The late great Robin Williams, a man who once logically declared, “Why do they call it rush hour when nothing moves?” was lucky enough to work with a wide range of directors in his career. In fact, given his acting range, he rubbed shoulders with more of a mix than most. As a truly terrific emotive star he rocked up in masterpieces like The Fisher King, but he could also turn in irreverent thrills in fun-filled flicks like Flubber.
This breadth of cinematic exposure allowed him to take a keen look at the various working methods he encountered in movie making, and there was one director who stood out for him beyond any other. As the dearly departed star told Playboy when reflecting on his time with Steven Spielberg for Hook, “Steven has been amazing.”
That wasn’t all that much of a surprise to him. After all, it was 1991 and the legendary director had already established himself as Hollywood gold at that stage. However, aside from the predictable studious brilliance, there was an artistry that defied Williams’ expectations to boot.
“At first you think, here’s a guy who basically deals in visuals. But no, he knows every movie that’s ever been made. He’s seen every movie twice. So he knows if someone did something before. And from that, he can give you an idea that goes beyond that,” he explained when discussing the unrivalled depth and originality that his friend strived for in every scene.
“The weird thing that I never expected from him was this humanistic, behavioural directing,” he explained. “I thought he would be more into special effects. Just the opposite. The special effects he likes, they’re fun-but he’ll suggest pulling back, or adding a little bit more, trying things to make the story have a reality base. If it works, it’ll play because the human element works, because of the inter-relationships of the characters, not because of all the effects. The effects will be like this wonderful icing. But if the cake sucks, the icing won’t mean shit.”
This impression is one that many have had when coming into Spielberg’s ‘fun’ oeuvre. But many directors have tried to create ‘fun’, in fact, constant flops have been frittered out on this promise—it takes a backbone to make the thrills, well, thrilling.
In truth, fun is all Spielberg wanted to do when he got going too. When the silver screen master was dubbed as a technician with no interest in art, he simply replied: “No apologies. The first thing I wanted to do, having been given this amazing opportunity to be a Hollywood movie director, was to have fun and to share that fun with the audience I had. I had many opportunities to deal with darker arts. And I rejected it because I was in a different place in my life.”
This mix of depth and daft escapism made Spielberg and Williams a match made in heaven. The pair would become such friends that the director would later claim that the manic comic helped to keep him sane.
As Spielberg recalled when he was juggling the hectic mayhem of making Schindler’s List and Jurassic Park pretty much in unison: “Robin knew what I was going through, and once a week, Robin would call me on schedule and he would do 15 minutes of stand-up on the phone. I would laugh hysterically, because I had to release so much … The way Robin is on the telephone, he’d always hang up on the loudest, best laugh you’d give him. He’d never say goodbye, just hang up on the biggest laugh.”
They are simply two fellows who love fun, but new the importance of play and were willing to go “beyond” to get there.