SHORT TAKES / MOVIES : Robin Williams Reassures ‘Castro’ Filmmakers

When Robin Williams accepted the lead role in the upcoming Chris Columbus movie “Madame Doubtfire,” two of the first people in town to hear of the deal were Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, who, with Oliver Stone, will serve as the producers of the Harvey Milk biopic, “The Mayor of Castro Street.”

“I told them, ‘everything’s fine, don’t worry about it,’ ” Williams says. “They were relieved, I think.”

Williams wanted to reassure all connected to this much-anticipated project that he was still interested in playing Milk. Rumors have been flying for months that he is anything but.


“Madame Doubtfire,” in which Williams will play a divorced man who dresses in drag as a maid so he can spend time with his children, was scheduled to begin shooting in March. That would have bumped it up against the “The Mayor of Castro Street” schedule, which at one point was scheduled to begin in April, when director Gus Van Sant finishes his film “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.” But Van Sant and screenwriter Becky Johnston (“The Prince of Tides”) are putting, in the words of one close to the film, “final polishing touches” on David Franzoni’s script for “The Mayor of Castro Street,” which follows the life, times and assassination of the gay activist and San Francisco city official. The film is tentatively scheduled to start this summer.

According to sources, some in the Williams camp are worried that his fans will have difficulty seeing him play a homosexual character. And this month, one magazine printed that Williams was only interested in “Mayor” when it appeared Stone might direct it.

But Williams disputes these theories. He said he will play Milk if the script he is due to receive sometime in the next few weeks “is as extraordinary as Harvey was. The script has got to be good. You owe him that.”

As for talk that Williams was only interested in the project if Stone directed, he says: “Actually, I was more interested when Gus got involved. Gus is great. He has a great fix on how to do it. I trust his vision.”

Based on the Randy Shilts book of the same name, “The Mayor of Castro Street,” says one connected to the Warner Bros. project, won’t contain graphic sexuality, but there will be “hugging and kissing and romance.”

Williams says he has no problem with that. “I grew up in San Francisco, I grew up around gay people,” he says. “I remember walking down the streets one day and the Sisters of Indulgence, specifically Sister Mary Boom Boom, looked at me and said, ‘There goes the neighborhood.’ I thought that was wonderful.”

Although no specific gay group has come out officially against Williams or Van Sant, some gay activists have a problem with one or the other or both.

According to sources, some in the gay community fear that Van Sant, known for offbeat films such as “My Own Private Idaho” and “Drugstore Cowboy” will, in the words of one, “weird up” the serious biopic.

“Some people have a problem with Gus, who is an openly gay filmmaker, and this I do not understand,” Williams says. “What’s the problem with him? They say ‘he’s not the one.’ Well, who is the right one? (If) you live by committee, this film will never get made. No one will get near it.”

This summer, the film’s producers held a town forum in San Francisco to talk about the project. Although the assembled group was split about the casting of Williams, the outcome of the meeting, say sources, was “entirely positive.”

Asked why he thinks so many rumors have been swirling around the film, particularly about his interest in playing Milk, Williams says its “because there’s a movement in some parts of the gay community that they want to see it made, but not with me. Some people think I’m afraid of it, too. Well, I’m not afraid of it. I just want it to be right.

“There are going to be some people who think it’s great that I will play him and there are going to be those who think it’s bad,” Williams says. “I’m not gay, and there are those who say, ‘Why aren’t you having a homosexual play the part?’ I say, well, you could, true. But do you just want someone to play him, or do you want to reach a lot of people? Do you want to take a chance on getting the message out?”

Williams says he’s had people take issue with a riff on walking past a gay bar that he did on “The Tonight Show,” with limp wrist and effeminate mannerisms.

“Some people said to me later, ‘Why did you do that?’ And I responded, because that’s what I saw. I saw 25 guys, and there were big leather guys and then there were some who were effeminate. That’s what I saw. That’s the neighborhood. Don’t tell me everybody’s butch. . . . There are masculine and feminine men, and I have no problem with either.”

Williams says he wants to play Milk simply because he was a complex individual.

“One of the things that intrigued me is that in an early draft that I read, they talked about where he came from. He came from New York. He was a handsome guy whose mother kept saying, ‘When you gonna get married, Harvey?’ Finally he moved to San Francisco and said, ‘I don’t have to lie anymore.’ And I can relate to that. He had a love of that city I can sympathize with. It allowed him to come out, to be himself. I came out there too, as a comic. I was able to be myself and do things that I couldn’t have in any other place.”