Entertainment News

  • 12 August 2014, 12:47

Robin Williams: A Crowd-Pleaser Suffering Inside

The dark, the light, the happy and the sad. Never have I interviewed such a fascinating man who trod such a public tightrope as Robin Williams.

But then for all the sadness that lurked behind the manic performer, and for all the fantastically disturbing characters he masterfully portrayed, here was a man who would never let his feelings get in the way of making everyone else smile around him.

I interviewed him twice. The first time was in 2006, the year his family intervened and sent him back to rehab for substance abuse and alcoholism.

But here in front of me was a man who knew what people wanted him to be as he promoted the family animation Happy Feet - a film where once again he was encouraged to wander off-script and be himself.

You always feel like with many of his films he would probably open the screenplay and it would simply say "Just be Robin Williams" rather than give him actual lines.

And boy did he perform. In my four-minute slot he crammed in some singing, some talk about chocolate bars and naturally, a small slip into his Mrs Doubtfire voice, a sure-fire crowd-pleaser.

But he was also happy to talk about himself. Never one to shy away from personal enquiries, he offered comforting words that he was "getting better" and he always seemed genuinely pleased that you'd asked.

Our second encounter, four years later, was longer, warmer, and, due to the film he was promoting, steeped in darkness of "the other Robin Williams".

I decided I loved the film World's Greatest Dad within minutes of the opening credits (if it passed you by, I implore you to go and seek it out).

Deliciously dark, playful and unnerving. A return to the Williams of Insomnia and One Hour Photo. You could tell Williams was proud of it too, a labour of love created by his friend and Police Academy star Bobcat Goldthwait.

I was running a few minutes late for my interview. Williams found this amusing and told me off himself.

I pointed out that anyone going to see this film expecting the man they'd loved in Mrs Doubtfire might be a little disturbed. He smiled and seemed to relish that opportunity as an actor to not always be the person people were expecting you to be.

Unusually for a Hollywood interview, we were issued no guidelines on "personal questions" which left a revealing pathway for Williams to talk openly about his recent heart surgery, and ongoing problems battling his addiction problems. That film dealt with family suicide.

A clip with Williams reading the line, "Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem" has now taken on new heartbreaking pathos.

He was a warm man to speak to, quiet, humble and overflowing with ideas. Ideas that didn't always pay off, with some less than memorable efforts like Toys or Being Human. But as much as this job takes you close to these icons, it is impossible to fathom what is really lurking behind those engaging eyes.

His agent's revelation that Williams had recently returned to his 12-step rehab programme and was suffering from severe depression only drives home the point that celebrities are only people like you or I, mental illness doesn't distinguish between the successful, the rich or the poor.

The person I spent 15 minutes with in total is just that - a person with all the weight that goes hand in hairy hand.

But Williams knew life was about entertaining. And he leaves a performance for everybody.

The man-boy genius of Mork And Mindy, the big budget effects of family adventure Jumanji, the emotive Oscar-winning introspection of Good Will Hunting, or that damaged loneliness of World's Greatest Dad - plus thousands of stand-up shows and interviews where he would literally challenge himself to never shut-up.

It's that silence now that will make us all miss him the most.

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