Robin Williams gets naked in “World’s Greatest Dad.” Really, really naked.
“I shaved because if you don’t, it’s, like, animal-rights issues,” says the heretofore hirsute, Oscar-winning superstar. “I did a nude scene in ‘Fisher King'; it was Central Park, I was a homeless guy, so I was covered in dirt and really hairy, and it was like, ‘Is that Bigfoot? What happened?’
“With this, I said to [writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait], ‘I think for this scene, I should take everything off because at this point he’s literally shedding everything.’ It’s a breakdown, but in a weird way, a positive one.”
In Goldthwait’s pitch-black comedy, Williams plays a high-school poetry teacher and frustrated writer who is also a struggling single dad with the world’s most intolerable teenage son. When a tragedy occurs, his response -- and how it affects the community -- takes the story for some absurd swerves.
“My initial intention was, ‘If there’s a small part, I’ll play a cameo if it’ll help you get the movie made,’ ” he says of working with his friend of nearly 30 years. “But then I read it and went, ‘I’d like to play him.’ And then it was like, ‘Now we step up.’ ”
Graying and extremely vital just five months after surgery to replace his aortic valve, Williams is both soft-spoken and lightning quick, answering in detail before questions are even completed. As to his friend’s directorial acumen, he calls Goldthwait a “master of the comedy of the awkward.”
“He says a great thing: ‘I’m not going to move on till we get it.’ If something different happens that isn’t in the script, he’ll go, ‘Try that!’ -- he recognizes when you have to make an audible, a call at the line. Or what Bob said before the scene at the talk show, ‘Sell the big lie.’ Which was easy enough code to go, ‘Oh, OK.’
“And then as [my character] kept going and she really was a morning talk-show lady from Seattle, the absurdity of it all just overwhelmed me. We finished the first take and I said, ‘I think I just had the closest thing to a nervous breakdown on film.’ And Bob said, ‘Yeah. Can you do it again?’ ”
Central to the story is the tension between remembering loved ones the way you’d like to, and remembering them truthfully. In that regard, Williams said Goldthwait set an example in real life.
“He did this thing for his brother’s eulogy. The priest said, ‘Tommy loved animals.’ And his brother was kind of crazy. And Bobby went up and said, ‘Tommy didn’t really love animals; he loved to kill animals. There are a lot of deer right now going, “Whew.” ’
“The only way to really honor their memory is to be honest and say, ‘This is who he was.’ And the truth will set you free at that moment because, I may lose everything, but I can’t live with this.”
Although most of Williams’ costars in “World’s Greatest Dad” are in their teens and early 20s, he almost embarrassedly demurs at the notion of mentoring them.
“There’s nothing I could say to them, like,” he says, oozing smarm, “ ‘You know what you should do . . . . ' They’re all so good. That’s the reason I never direct; I was going, ‘You know what you should do,’ and people [would say] ‘What about “Popeye?” ’
“The less and less you ‘act,’ great. I had a great acting teacher at Juilliard who said, ‘Sometimes, Method acting can be like urinating in brown corduroy pants: You feel wonderful, and we see nothing.’ ”
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The world according to Williams
Robin Williams on . . .
His friend, the late Walter Cronkite: My favorite memory of him was him telling these really blue jokes. ‘And then the sailor . . . . ' This guy was so elegant, and the other side of him was this really wonderfully human guy. I knew the Walter that everyone admired and I also knew the Walter who could tell this joke. That’s kind of wonderful.
“Dead Poets Society": It was the first time I did something where people said it affected them unlike just a movie. I started to feel this horrible pressure because people would say, “I became a teacher because of that!” “Oh, are things OK?”
Returning to the comedy clubs: You’ve kind of been abused after the last eight years, it’s kind of like -- alcoholics get something called a blackout. It’s not really a blackout, it’s sleepwalking with activities. You try to find the comedy in coming out of this weird, almost hypnotic state. And the rest of the world dealing with us differently again, going, “You’re not so crazy anymore. Welcome back. You’re out of rehab.” Yeah. “Is the crazy guy gone?” Yes. “Do you still have other crazies?” Yes, but she just retired as governor.
-- Michael Ordona