ROBIN Williams is a funny guy, but he's not afraid to go out on a limb and try to be serious.
He was nominated for an Academy Award for a "serious" role in "Dead Poets Society." He very well may be nominated again, this time for his "serious" role in "Awakenings," with Robert De Niro.
"You have something like this ("Awakenings") come along," said Williams, "it's absurd to pass it up. When you read something that's this powerful, I'll take the chance."
In "'Awakenings" Williams plays Dr. Malcolm Sayer, a doctor working with chronic patients in a hospital in the Bronx. The film is based on a true story by Dr. Oliver Sacks.
"I did a lot of research ... in a mental hospital still a functioning one in Brooklyn," Williams said. "I wasn't afraid.
"As soon as you walk into the doors ... every morning we'd walk past this big door and I'd see this one guy looking through with a few teeth. He kept saying, "Do I look sick to you? Do I look sick to you?' "Sometimes, he'd be outside waiting on the porch.
"They're built like sanitariums, which is almost a redundancy. But they're in wire cages.
"So that's what you got walking in. It confronts you. You can't walk away from that going, "Whew. I'd like to split.' "It's like 45 inmates watching a Fred Astaire musical on Darvon."
In the film, Williams' character is a recluse, afraid to reach out _ until he is spurred to help these post-encephalitic patients, one of them who is played by De Niro.
"I can relate to the good doctor in some ways," Williams said. "I wasn't also exuberant. I spent about three years in an all-boys school (near Detroit). It was almost like the one in "Dead Poets Society.' Blazer. Latin motto.
"I was getting pushed around a lot. Not only was there like physical bullying, but there was intellectual bullying going on.
"It made me toughen up, but it also made me pull back a lot. I had a certain retiscence about dealing with people.
"Through comedy, I found a way to bridge the gap."
Moving to California opened his eyes, too, Williams said.
"When I came out to California to go to high school, it was 1969," he said. "I went to this gestalt high school, where one of the teachers actually took LSD one day. So you walked in and you hear (whispers), "I'm Lincoln.' " Williams did a lot of powerful acting in "Awakenings." But he also did a lot of ... observing.
"It's interesting," he said, "because it's basically observing.
Especially the first part, figuring out what is going on.
"And the next part is putting it in place, this medication. The qualifying part is what happens.
"It was an interesting process.
"It's hard to get into these patients from the other side. To explain what it might be like from their point of view.
"If you read "Awakenings,' it's pretty humanistic science. It's technical in many ways, but it also reads like great prose. You do get a feeling in fact, horribly so what they're experiencing.
"There is a certain point that is beyond medicine. The presence of a family member could bring them out."
Williams knew that, if anybody could, De Niro could pull it off, playing the post-encephalitic patients who "awakens" after a 30-year "sleep."
"Even when you're supposed to be in a catatonic state, you can overact," Williams said. "People can spot that.
"I knew the first day Bobby spoke (in the film), I knew it was the perfect tone. He knew exactly ... it was there. I knew that it would work. It was like a laser gun. Ennnennnnnhhh."
But even a serious guy like Bobby De Niro and a "wannabe" serious guy like Robin Williams ... these boys also want to have fun.
"I goofed off," Williams said, "because if he (De Niro) stayed like that the whole time, he'd need medication.
"I started making fun of his pajamas.
"What are you wearing, dahling? Looks like "Papillon.' Did your mother make the robe? Lose the terry cloth. Let's go with something silk. Look at me, Bob. Smile at me, sweetheart."
"I did that for him. Sometimes, I just played for the crew. Once again, it's a mental hospital. It's in Brooklyn. It's the middle of winter. All these happy moments. Club Medicated.
"You have to do something to have to keep a ... to lighten the touch once in a while." BIOG: NAME:Archive ID: 454056