When the laughter stopped – Remembering Robin Williams

Robin Williams as the inspirational teacher, Mr Keating, in Dead Poets Society.

Robin Williams as the inspirational teacher, Mr Keating, in Dead Poets Society.

When I met Robin Williams in 1999 to discuss his film Jakob the Liar I had to ask him “to be serious for a minute”. The reason was that Williams was always “on”. In other words he felt the need to entertain, to make his interviewers laugh, to give them a good interview. And I understood that. But Jakob the Liar – not his best film – was a tricky subject to handle and I felt awkward about dealing with it in any kind of a flippant manner.

So he calmed down and gave a very sober and considered series of answers to my questions. I admired him for that. He knew I had a job to do and, moreover, I was new to it. Yorkshire Television had engaged me in March 1999 to be its film reviewer on a long-running show called Tonight. I wanted to make a good impression. And that meant not collapsing into giggles when discussing a movie about the Holocaust. 

This interview hasn’t been seen since it was broadcast in the autumn of 1999. It was my only TV interview with Williams; previously I had met him during a press conference for Jumanji. He was, as has been said by those who knew him, a man of great depth, huge complexity and immense frailty. I met him for only a few short minutes but I am shattered and stunned by his death. It’s a cliche but the world genuinely is a smaller – and sadder – place without him in it.

Watch the Tonight interview here.

(Thanks to Mark Witty for digging this piece out of the ITV Yorkshire vaults)

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