The first time I saw Robin Williams was on 90 Minutes Live with Peter Gzowski, a Canadian late night talk show that aired from 1976 to 1978.
Thirty-five years later, I can still remember the frantic burst of energy that emanated from my television that Friday night. Gzowski grinned as the comic careened through their chat, jumping from joke to joke, impression to impression, including Williams’s take on the world’s most intelligent child. “I find most adults very banal, but I’ll talk to you anyway.”
“Where did you get that character from?” Gzowski asked, “Was it based on anyone?”
“Me, basically. As a kid.”
“Were you brilliant as a child?”
“Yes, and as a young man, too,” replied the impish 27-year-old.
The stand up comedians I had seen on television wore suits and told one-liners. This was stream of consciousness, a wild look at a comedic mind that didn’t work the way I was accustomed to. For six minutes it felt like an alien had taken control of my TV, a life force like I had never seen before.
Appropriately enough, soon afterward he appeared as Mork, the extraterrestrial from Ork, on Happy Days and his career was officially launched.
For the next 35 years Williams was a constant on our screens, big and small. His first starring role in a movie, 1980’s Popeye, was met with critical scorn and a weak box office, but Roger Ebert had praise for the star, calling Williams’ “perpetual squint and lopsided smile” completely convincing.
Moving from strength to strength he embarked on a remarkable run of films, earning the first of three Best Actor Oscar nods for Good Morning, Vietnam and winning an Academy Award for his work as an empathetic therapist in Good Will Hunting. A handful of Golden Globes celebrated his work in Good Morning, Vietnam, The Fisher King and Mrs. Doubtfire.
He leaves a diverse legacy from the laughs of The Birdcage, to the drama of Awakenings,to the chills of One Hour Photo, the seize-the-day uplift of Dead Poets Society and the ad-libbed brilliance of Aladdin. Every decade since that appearance on 90 Minutes Live has given us a memorable Williams performance. He will live, on the screen at least, with three more films scheduled for release this year and next.
Everyone has a favourite Robin Williams character. For me its Parry, the treasure hunter in The Fisher King. It’s a funny, bittersweet performance in a movie that mixes fantasy and reality in equal doses.
“I’m a knight on a special quest,” Parry says, words that could apply to the comedian’s crusade to entertain in weird and wonderful ways.
Four-time Oscar nominated Director and Screenwriter Peter Weir graced Toronto with his presence today, doing Press for his already well-received new Film The Way Back. Known for acclaimed titles like Green Card, Dead Poets Society, The Witness, The Truman Show and more recently, Master and Commander, Weir is still at the top of his game with this latest effort.
Although I am unable to post my Review of The Way Back due to a Press Embargo which ends on Release Day, January 21, 2011, I can say for now that the journey for these Siberian Gulag Prisoners is grueling, and in effect cathartic. This fantastic Ensemble Cast including the likes of Ed Harris, Jim Sturgess, Saoirse Ronan and Colin Farrell put on some tour-de-force performances in an all-out fight for survival across Siberia.
As you might recall, Alliance Films was generous enough to give away passes here last week to a few lucky readers for tonight’s Screening at gorgeous Bell Lightbox and it was a pleasure for me to see some familiar faces tonight!
After visiting CBC for a taping of George Stroumboulopoulous Tonight (airing Thursday) earlier in the day, Weir was kind enough to do a Q&A for the Film, hosted by Canada AM’s Richard Crouse. Fielding questions from the Audience, Weir expressed that he has absolutely no regrets focusing attentions now on relatively more-Commercial releases, compared to some of his earlier work. Like Crouse, Weir is wowed by 16 year-old Atonement Star Saoirse Ronan’s professionalism and drive for perfection. The Australian Director concluded that Ronan who plays Irena, simply is an “Old Soul”. On the Film’s Lead Character Janusz played by Jim Sturgess, who delivers a career-best here, Weir acted jokingly insulted about a statement Sturgess made recently on how making this Film was like “making a Movie in the olden days”. In reality, Weir has adapted to the Digital Technology of this era, although he has no interest in making a 3-D Film at this time.
On Filmmaking, Weir feels that his own works are more emotionally rather than intellectually-driven and he gave a practical tip to aspiring Directors to at least try dabbling in Acting and Writing too seeing that they all go hand-in-hand. Equating the process to Working Out, he feels it is important always to remain in-form even if it is per say “writing a 50-word story”.
One longtime Fan in the Audience presented Weir with Roses, which he accepted graciously. When given the microphone, she went on to tell him that she has been a great Admirer since the ’70s and even wrote her Thesis about him. Not quite getting enough, she rushed-up again afterward with her Husband who snapped a Photo of her interacting with Weir, before he personalized a File Folder containing her Thesis. “You captured the sentiments of the Polish so accurately”, she proclaimed multiple times.
Finally getting a moment to speak to Weir, he was kind enough to pose for a Photo together and I kept it short and sweet, seeing how many others were hoping for a moment with him. An honour, indeed.