A recent sitdown for the animated film “Robots,” in which the Oscar-winning actor and comedian voices the part of the loosely bolted Fender, had Williams in classic form. Let the mayhem begin.
What’s on that T-shirt you’re wearing (under a sports coat)?
It takes someone as zany as Robin Williams to speak for Fender, right, a mishapen robot scavenged from miscellaneous parts that, naturally, lends itself to one zany trademark riff after another. Williams joins the likes of Ewan McGregor, Halle Berry, Drew Carey and Amanda Bynes as voices behind the computer-animated ”Robots,” directed by Chris Wedge (”Ice Age”).
USSR. Remember, before the Iron Curtain was a drape? Yes, when the Beatles sang “Back in the USSR”? The United Soviet Socialist Republic. Now it stands for, “Have you got cash?”
This is your first animated film since “Aladdin.” Why didn’t you go back to Disney?
Michael’s (Eisner) still there, but not for long! Quickly, rush the gates! (In Mickey Mouse voice) “C’mon, everybody, we don’t have to take this (crap) anymore! I’ve got four fingers. I can hold a gun! They’re marching down Main Street! (Singing in French) Come on, French Disneyland, kill him! Cut off his head! He has no heart! Come, quickly!”
It would be like the revolt you see in this movie, with all the rusted outmodes against the upmodes.
Seriously, I did it because it’s created by Chris Wedge, because it’s based on William Joyce’s drawings ” conceptual drawings. I saw the animation and what Chris did with “Ice Age,” and I went, “Oh, it’ll be great.” Plus, when you see his Academy Award-winning short, “Bunny,” it’s really sweet. You realize that he’s got the chops. It’s nice, if you’re doing a comedy, to have someone with a sense of humor.
Were you able to do a lot of improvising?
Yeah, it was so much of that, but the movie’s great because you can be wild, but then you come back and you can be quiet, and also it still has a great world and an interesting story that sustains it. I can be the damaged part ” hey, big stretch ” and still have something to fall back on and be part of an ensemble piece with all these other wild characters.
Like you, Fender is able to go off in many different directions. Did you come up with the character yourself?
No, no, that came there, when he was on the assembly line. They came up with the idea that because he falls apart, he’s always scavenging different parts, and each time you put a different part on, it’s like when you get a hand transplant from someone else ” like the movie, “The Hand,” but without Oliver Stone. “I’m directing ‘Alexander’! He wasn’t Alexander the Great, he was Alexander the Fabulous! Who’s that Persian boy? Bring him to me! What are you doing? Oh, God, what do I say? Stand behind your man. Are you Trojan? Oh, so, it’s a question of what’s going on under the kilt? Nothing. It’s in perfect working order. You know, it’s the question that if you wanna lift the skirt, you have to pay the man.’ “
How long did you work on “Robots”?
I guess about 32 hours in all. I don’t know whether it’s eight four-hour sessions or four eight-hour sessions, but we’d try stuff and then they’d come back, then we’d try more and you’d add to that, and then you come back and try a little bit more. The good news is that they do it in layers. They try stuff and then they’ll have like rough screenings with kind of rough animation. Audiences can deal with it enough to at least go, “Well, that’s kind of good.” And then they went, “‘OK, let’s use this and drive the story more.”
Some things, they realized, were too adult. There was a scene where myself and my lady ‘bot were under the table and you heard all this kind of (makes robot noises) and you realized, “Uh, oh,” and the parents are like, “Are they? Yeah, he’s polishing her. Clang, clang, clang! Play with the bolt, play with the bolt!” Well, they took it out. I mean, it’s pretty quick. It wasn’t even that rough.
How is it to work alone in a studio?
Old, but I am old, man. (He’ll turn 54 in July.) The scary thing is that I lose hair. It’s growing here, coming there. Why do we need curb feelers? You hit the pillow (makes alarm noise). Yeah, it was great to work on old because this character is falling apart ” and so am I.
Speaking of getting old, how was it to star opposite your daughter Zelda in (the upcoming) “House of D”?
She was quite good, very instinctual. It’s interesting to be in a scene with her, being a character but also going, “Hey, that’s my daughter!” She’s 15 going on 30. Your whole life comes back at you. All of a sudden, you at 16 are going, “Yeah, yeah,” and then you see these boys lurking and you think, “Don’t give me that Mr. Haskell look, you lying sack of . . .”
Is she comfortable with the level of celebrity?
All our kids function with that, and (wife) Marsha’s very good about keeping that in frame. Also, living in San Francisco keeps that to a dull thud. It’s not like here (in Los Angeles) where everybody goes, “Oh, you’re his kid!” They function pretty much on their own. Zach’s now 21 and going to school in New York and doing great. I think that’s why he loves it, because in New York no one gives a (hoot).
He’s studying linguistics. He’s about to get a degree in it. I kind of kidded with him, saying, “You’re gonna open a syntax repair shop?” Actually, you can go from that into “A.I.” or you can go into programming, but he’s going to work for an electronics gaming company. He has no desire to act at all. They offered him a movie because he was at one of the awards shows, and they said, “God, he’s handsome, so studly,” but he said, “No, thanks, I’m OK.”
It’s amazing that you have a 21-year-old.
Yeah, for me, too. It’s amazing that, you know, he’s turned out as well as he has, because he’s an extraordinary kid, a strong kid. I met a lot of his fellow students and they’re driven. They have what (Bill) Clinton calls an incredible curiosity to keep exploring and questioning, which at these times, is kind of important.
Have you ever considered doing a movie on your own life?
Never. What would we call it? “Hairy Guy”? I think you have to kind of look at it and say, “No, I wouldn’t want to do that.” I wouldn’t want to direct, either. Peter Weir said there are people who direct and then there’s not, like plumbers who go, “I can direct!” Some actors can direct and are very good at it because they learn from the inside out, knowing that this works, this doesn’t work, but I’m not one of them. I would be too expensive.