on something like
this. Everyday he would make shots that would give it more of a sense of
What about your
hip-hop bit in the movie?
It was fun ‘cause
it's based upon me seeing so many faux-homeboys. I was in Poland and
you'll see homeboys there dressed like full thugs [mocks a Polish
rapper]… Shanghai homeboys [does a rap in Chinese]…
[Has your daughter]
gone out with any of those kinds of kids?
No. "Going out with
any of those?" Easy, dad…afraid of the large black man taking your girl
out? "Yo, I'm here for your daughter, Mr. Williams. Don't mind the tattoo.
I luuuv her. I key my dick that you're here. Serious as a heart attack,
Mr. Williams, yo this is my ride."
Sonnenfeld said you
improvised many versions of the hip-hop scene.
Yeah, the other
version was a kind of making them believe my son was a kung-fu master
[does some of the scene]… It didn't work as well.
Do you think that
you and Barry have a synchronicity on timing?
Even that question
has a synchronicity. I think we do. I think we have a timing about doing
comedy, I think that we're similar on that level. We are seeking
What does that mean?
It means to be in
sync, to be together time wise. Chronos meaning time, sync meaning
together. Out of sync is…out--of—sink… [laughs.]
When you approach a
film, particularly a comedy, do you always do improvisation?
No, you only do that
if they need the help or if there's a place it really works. Like with
The Birdcage, you didn't have to do very much, it was so well written.
That was Elaine [May, final screenwriter] at her best. You don't need to
add anything. And Mike [Nichols] would say, “It’s working, trust the
When you are doing
dramas, do you want to improvise as well?
Yeah, sometimes for
the same reason. If there's a room where it might help the scene of if you
think you can punch it up. Whatever character you think you can establish
more of the essence of the character by pushing a little bit. It's only if
the script has an opening or needs a little punching.
Where do these
things come from in your head?
I have some films
I'll show you. [Laughs.] Where do they come from? They come from a
kind of necessity and observation, and people laugh at that because they
see it everywhere, the homogenization. Ohhh… There are homos everywhere.
[Laughs.] The kids who have the pants that look like a plumber's
What about the
generation gap between your technology-obsessed kids [Joanna 'JoJo'
Levesque and Josh Hutcherson] and yourself? Does it happen to you with
your family, where you text-message each other when you're in the same
Oh, big time. That's
real. The whole idea of texting each other and you're in the same room,
it's like, “Psh, no, serious Dad, I'm texting.” The weird thing is when we
take vacations as a family. One of the rules is that we don't bring that
stuff. It's amazing, you'd think that this could be a kind of cold
technology, “Oh man, I need DSL. I need high speed, you bitch.” But within
a day, they're reading, they're playing games, they're outside…
One of the funniest
parts in the film is when you're standing on the front of the RV as you
try to tip it off the rock it's stuck, and then it starts rolling down the
hill with you hanging on for your life.
Oh, man, doing that
stunt was scary. I have to thank the guys who built that rig. It's an
amazing piece of technology. Not only would it move up and down, but they
made it so when you got to the right point, [it did just what it was
supposed to]. That scene was an homage to Buster [Keaton]. The idea was of
a Keaton-like move to use this huge thing as a comedy prop. Those guys
made this thing and it was amazing how it was all on hydraulics and they
built this mound it had to be on. It's insane, special effects comedy.
Are you're back in a
comedy groove? The producers Douglas and Lucy Fisher thought there might
even be a sequel to this.
Somebody told me a
great story about it. She said her father took her on an R.V. trip through
Europe. I thought, "Wow." Just to take an R.V. into France would be pretty
wonderful. There's so much comedy right there. Just going, [in a French
accent:] "I could fix yours, if you want it." Just when you got to
Europe and you realize a French family car is a mom, a dad and a pack of
smokes. Then when you go to Germany and you're on the Autobahn, cars are
literally going by you at 160 miles an hour. They come up behind you, and
[German accent] "Yah ze make ze good cars, yah ze fast cars and the
tanks. Wiley Porsche, he made very fast cars and these fighters. When
you're on the Autobahn, which Hitler made… psh, which were the old days."
Besides the comedy
there is an underlying message about family, and integrity, which surely
appeals to you.
Yeah, a bit. It was
basically a comedy, and if you get a little lead in, that's nice. But it's
more about the idea of disconnecting on the level of when you lose all of
that stuff and there's this other thing that's kind of wonderful, when you
have a moment. And the adventures that the family goes through. Good and
bad vacations, everyone's had a bad vacation. Once you get through it,
it's like, "Wow. We survived!"
Have you had some
strange ones with your family?
We've had some
pretty strange ones. We go to Lake Tahoe a lot, no Fiji. [Laughs.]
Taking these trips, there's been times where it's been just insane.
Driving up there before all of this stuff. Now when you basically take a
family trip, it's like that scene that I love in the movie where they all
have their iPods. It's like traveling with a little deaf family.
Ageism is also a
factor in this movie… Is Robin Williams worrying about…
losing out to Brad Pitt [for] Angelina? But she has a tattoo that says,
"Robin too." Next to Billy Bob with "Your Name Here." [Laughs.]
When Tom has that baby, the world will change…"IT IS TIME. YOU MUST GATHER
NOW. COME TO ME!"
So you don't have an
No I don't,
actually. I'm doing these smaller parts, like in Night of the Museum.
I'm the third lead but it's been fun. I don't need to hang out there for
five months like Ben Stiller, who's in every scene. I can just fall back
and do what I want, which is kind of cool. It's basically about the Museum
of Natural History here in New York coming to life every night because of
this Egyptian tomb that has this puzzle. And I had wanted to do that since
I was a kid, and not that little, going to Julliard. When I'd go to the
Museum of Natural History, the idea of there being a movie about that
place coming to life is so perfect for a movie. I play a statue of Teddy
Roosevelt that comes to life.
And you're working
on Man of
I did that already.
That was fun. It was with director Barry Levinson ["Diner," "Wag The
Dog"]. That was a blast.
It's a comedy as
Oh yeah, very much.
About a political talk show guy running for office and winning because of
a computer glitch.
Man of the Year,
you win the presidential election; is your character a Republican or
He's more of a
third-party candidate. The idea Barry wanted to have was kind of a
third-party candidate who could basically say, what have elections become
besides this kind of a dog and pony show? Look at the debates, they're
sound bites. It's that idea of, when has there been a debate where issues
have been discussed or anything was resolved where you actually went,
"Wow!"? It's like dueling sound bytes where after the first time you go –
and why a lot of people don't vote or give up or kind of vote in waves,
vote party…but who's dealing with this stuff?
So it's a movie with
It's a movie about
politics. Like Barry did with Wag the Dog, the idea that you can
be funny and still talk about stuff and say, just bring up things about
what's going on. Not just the idea of Republican or Democrat, but what the
whole system has become. Like Frank Zappa said that politics are the
entertainment wing of industry. And you realize you've picked candidates
that are interchangeable, the Mr. Potato Head candidate. And you have a
man presently in office where basically English is a second language.
What's his first?
He speaks "W" Speak.
It's interesting whenever [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair is on stage
with W., because it looks like a bad telethon. There's Blair, who every
week addresses the House of Commons where he is heckled. The Senate
doesn't heckle. "Hey, c'mon now! Hey Strom, your daughter's on line two!"
The idea that [Blair] must address and answer questions, I don't think W.
could handle that. "What, what are you wearing!?" [Laughter.]
I finally did a
movie in New York. Yes! I did a movie about New York in New York! This
one's August Rush, shot by Jim Sheridan's daughter, Kristen. It's
all in New York. And I love Canada, but it's great to do a movie in New
York about New York. Because it's so real. When you're in Central Park and
see Central Park, to be in the Bronx and see the Bronx…
Any plans for live
Yeah, I'll be back
doing that once I finish the movie, License to Wed, take a little
time and go back out on the road.
Any plans for doing
stand-up in clubs?
Yeah, I did the
other night. I went on just because a friend was being heckled at
Caroline's. Jeff Garlin was on stage, and these two drunks were just – and
after I while I just went, "C'mon now, leave the boy alone. Let the Jew be
funny." Then these guys started to go after me. I just went, "You don't
want to do that. I know you don't want to do that. C'mon, make my day, big
boy. C'mon, we're going to do a
scene. I can't quit you, Ennis. C'mon now." You know now any time any guy
says they're going hunting, it's like, "yeah."
So what challenges
The challenge is to
keep finding interesting things and meet interesting people, and so far
that's what I've been doing. And just aging and not worrying about if I
come back and had botox, you'd notice.
How do you cope with
long family trips?
If I'm driving, it's
just music. You know, books on tape too. Music? Everything. When you have
kids you'll be forced to jump the gamut.