When it comes to actors, Robin Williams was about as perfect as they come. If an actor’s job is to breathe humanity into a character who starts out as nothing more than words on a page, then Mr. Williams did it better than almost anyone.
How many times have you seen a movie and quickly forgotten who played the leading roles? You remember the story, but can only recall that the lead male actor was one of those handsome, brown-haired guys with pretty eyes and a strong chin who resembled a handful of other handsome, brown-haired guys with pretty eyes and strong chins.
That was never the case with Robin Williams. He fully inhabited every role he ever played, to the point where no one could’ve imagined anyone else taking his place. Who but Williams could’ve played Mrs. Doubtfire, or John Keating in Dead Poets Society, or Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting, or Adrian Cronauer in Good Morning, Vietnam, or T.S. Garp in The World According to Garp? And those are just a few of his remarkably memorable characters.
Look no further than social media and the thousands of quotes from Williams’ movies that people have posted as memorials to get a sense of how deeply the man moved everyone who experienced his performances. I also have no doubt–no doubt at all–that when Robin Williams was handed a movie script, he did a lot of editing and improvising. Just as Frank Sinatra brought his unique style and personality to every song he sang (although he didn’t get writing credits for most of them) Robin Williams brought fully developed characters to life while adding a healthy dose of Robin Williams to every single one of them. His gift was enormous, and his capacity to share it with the world truly amazing.
And yet, every time I read one of those quotes from his movies, I can’t help thinking about the writers who originally imagined the characters Williams played, and wrote many of the words he spoke on screen. I wonder about the thrill Matt Damon and Ben Affleck–who first became famous for writing Good Will Hunting–must’ve felt when they saw Williams turning the words they’d written into celluloid history. And let’s not forget Mitch Markowitz who wrote Good Morning Vietnam, Tom Schulman who penned Dead Poets Society, and Randi Mayem Singer and Leslie Dixon, who wrote the screenplay for Mrs. Doubtfire, which was based on a novel by Anne Fine. And we have John Irving to thank for the novel The World According to Garp, which was then brilliantly adapted for the screen by Steve Tesich.
Of course, there are so many others–too many to list here–but I think it’s important to pay tribute to those wonderful writers who provided Williams with at least some of the material that he turned into his own brand of magic. I can’t imagine what an honor it must’ve been to know that Robin Williams had been cast in a movie you’d written, but I also believe that Williams–with his generous spirit–would’ve wanted us to make sure that those writers were remembered too.