For ‘Night at the Museum’ director, a nod to Robin Williams

When Robin Williams committed suicide in August, the tragedy touched a wide range of people, including Hollywood veterans and casual film fans. But few had to confront Williams’ death as directly as “Night at the Museum” director Shawn Levy.

Levy was in the middle of post-production on the third installment of his hit franchise--this weekend’s “Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb,” in which Williams reprises his role as Teddy Roosevelt. The filmmaker would be forced to spend hours watching the actor, very much alive on screen, while knowing the harsh reality that had unfolded outside the editing room.

“It was really hard to go in there every day,” Levy said. “I wrapped with Robin in June and then I got this news three months later. He had come in to do [dubbing] three weeks prior to his death. And he’s in the movie a lot--his role is about three times bigger than it was in other movies. It just really laid me up.”

Adding to the poignancy: Levy had just finished, and was about to release, his other late-year effort, “This Is Where I Leave You,” a movie about adult children coming together to grieve after their father passes away.


Williams’ improvisational style is legendary, and many directors have said they observed details sitting in an edit bay that they never noticed on set.

But Williams’ death trained Levy’s eye on the actor’s performance--his final major role--in a new way.

“Many times I’d be watching a close-up of Ben [Stiller, the franchise’s star] and suddenly Robin will start riffing off-camera. It’s not even in the movie, just Robin Williams cracking Ben Stiller up, and it would really get to me.”

“Museum” is expected to perform solidly at the box office, as filmgoers turn out to see the colorful coterie of historical characters for the third and final time. But underneath all the antics will lie a poignant tribute. “I think it will be receivied with a certain bittersweetness,” Levy said. “It’s a very fitting piece of a legacy that will outlive him, and all of us.”

Twitter: @ZeitchikLAT