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Film

The heartwarming way Robin Williams helped Steven Spielberg complete 'Schindler's List'

Steven Spielberg has always pushed himself as a filmmaker, bringing some of the most baffling cinematic visions to the big screen as a result. From creating a giant lifelike shark for the revolutionary blockbuster Jaws to piecing together a fabulous set-piece that sees Indiana Jones evading a giant boulder in a booby-trapped tomb in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the filmmaker constantly pushed himself to the limit, until his cinematic ventures in 1993 almost broke him.

Testing himself physically and emotionally, Spielberg released two very different movies in the same year of the early ‘90s that would change the world of cinema forever, Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List. The former of which was an innovative special effects-heavy wonder that recreated the spectacle of seeing dinosaurs for the very first time, whilst the second was a deep introspective drama about the true horrors of the holocaust. 

The sheer post-production effort that Jurassic Park required in the early parts of the decade forced Spielberg to finish off the thriller at the very same time as he was shooting the war drama, making his workload unimaginably stressful. If the sheer amount of legwork wasn’t enough, the director also had to deal with the emotional strain of having to face the atrocities of the holocaust on a daily basis as he was shooting Schindler’s List.

Searching for some kind of relief from the physical and mental exhaustion, Spielberg reached out to his good friend and collaborator Robin Williams, who had worked with the director on the 1991 movie Hook. Regularly calling the actor whilst he was shooting Schindler’s List in Poland, Spielberg would get in touch with Williams purely for some light humour and an escape from the stresses of his filmmaking life. 

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Speaking about this in a Q&A for the 25th Anniversary of Schindler’s List at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival, Spielberg stated, “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”. 

Having built a close relationship with the actor after the release of Hook, Spielberg knew that Willaims would be the perfect person to call to lift his spirits. Trusting his instincts, the director further added, “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”. 

With the help of Williams, Spielberg was able to release both Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List, making 1993 the director’s most celebrated year by quite some way. This can be illustrated by the fact that these ‘90s classics took home a total of ten Oscars at the Academy Awards, including the statuette for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay for Schindler’s List

Meanwhile, Robin Williams would only work with Spielberg one more time, lending his voice to the character of Dr. Know in the 2001 sci-fi, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, before tragically passing away in 2014. The actor did a tremendous amount of good in his time in the film industry, with some of his very best contributions coming in the form of spreading laughter and cheer to those around him.

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