Williams plays President Dwight D. Eisenhower in Lee Daniels The Butler. The butler “Cecil” is hired during the Eisenhower’s administration. The story follows an African American butler who works at the White House and works for eight presidents. The movie stars Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey. Lee Daniels on Williams:
The challenge for Robin was about losing ‘Robin Williams’. It was hard because Robin has a tendency to make you laugh, so we had to strip him bare and make him quiet. It took a minute for him to get out of his comfort zone, which is always to make you laugh, to make you happy. Because Robin is the first president we see, he’s carrying the torch for the believability of all the presidents. Because he’s the first, people’s reaction is like: ‘Oh, that’s where we’re going with this movie’. He was okay with the combover! It was more me trying to make sure it was perfect. [Ike’s] landscapes… well, they weren’t that great. I told Robin to just paint, because that’s what Ike did, so half of each painting we have in the film was his. They were all paint-by-numbers.
Williams reprises the roles of Ramon and Lovelace in the sequel to Happy Feet. The movie is about Erik, a dancing penguin, who is the son of Mumble and Gloria, trying to find his calling.
The main thing is George Miller. I mean, this is the guy who did Road Warrior and then Babe. I went, “This is an interesting, man.” He sent the script and he was initially offering three characters. I tried doing three voices, and one of them was a Scottish older penguin that was like [in a Scottish accent], “I tell ya right now!” And then they said it sounded like Mrs. Doubtfire on steroids. So I went, “All right, lost that one.” And I settled for the two. In the first meeting with George, I went, “Oh, this will be fun.” It was because he records everybody in the same room so you get to riff together, which is really great.
In this black comedy, directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, Williams plays Lance Clayton. Lance finds his son dead, the apparent victim of auto-erotic asphyxiation gone horribly awry. In order to give the boy some dignity in death, Lance pens a suicide note before summoning the authorities. By doing this he attracts an overwhelming amount of community and media attention. Co-starring Daryl Sabara and Morgan Murphy. Goldthwait:
But it’s human nature. We all know we’re making a movie. We all know he’s acting, but it’s human nature to come over and start trying to elevate a mood. All that shit in the bedroom – everybody f-cking hated it. We couldn’t wait to get out of the bedroom. It was all just nasty, you know, all the scenes in the bedroom are rotten to begin with.
Williams stars as Dan Rayburn, with John Travolta co-starring as best friend Charlie Reed in the film Old Dogs directed by Walt Becker. The former is a divorced father who suddenly finds himself solely responsible for the care of his twin sons, and the latter is a bachelor. The two friends attempt to close a major business deal while parenting the boys.
I’ve had a lot of people tell me they watched Old Dogs with their kids and had a good time. It paid the bills. Sometimes you have to make a movie to make money. You know they’re going to make it goofy. And that’s OK.
In this comedy, directed by Shawn Levy, Williams plays Teddy Roosevelt. Roosevelt is one of the pieces located in the museum which security guard Larry Daley infiltrates, in order to rescue Jedediah and Octavius, who have been shipped to the museum by mistake. Co-starring Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson and Amy Adams.
This time, not only do creatures and animals come to life, but aircraft and rockets and art works and sculptures and paintings. So everything is on a much bigger and more dramatic scale.
Williams plays Tom Dobbs in this drama, directed by Barry Levinson. Dobbs, during his talk show, makes an offhand comment that he would be a better president than the leader who currently occupies the White House. Afterwards a grass-roots campaign conducted by his many fans finds him unexpectedly ushered into the Oval Office and forced to live up to his promise. Co-starring Laura Linney and Lewis Black.
It’s all about money. And so that’s really the main issue behind it all. As long as we want to play this game, that you’re going to go and raise $250 million to be the President and think this President is going to be free enough to go do what he thinks is correct without maximum amount of influence to all the people he’s beholden to, it’s just not realistic.
In this comedy, directed by Ken Kwapis, Williams plays Reverend Frank. The Reverend won’t wed Sadie and Ben until they agree to attend his two-week prenuptial course. Now, as their wedding is near, they must attend every one of Reverend Frank’s exhausting classes and complete a series of rigorous homework assignments designed specifically to test their dedication to one another and ensure that their union will have a sound foundation. Co-starring Mandy Moore and John Krasinski.
Just going back to the old days when I was into going to church and remembering that there were--as a Protestant, which is Catholic light--once again the idea of somebody who could really advise and has something to offer. That’s why I think for that it was just remembering those guys that I kind of grew up with in the Episcopal church, which is “There is no purgatory, just spiritual escrow.”
In this thriller, directed by Patrick Stettner, Williams plays Gabriel Noone, a late night radio-host in a big city, specializing in spooky tales culled from his active imagination. Pete is a very ill boy who lives with his former social worker, Donna. Gabriel develops an unsettling long-distance telephone relationship with the boy and his guardian. Nothing is as it seems. Co-starring Tonie Collette and Rory Culkin.
Yeah but it’s only Armistead about 20 per cent, like it’s only Armistead in that there’s somewhat of a southern accent. Armistead is very elegant man, a very articulate man, in San Francisco he is like our second mayor. It’s like the idea of having him and that kind of persona of Armistead and then it’s this other guy. So I wasn’t doing an impression of Armistead. I was just taking a little bit of him for a base.
In this comedy directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, Williams plays businessman Bob Monroe, who disguises his business trip to Colorado as a family camping vacation in a huge RV. The family of four suffers both near disasters and humorous adventures as Monroe and his wife Jamie, played by Cherly Hines, make an effort to bond with their kids and get away from another RV family they believe are stalking them. On working with the director and cast:
We had a good time. It’s weird to make a movie that you had so much fun doing, even though it’s tough work. But we still had a good time with good people.
In this thriller, Williams plays Sy Parrish, a lonely photo store clerk who becomes obsessed with a family whose photos he develops. Directed by Mark Romanek, this is one of the few movies starring Williams that do not offer any comic relief. Co-starring Connie Nielsen, Michael Vartan, and Will Smith.
It might be the work is just so precise so as a whole piece, I think it is the best I have done in a long time.
In the crime thriller directed by Christopher Nolan, Williams plays the murderer of a teenage girl in Nightmute, AK, during summertime when there is 24 hours of daylight. Co-starring Al Pacino, Hilary Swank and Martin Donovan. Nolan:
We’d been looking for somebody to play opposite Al who is not only a tremendous actor, but who also has a similar kind of audience identification with his star persona.
In the drama directed by Peter Kassovitz, Williams plays the role of Jakob, the owner of a small cafe who begins inventing stories about the Russian army’s progress toward the Polish ghetto. Co-starring Liev Schrieber and Alan Arkin. Kassovitz:
Robin had moments of doubt about doing something funny. He was a little bit anxious about the material … Like the other American actors, he had a guilt, not to have been a victim of the Nazis.
Williams stars in this comedy-drama biopic based on the life of Dr. Hunter “Patch” Adams. He plays the title role, a trained physician who employs unorthodox techniques – like laughter and empathy – to heal his patients. He co-stars with Monica Potter and Philip Seymour Hoffman. The real Patch Adams on the film:
The movie’s received high ratings because it’s inspiring, and it’s about inspiring giving. I think it’s going to be an example of “giving” having its day. In a lot of movies, “violence” or the “ridiculous” has its day.
This fantasy drama, based on a novel by the same name, is directed by Vincent Ward and stars Williams as American physician Chris Nielsen. Chris and his wife Annie – played by Annabella Sciorra – meet, marry, have children, and then lose their children in a car crash. When Chris is also killed in a crash, the story focuses on the afterlife and communication between the living and the dead.
That was one of the hardest movies I think I ever did in my whole career. Every day was literally hell, because of the nature of the subject matter, dealing with death and being in hell literally.
In this comedy directed by Woody Allen, Williams plays a writer who friends and family realize that the characters and events in his books are actually things that have happened in real life, revealing this deepest secrets. Costars Judy Davis and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
I played a small role, … because, at some point, I made him laugh. Can you imagine? To make Woody Allen laugh!
Williams stars in this critically-acclaimed film directed by Gus Van Sant. He plays Dr. Sean Maguire, a therapist who works with a gifted MIT janitor named Will Hunting—played by Matt Damon. As he counsels Hunting, he also learns to deal with his own personal demons. The film also stars Ben Affleck, Minnie Driver and Stellan Skarsgard.
What drew me to the role just was the idea of a guy trying to give back, who hadn’t been practicing in a while. Here he is, a vet with a history, with a life, an intelligent guy who admits he’s not as brilliant as the kid but who is saying, “You’re brilliant but you don’t know shit about certain things.” That appealed to me deeply.
Directed by Les Mayfield, this comedy film is a remake of the 1961 movie “The Absent Minded Professor.” Williams plays the role of Professor Philip Brainard, with Marcia Gay Harden co-starring as his fiancé and Sara Jean Reynolds as the college president. Brainard attempts to perfect his invention of “flubber” – a bouncy, elastic material – in order to raise money to save the sinking college, and in the process misses his own wedding three times in a row.
He performs the stunt scenes himself, which involv jumping to heights of 30 feet after applying flubber to his shoes:
We had six or seven guys hauling me up, groaning, ‘Oh, no! Don’t go again! We’re not hauling your ass up there again!’
Williams and Billy Crystal co-star in this comedy about two men—playing Dale Putley and Jack Lawrence—in search of a runaway teenager. Their girlfriend of 17 years past tells them both that they are the boy’s father, in hopes that at least one of them will find the boy. Director Ivan Reitman says about the two stars:
I always wished that Father’s Day turned out better. We didn’t quite get it right and I always sort of felt responsible and guilty about not doing a better job for the two of them because they’re so brilliant.
Williams plays Osric in this drama directed by Kenneth Branagh based on the William Shakespeare play. Hamlet returns home to find out his father is dead and his mother is marrying his uncle who is his father’s murderer. Co-starring Billie Crystal, Julie Christie, and Derek Jacobi. Branagh on Williams:
(He’s) an actor who would be funny, but could also be real in the way I felt was necessary.
In the drama thriller directed by Christopher Hampton, based on the novel by Joseph Conrad, Williams plays an assassin who owns a porn shop London as a front. He really is an anarchist, who holds meetings in his apartment with plans to overthrow the government. Co-starring Bob Hoskins, Patricia Arquette, and Gerard Depardieu.
I don’t carry the characters around when I’m doing the movie, because it can be quite frightening for your family to come home as those people.
Williams stars in this comedy drama film directed by Francis Ford Coppola. He plays Jack Powell, a boy who suffers from a rare disorder that ages his appearance four times faster than his actual age. The story depicts his struggles in dealing with this disorder as well as the relationships he builds with this family and friends. He co-stars with Diane Lane, Brian Kerwin, Jennifer Lopez and Bill Cosby.
But I think what made me want to play Jack was that innocent time before all that, riding bikes, friends in treehouses, all those things that loom on the boundaries of child and boy.
Williams stars in this fantasy drama as character Alan Parish, a boy who opened the board game Jumanji and was sucked into the game for decades before being freed by two new players. Parish must help to complete the game to return the horrors Jumanji has created.
There is a scene in the movie where you wrestle a crocodile and there is things in the movie that are computer effects and the rest an animatronic which means muppets on steroids. I was wrestling this crocodile and I pounding it on the head and I hear someone inside go “hey!”
In this fantasy drama directed by Bill Forsyth, Williams plays the part of Hector who starts out as a caveman that lost his wife and is reincarnated over and over again until he is a modern day divorced man trying to get to know his kids. He learns the meaning of life over four lifetimes. Costarring John Turturro and Kelly Hunter. Forsythe:
He has observational humor and brings out great performances from other actors
Williams stars in this comedy as Daniel Hillard, a father posing as his ex-wife’s housekeeper and nanny named Mrs. Doubtfire, so that he may spend more time with his three children. The film also stars Sally Field.
It’s a love story basically about a man and his children. He can’t imagine being away from them for one day so he goes and takes a desperate measure to be with them everyday.
In this comedy directed by Barry Levinson, Williams plays a military general who inherits a toy factory. He starts making war toys and his employees have to band together to stop him from ruining the name of the toy store. Costarring Michael Gambon and John Cusack.
It was magnificently fun to do because I would just go in knowing I was going to this magical place.
Williams stars as the voice of Genie in the film Aladdin. In the film Genie helps Aladdin grant his wishes to win the love of Princess Jasmine.
The one thing I said was I will do the voice. I’m doing it basically because I want to be part of this animation tradition. I want something for my children. One deal is, I just don’t want to sell anything--as in Burger King, as in toys, as in stuff.
In this comedy directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, Williams plays a mime class instructor. A drunk clown is accused of killing his boss, so he poses as a mime to gather information to clear his name. Costars Julie Brown, Bruce Baum, and Steve Bean.
It allowed me to put some lessons to work. Many people wouldn’t think I studied the art of mime.
Williams plays Peter Banning all grown up in the film, Hook. In the movie, Peter Banning has forgotten his roots as Peter Pan in Neverland, but must find them and return when his children are kidnapped by Hook—played by Dustin Hoffman.
The hardest part was to get the innocence of it. Like when I see my daughter, who’s 2, who sees a Christmas tree, to get that face. To lose the fact that you’re 40 and get to a point that’s 10 or 11.
Williams stars alongside Jeff Bridges in this drama directed by Terry Gilliam. Bridges’s character, shock jock Jack Lucas, inadvertently pushes a psychotic radio caller over the edge and suffers a breakdown himself after finding out the caller has committed a massacre. Several years later, while working as a clerk at a video store and heavily depressed, he is rescued from an attack by homeless man Parry, played by Williams. He becomes involved with Parry and finds he is connected to the tragedy that caused his own downfall. Jack must rescue him in an urban re-imagining of the legend of the Holy Grail and the Fisher King.
Parry is a man with a previous life that was so damaged that he had to create another personality … Some people respond to traumatic or tragic events by withdrawal; some even create other personalities. Parry is a creation – somewhat Don Quixote, somewhat Groucho Marx – but he’s a creation designed to avoid a past event.
In this drama directed by Penny Marshall, Williams plays Dr. Malcolm Sayer, based on the 1973 nonfiction book by Oliver Sacks. Williams portrays a physician who cares for victims of the 1920s encephalitis lethargica epidemic. The patients are revived after he experiments with a new medication determined to bring these people back to a normal state. Co-starring Robert DeNiro and Julie Kavner.
I loved the chance for pushing the envelope to change people’s perceptions of this.
In this comedy directed by Roger Donaldson, Williams plays a car salesman that must sell 12 cars before he loses his job. Co-starring Tim Robbins, Pamela Reed, and Fran Drescher.
It’s hard being a car salesman, people have a misconception of you being a bad person, like an invisible man to mug you with options you didn’t want. It was something I really had to work at.
In this fantasy based on the novel written by Rudolph Erich Raspe and directed by Terry Gilliam, Williams plays the The Man on the Moon. The film is about a Baron who needs to end a war he started himself by flying into outerspace on a cannonball, being swallowed by a whale, ballooning to the moon, and exploring a volcano. Costars John Neville, Uma Thurman, and Sarah Polley. Gilliam:
Williams helped save this film. Budgets were cut, actors pulled out and were sick from exhaustion, Williams kept spirits high and the film rolling.
In this drama based on a true story, directed by Barry Levinson and co-starring Forest Whitaker, Williams plays US Army DJ Adrian Cronauer. Cronauer is deployed to serve as a morning radio show host, and gains fame with the comic relief his monologues offer to the American troops. Producer Mark Johnson:
Robin would get up in the morning and say, “We have to do yesterday’s work all over again. I’ll pay for it.” I’d say, “What are you talking about! It worked great.”
In this comedy directed by Peter Ferrera, Williams costars as himself in a movie that is completely improvised with no written scripts that allowed the actors to make up the skits as they went along. Co-starring Jonathan Winters, Susan Anton, Milton Berle, and Phyllis Diller.
It was fun to work on. We would drive out, use all the film and keep on going.
Williams portrays Donald Quinelle, an executive who is fired from his job in Michael Ritchie’s comedy. He goes to a diner and meets Sonny Paluso (Walter Matthau) who owns a gas station that was blown up. The two of them witness a robbery and the hit man threatens to kill them. Quinelle becomes obsessed with guns as a way to protect himself from the mob and enrolls in a survivalist training school in the mountains of Vermont. Co-starring Jerry Reed, James Wainwright, and Annie McEnroe. Ritchie:
Walter [Matthau] becomes straight man to Robin, and then Robin is straight man to him. That doesn’t happen in great comedy teams, where they form a pattern; Dean Martin is always in a certain relationship with Jerry Lewis, or Abbott is with Costello. Instead, with Walter and Danny or Walter and Robin, you have this balance constantly shifting.
Based on the novel by John Irving, Williams plays T.S. Garp – an only child conceived when his single mother has sex with a brain-damaged soldier in her nursing care, in this drama directed by George Roy Hil. Garp’s life from birth to death is punctuated by events such as: marriage and infidelity, parenting and the loss of a child, social and political activism, fame and death threats. Co-starring, Mary Beth Hurt. Helen Holm, Glenn Close and Jenny Fields.
I started off just improvising like crazy. And [director] George Roy Hill made a face like a weasel in a wind tunnel and I then I went, ‘Not good?’ And he went [breathes deep and whispers], ‘Just say the words.’
Williams portrays Popeye in Robert Altman’s musical comedy live-action realization of the American comic strip character Popeye the Sailor Man. Popeye is a spinach-eating sailor in love with Olive Oil (Shelley Duvall) and at odds with Bluto (Paul L. Smith), his perennial nemesis.
Near the end of the movie . . . the studio had pooled all of the money, so all the special effects people left. It was Ed Wood the last weeks of the movie. Shelley Duvall was in a pond, basically, with an octopus with no internal mechanism, having to drape it over her body like a feather boa. I’m in the water, and I’m kind of like sitting there .. . . . . we’re there on Malta, which is a very small island in between Italy and North Africa, and it was some of the worst weather they had had in 60 years. So it was a pretty crazy experience. But! I got to work with Robert Altman and I’ll never forget that.
Williams plays a lawyer and a man with a toothache in this film of short sexually suggestive skits, directed by Robert Levy. Co-starring Roger Behr and Joey Camen. Williams states about this first film:
Gave me the idea that it can be free-form, that you can go in and out of things pretty easily.