Funny man Robin Williams gets serious for House of D
Robin Williams takes a turn for the dramatic in David Duchovny's bittersweet tale of innocence lost, House of D. He plays Papas, a mentally retarded man whose best friend is thirteen year old Thomas (Anton Yelchin). House of D was a family affair for Williams. His daughter, Zelda Williams, costars in the film as the romantic interest. Interviewing Robin Williams is always a hoot and he had everyone in stitches. He's easily one of the great comics and proves his versatility once again with this performance.
What did it take to convince you to make this film?
Robin Williams: Not much, I just read it and said, "This is interesting". I met with David [Duchovny], he had written it, so I wasn't worried about how he was going to shoot it. When he said that we'd shoot in New York, I'm in. If you're going to do a movie about the Village, it's pretty nice to shoot in the village and not be in Toronto. Not that shooting in Toronto is bad…nice people, eh! Shooting in New York is the shiznit, if I may be so bold. It was great. New York is a character. People who live here know that.
Did you ever watch David in the "X-Files"?
Robin Williams: Yes. That was great, good and creepy, living in that paranoid and paranormal that we live in.
Did you stick straight to the script or was there a lot of improvisation?
Robin Williams: No, I had to stay pretty much to the script. Number one, being mentally handicapped, you can't riff very well. I couldn't go off to much. There are little things I would try, but he's slightly slower than the rest. There were a few things I'd try, the scenes where I could be playful with him. But it's playful as an eleven year old with a thirteen year old. He's the older brother, I'm bigger and stronger, it's not Mice and Men time, but not aware of that.
How much did you prepare for the role?
Robin Williams: There are things to do. Physically he looks different. You want to find a different way of doing it. There have been a lot of characters who were mentally challenged. You've got everything going, but you try to pick one. There's specific ways, specific looks, specific levels of how well they function, verbally and socially. There's the high functioning challenged, that's difficult to do, then you get in areas like autism. He's had a tough life, but he can work. He can work with people. So, there's not a lot of riffing.
How did you like working with your daughter?
Robin Williams: It was great to watch her. It was all so good, because being this character; I could just sit back and watch her. She was so possessed and poised, very aware and knowing what the character would and wouldn't do. People ask me if I was worried, not at all. She's thirteen. People who have a thirteen year old daughter know that stage. When she's acting she's concentrating and very nice. She treats people with dignity and respect. That's the other part of this business that you want her to have.
What was it like to work with Anton Yelchin?
Robin Williams: He's so good. He'd always call me Mr. Williams. I would say, thank you young boy. It was more just trying things and playing off him. I think he had a good time. He's a sweet kid. He's also Russian, so I could speak Russian with his mother and father. He's so good. It's like the same thing I saw in the beginning of "Dead Poets Society". Guys were so good and you know they're going someplace and Anton is. He's really bright and I dug working with him.
Did his onscreen relationship with your daughter make you nervous?
Robin Williams: No, he's very respectful. I wish him good luck. (Laughs) I know my daughter. She's very picky and intimidating.
You've spent your career doing a lot of independent films along with blockbusters. Is that a conscious choice or are you just doing the good scripts?
Robin Williams: Versus an unconscious effort (laughs), literally, it's what's the best script. At this point, I'm not driven by financial necessity. They will offer big money for something and you say, I'm okay. I'd rather wait for something like this and take my chances on it. But you're still doing an interesting character and an interesting piece. That's why I do the "One Hour Photo's" or the movies I'm doing now, "The Big White" and "The Night Listener". Everyone's in it because they love the piece. Everyone's working for scale, down to the crew members. Everyone takes a cut to make it happen, because we believe in the piece. That's a good thing. That's why I do it. I'm in a place where I have the financial security to do that, at least that's what my wife says.
Did you ever have a hankering direct?
Robin Williams: Never, I've never had a "hankering" to direct. I can perform, but I can't write on that level. I tend to go off on tangents. Directing also requires a kind of specificity and I don't have it. Billy [Crystal] has it, that ability to do both. That's why he's a great host of the Oscars. Directing requires great discipline, that ability to be in and out at the same time. The great ones I've worked with are like generals. It's a bit like a small war on that level. The great ones have that combination of freedom and control. I'm nowhere near that. There's still so much to do as an actor. I have enough to explore with that.
Is there a director you would like to work with?
Robin Williams: Scorsese, I'd love to work with him. There are a lot of great ones. There are a lot of good young directors that I've worked with.
Would you ever do stand-up again?
Robin Williams: I do it all the time. I go down in the Village and perform in different clubs. It's been good. I played at the Comedy Cellar two weeks ago. Followed Colin Quinn, did about thirty minutes. It feels good, because it's a Village audience. It's important to try and keep going because there's so much to talk about right now. There's a lot going.
What are your stand-up topics?
Robin Williams: Besides the government as we know it? Not much, other than censorship coming through. Now they're trying to censor cable television. They want to nail PBS. They want if off the air for two reasons, one, it's kind of opposition radio. It's also a lot of bandwidth they can sell for big money, the FCC. But no one ever says that. Cable is not bound because people pay for it. It's literally a choice, that's the operative word. If you don't like the language, if cocksucker offends you, then turn it off.
Will you do another HBO special?
Robin Williams: Oh yeah, once I got enough material. You have to build it up and try it out. You go across the whole country and get a feel, but I think we're getting close.
Did you watch that "Behind the Scenes with Mork and Mindy" on TV?
Robin Williams: No, it's weird, if they're going to make a bad movie about your life then wait for the Cartoon Network. I knew something was up when I asked for a script and they said, "No, we don't have that".
Did ABC really try to censor you at the Oscars?
Robin Williams: No, Gil [Cates, the director] said that they wanted to take out so many things; it became useless to do the song. They wanted to take out seven lines of the song and it only had twenty-four lines.
Would you have sung it anyway?
Robin Williams: You could have and we were tempted, but without musical accompaniment it's kind of strange. This is the same network that has "Desperate Housewives", where a woman has an affair with a high school kid, and they're worried about "Pinocchio gets his nose done" or "Casper's in the Klu Klux Klan". What they wanted to sensor had nothing to do with words, but everything to do with corporate logos. Who's the father of ABC, Disney. Who owns Disney, Michael. It's more about them protecting. I get what they're worried about, but it was a brief satire about Spongebob. It's all part of this subtle, but not so subtle attempt to control things.