Inside the Actors Studio: Robin Williams

(2001) *** Unrated
104 min. Bravo. Cast: Robin Williams.

/content/films/3231/1.jpgRobin Williams' Inside the Actors Studio 2001 sit-down with host (and dean) James Lipton is advertised as the series' most requested home-video title (at least since the previous releases of the Dave Chappelle, Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, Sean Penn, and Johnny Depp episodes). It's easy to see why, especially in the expanded home video version. Expanded to 104 minutes—including a new, five-minute introduction by Lipton—and supplemented with over half an hour of bonus footage, the interview provides Williams both with a stand-up comedy showcase (a blend of unmistakeable improvisation and stored-up material) and an opportunity to let the mask slip. Between flurries of schtick, Williams discusses his formative years, credits his acting teachers by name, and offers philosophical insights into the actor's craft.

The series is subtitled "The Craft of Theatre and Film," and Lipton's interviews are best when they focus strictly on process. Too often, Lipton reverts to self-important pedantry or obsequious passivity when he should be coaxing out seldom-shared insights. Still, Lipton is pretty much the only game in town for lengthy interviews with star actors. Though there's always a moment to plug the star's latest project (in this case, Death to Smoochy), each interview is designed as a career overview beginning with upbringing and formation of personality before taking a crash course through screen highlights. (In the bonus features here, Williams also speaks at length in response to a student's question about the actor's stage turn in Waiting for Godot).

The TV edits favor Lipton's praise and the stars' self-consciously modest reactions, but DVD is the ideal venue for these interviews. The expanded cuts mitigate the need to serve broadcast TV's commercial interests and give breathing room to the moments where the subjects get serious about their craft. According to Lipton, the Williams episode was culled from five hours of footage, which means roughly three hours of footage is still unavailable. Given the niche audience for these titles, I'd be all for packing in even more from the original tapes.

Anyway, the Williams show strikes a decent balance of substance and crowd-pleasing (which still handily wins out). Williams is not only performing at full riff, but he's on, delivering more funny and spontaneous material than he has in typical late-night appearances of recent years. At pains to explain how his creative process works, Williams demonstrates by borrowing a pink pashmina from an audience member (Lipton's goddaughter--could the fix be in?) and performing a one-man improvisational game of "Props." It's a master's class in childlike creativity as the shawl becomes everything from Mother Teresa's headdress to a car wash.

All kidding aside, the moments best suited to Inside the Actors' Studio are those moments when Williams sincerely attempts to explain how he works with directors to find a scene, or when he comes out with a kernel of actorly insight like this one: "The more you understand yourself—what you do, why you do it—frees you up to do other things and to be other people." The comment is an oldie but a goodie: a reminder of why Inside the Actors Studio is such a valuable opportunity to get modern screen stars talking about craft and inspiring younger generations of artists.

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Aspect ratios: 1.33:1

Number of discs: 1


Street date: 10/5/2008

Distributor: Shout! Factory

Inside the Actors Studio: Robin Williams presents the show in a nice, clean upgrade to its broadcast version. As on previous releases, host James Lipton introduces the program as well as approximately 40 minutes of "Great Moments That Didn't Make the Cut." There are ten of the latter, including more private insights about the relationship between Williams and Christopher Reeve, who was still alive at the time of the 2001 taping.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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