Easily the funniest interview of the year
Robin Williams is the undisputed master of improv comedy. He had everyone in stitches during the interviews for RV. It was like your own private comedy hour. The guy is just a non-stop laugh riot. I've tried to add some of the off color comments and impressions to this article, but it doesn't have the same effect in print. Luckily you can go see him in RV, which is pretty funny and a solid film for the whole family.
You signed on to RV a year before it was cast. What about this project made it so special?
Robin Williams: I was just looking to do a comedy with someone like Barry [Sonnenfeld, the director], who's funny and has great visual chops. That's why I signed up. He is a strange, wonderful Jewish man. Because you know, there have been a lot of vacation movies and what makes this different? Barry makes this different. He gives it a style. Then he starts to get the right people like Jeff [Daniels] and the other family. We had a good time. It's weird to make a movie that you had so much fun doing, even though it's tough work. But we still had a good time with good people.
The RV is a central theme, but the film is really about family bonding while traveling. Was that in the original script, or were there more RV hijinks?
Robin Williams: It was always the idea of the vacation being the center of it. Lucy [Fisher, the producer] got the idea when they actually took an RV vacation and they realized there's this whole other world. The RV becomes a character.
Have you done much camping yourself?
Robin Williams: I tried to camp with my son when he was five. I had a Volkswagen Vanigan with the pop-up, the old car that we all used to remember. (makes a puffing, pot smoking gesture)
How many RV's did you destroy?
Robin Williams: This one they had five. They have the drowned one, the beaten-up one, the stunt RV, they had the one with no shocks, so they could put it up on two wheels. They had the hollowed-out one, they had the green screen one. Somewhere in Canada there must be a shit load of RV's that are being sold like (in rural, hick voice), 'Bill, this one ain't got no furniture. We don't want a hollowed-out RV, that's just crazy, it's a fixer-upper.' Jeff actually owns one and drives one. I own a weird, kind of like a Land Rover Defender, like a big old safari wagon. This thing makes that look like a skateboard.
What did that fake poop smell like?
Robin Williams: It smells like being slimed. I just got slimed on Nickelodeon, so they didn't want to do the whole olfactory thing and make it real...'Give me Fecal #5!' The special effects guys, 'We like blowing stuff up, but let's dip him in some major dung. Habib, put some chunks in it.' That was a big discussion, what the texture should be. If you put lumps in it, people go 'Oooh no.'
You're somewhat of a bike aficionado. Were the bike scenes fun?
Robin Williams: Yeah. They were tough man. I ride a road bike and you know, I can hang. But on those little BMX bikes, oh man, that's a testicle crusher. They had a great mountain bike guy to do the downhill stuff, the real hard core, but I tried to do a lot. And riding a single speed bike uphill in Canada, it's crazy. But that's kind of the demand in physical comedy, you take the hits and then you pray to the ghost of Keaton that it will work.
There's a great father-daughter theme in this film. We met your daughter, Zelda, last year for House of D. Was this film for her?
Robin Williams: I'm doing it because of Zelda. The idea that she's given me the research, I've done the homework with her and with Cody. Cody's a bit like the character Josh. People say 'Where do you get that faux-homeboy thing?' Cody went through a big rap phase. He'd be playing hardcore thug music and we'd be going to school and you'd hear (mimics booming bass, rap lyrics). He's a tall skinny kid. He also did that thing, 'Check my guns out, dad, check my guns.'
So that was mirrored in the script?
Robin Williams: No. I didn't actually ask: Would you write this about my children? The guy who wrote it actually has two little kids. But the idea of a teenage daughter being in that phase where you literally feel like Sylvester the Cat with his son who used to go, (mimicking Junior's voice) 'Oh father. Must you embarrass me so? Oh father, why can I not die and come back later.' The idea of being called 'Dad' is a brief moment and then they're back to calling you Robin. You're negotiating most of the time, you feel like you're having small meetings with your family. I've done the homework. I've lived it. It's like a documentary for me at some point.
Did Cody help you write your lines for the rap scene?
Robin Williams: No, I just riffed it because I've seen so many faux-homeboys. I've been all over, even in Poland you'll see guys dressed like hardcore rap. (mimics foreign faux-homeboys)
That Stallone impression is hilarious. Has he ever heard it?
Robin Williams: Oh yeah. I finally did it in front of him. I didn't know he was there. It was a Muhammad Ali benefit and I get up there and (does Stallone voice) Billy [Crystal] leans over to me and says 'He's here.' He came up to me afterwards and said "Thanks for doing me." I said, (mimics him back in Stallone voice) "It wasn't hard." It's like doing Arnold for Arnold (goes into Arnold impression).
You've done a lot of family films in the past, but it does seem now there's real lack of quality. Why do you think that is?
Robin Williams: Well, just because they weren't being offered. If they were, I said 'No, I'm okay'. I got the scripts for Cheaper by the Dozen and all that stuff. Seriously, I have three kids. I've lived this. I don't need nine more.
You've done some family movies some people may have thought were too sweet...
Robin Williams: Oh yeah, there's that whole thing, the people who have kind of, almost a 'tissue rejection' with Patch Adams. I don't know, I think there must have been a clown at childbirth. There was this one review where this woman who, not only would she attack Patch Adams, but anybody associated with that movie. For years later, (in growling, lady-voice) 'They should be put on the same island with the people who made Patch Adams.' Lady, it's okay, give it up! Someone has issues...
Would you do a Patch Adams sequel?
Robin Williams: NO. No way! In a weird way, it's kind of the medical version of what "Dead Poet's Society" did for a lot of people who said, 'I became a teacher because of "Dead Poet's." It's weird, the reaction to the movies that people say were soft or saccharine. I didn't go out of my way to make those. I just wanted to make comedies and sometimes they were for kids, sometimes they were for adults. And then I made "One-Hour Photo" and Insomnia. I just made those because they offered them and they were interesting. Not to try and go, (in deep, scary voice) 'I'll show you my dark side. Here is the Evil Robin. The one that will lead to bad mail.'
Do you plan to continue doing darker films?
Robin Williams: I hope. I just want to work with interesting people. I did this movie with Barry Levinson, which is a comedy, a political comedy. He did Wag the Dog, which I thought was one of the better political comedies in recent history. Studios are terrified of political comedies. I wanted to make it with him because it was about a political talk show host running for office. Hey, could it happen, 'Al Franken, line 1.' The idea of talking about politics and what it's become, the whole system and the electoral process and the debates and the sound bytes and the negative ads and all that other stuff. That's what we wanted to do that movie about. I just want to keep doing strange movies like The Night Listener or 'Man of the Year" with Barry Levinson, and now this other kids movie. "Night at the Museum" is about the Museum of Natural History coming to life at night. I've loved that place when I came to New York.
You play Teddy Roosevelt?
Robin Williams: Yeah. Reading about him, it's so amazing when you read what that man did and you see what's happening now, you want to wake up and go 'Why?! He's a Republican, he's a really great Republican!' It's just you read about him and his life and the things he accomplished. (knocking on table) 'Mr. Bush? Mr. Bush, here's a book. I want you to read this. Is it on tape?' I love the fact that they had to make a DVD to explain to him what a hurricane was. 'Wow, a levy, I thought that that was a tax. And a dike is?'
Can you talk a bit about Happy Feet?
Robin Williams: I play four, used to be four, but now three characters, three penguins in "Happy Feet". I play the Argentinean penguin, the one that sings 'My Way.'
How was that?
Robin Williams: It was a blast. We had all these Chicano comics working in the same room, which is great. I play a Barry White kind of penguin that's almost like a reverend character. It's kind of like "March of the Penguins" meets Riverdance.
RV hits theaters this Friday and is rated PG.