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A Personal Tribute To Robin Williams

Dominic Fellows offers up a personal tribute to the late great Robin Williams.

I never met Robin Williams. But I was lucky enough to once be in the same room as him. Around Christmas 2005 I was living in Toronto and working as an extra and I get the call from my agent for a movie called ‘Man of the Year’. Now of course, they don’t tell you anything about a movie when they send you to work on it, only when to be there. So I arrive at the location where the extras are duly bundled into a hall with peanut butter and jam sandwiches aplenty and as much coffee as you can drink and I hear rumblings of a ‘major star’ being in the film.

So we get our call to go and be in a crowd, we’re waiting with anticipation and in walks Robin Williams. It’s a quick scene, Mr Williams makes the odd joke but nothing huge, and we’re bundled out again. Not surprisingly, we extras had to be told not to approach Mr Williams, after all this is just ‘another day at the office’ for him. Which was fair enough, only problem was we weren’t talking to him, he was talking to us. Happy to stop and chat, sign the odd autograph and couldn’t have been more courteous, the runners practically had to drag him to his trailer. But of course, we’re there to do a job so we respect the request.

The next day we’re filming in an auditorium as they are shooting a scene that requires Robin Williams’ character to be given a speech on stage. The cameras start rolling, he records the scene, the cameras cut. But he doesn’t stop. He keeps going and all the extras are laughing. A new scene is recorded, the same thing happens again and we become aware that not only are we essentially getting a free gig out of Robin Williams, but we are actually being paid to watch it. This went on for the better part of six hours during which time he turned ‘another day at the office’ into a fun day out, just in time for Christmas and despite the fact that not one of us in that room knew him personally, we felt like we did. Watching Robin Williams work was like going out for the day and catching up with an old friend. I dare say he never gave that day a second thought, but for the thousands of us watching, it was special.

I’m sad to say I don’t recall anything specific, he was going on so long it was almost impossible to digest. Only two things have stuck in my mind, one was when he said ‘Ladies and gentle I give you… The guy from the Fat Boy Slim Video’ and pointed at Christopher Walken. The other was when, in my rookie enthusiasm, I started waving a flag. We had been told that the shot was going to be a ‘slow motion montage’ so that’s exactly what I gave them. I ‘acted’ in slow motion. Robin Williams then points directly at me and laughs. From what I saw, for all his fame he was a genuinely down-to-earth and lovely guy.

And this is what audiences love about him. He may have won an Oscar for ‘Good Will Hunting’ and critical praise for his darker roles such as ‘One Hour Photo’ and the over-looked ‘Death to Smoochy’ but it’s the ‘everyman’ in extraordinary circumstances that we love to see. Those family movies like ‘Mrs Doubtfire’ and ‘Jumanji’ that we watched either as kids or with our kids that may not have won Oscars but tap into a part of us that sticks around long after all the supposedly more artistic movies have been forgotten. Daft as it may sound, he’s a figure that has formed a hugely influential part of many people’s lives. It seems silly to talk about an actor and comedian in such a way it is, after all inherently ridiculous;

‘So what did you spend your life doing Mr Williams?’
‘I used the skills at my disposal to inform and influence generations of people in a way that they embraced rather than resisted’
‘Really? What did you do?’

The plot of ‘Man of the Year’ revolved around a comedian who decides to run for president and wins. Is there anyone else who could play that more convincingly than Robin Williams? Considering his wholesome image in the eyes of millions, when he turned his hand to more serious roles and did it so well is a remarkable achievement in itself. Given his superb performance in ‘Insomnia’ how wonderful would it have been to see him play The Riddler in Christopher Nolan’s Batman?

And now he has left us, much like his act, unexpected, shocking and wanting more. One of his most famous characters famously sang ‘You ain’t never had a friend like me’.

And we never will again.

Good night Mr Williams. And thank you.

Dominic Fellows is an actor and writer from Birmingham in the UK. He is also producer of the group Stripped Down Theatre (find them on Facebook). His shows have had more than one or two ‘geeky gags’ in them. 

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