Year 2014 hasn’t been merciful for the acting world. In February Philip Seymour Hoffman overdosed, on 11th of August Robin Williams committed suicide and the next day Lauren Bacall passed away. They were amazing actors and books praising their acting skills should be written, but it might be that most of us feel personally attached to one of them in particular. We are a generation that grew up with Robin Williams. At some points of our lives we wanted a dad like Peter Banning or Daniel Hillard, a doctor like Patch Adams, a teacher like Philip Brainard or John Keating. Williams’ death is an enormous loss to the film world, but also to our childhood; with him gone, part of our young years have also left. I, personally, was one of these kids who were raised up by Robin Williams. Williams is one of my favourite actors and is one of the reasons why I got into film and, as a consequence, I’ve chosen to work in the film industry afterwards. This article is a memorial which contains my personal top 6 of Robin Williams’ films. I won’t go into details of his personal life because not many of us were lucky enough to meet him. I will focus on what he left us: his amazing performances.
Good morning, Vietnam (1987) directed by Barry Levinson
During his time in the prestigious Juilliard School in New York, Robin Williams mastered the art of improvisation and started his career as a stand-up comedian. This skill led him to TV series Mork & Mindy that brought him his first Golden Globe in 1978. Eleven years after he was a big name in Hollywood but he never forgot his roots. In Barry Levinson’s film Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), Williams plays Adrian Cronauer, a man who runs a radio show to bring up the morale of the troops in Vietnam. But Cronauer’s unsuspected talent makes his broadcast dangerously popular in the eyes of his superiors. All of Adrian Cronauer’s radio tirades were completely improvised. For his breath-taking, spectacular performance Robin Williams was awarded his second Golden Globe and nominated for the Oscars and BAFTA.
Dead Poets Society (1989) directed by Peter Weir
Before 1989, Williams was mostly known as a comedy actor. All that changed with his character of John Keating in Peter Weir’s Dead Poets Society. Williams portrays the teacher that everyone dreams of: full of passion, energy, showing that there is a beauty in every matter, who pushes his students and inspires them. It might be argued that Dead Poets Society is just a naïve fairy tale but thanks to the contrasting father figures of Keating and Mr Perry one can learn how important for a young man is the support of the adults. We all want to believe that we have a right to dream, to be free, to rebel, and that we are the ones who will make it, who will change the world – and that is what John Keating teaches his students. This role brought Williams’ another nomination for the Golden Globes, BAFTA and Academy Award. Moreover in 2005, the American Film Institute put John Keating’s quote as one of 100 Greatest Movie Quotes Of All Time: “Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary”.
Hook (1991) dir. Steven Spielberg
Nine years after E.T., Spielberg brought back on screens the classic tale from J.M. Barrie. In Hook, Williams plays a grown-up Peter Pan – Peter Banning, an extremely serious businessman who is everything that Peter Pan did not want to become. This situation has to change when Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman) kidnaps Banning’s children, Jack and Maggie. To rescue his kids, Peter has to go back to Neverland and learn how to crow and how to fly all over again. Hook is definitely the kind of films that is watched with the whole family on Saturday mornings. Again, Robin Williams signed another outstanding and remarkable performance.
Mrs. Doubfire (1993) directed by Chris Columbus
Williams fully demonstrated his spectacular makeover skills in Mrs. Doubfire. In this film, he plays a man who dresses up as an old nanny to have the opportunity to be closer to his children during his divorce. In an interview for Inside Acting Studio Williams admitted that he was fascinated by the idea of total make-over. To become Mrs. Doubfire he had to spend 4,5 hour on make-up. He modified his voice to create her unique accent which was inspired by two Scottish people he knew. Mrs. Doubfire won an Academy Award for best make-up and Williams’ work was rewarded with another Golden Globe.
Good Will Hunting (1997) directed by Gus Van Sant
Good Will Hunting, which brought Williams his first Academy Award after three nominations and another nomination to Golden Globe, is unforgettable. During an interview with Inside Acting Studio, Ben Affleck, co-writer of the script and member of the cast, admits that Good Will Hunting owes a lot to Robin Williams. When the actor agreed to play the role of Sean Maguire this so far independent film finally got funding. In Van Sant’s film, Williams plays the therapist of the title character Will Hunting (Matt Damon) who discovers he has an extraordinary talent for maths but can’t control his temper in a normal job. Maguire tries to help the boy and through the therapy their relation grows into something more. Sean Maguire is sometimes compared to John Keating as they both act as mentors. In Good Will Hunting however, Williams shows two sides of his character: a therapist and a man who cannot fully cope with his loss.
One Hour Photo (2002) directed by Mark Romanek
In the latest stage of his career, the actor showed another of his acting skills firstly in One Hour Photo by Mark Romanek (2002) and then the same year in Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia. As it happens with all the characters played by Williams, they are never clearly good or bad. Some of them are just more lost than others, but they are still looking for love and understanding. In One Hour Photo Williams portrays an every-day-man. His behaviour is odd, inappropriate and leads to something that shouldn’t happen but instead of despising him, the viewer feel sorry for Sy. Williams portrays a lonely man with an obsession for an ideal love and an ideal life he will never have. This role might look like it wouldn’t fit William’s acting profile and yet he created a touching portrayal of an unstable mind.
Robin Williams’ films were funny but never stupid. His characters made us laugh, they made us think, they made us cry and gave us some life lessons that we will never forget. What Robin Williams was doing as an actor he himself called legalized insanity. He happily crossed boundaries when others wouldn’t even think about doing so.
As it often is the case, Williams had to pay a high price for his talent: he was suffering from bipolar disorders. Earlier in his life, he was addicted to cocaine and alcohol. All that led him to commit suicide on the night of the 11th of August 2014.
Bangarang, Robin Williams. We’ll see you in Neverland.