Robin Williams has come a long way since his mid-1970s debut as the comic whose brain moved faster than the SST. His style of comedy hasn’t changed much, but he has branched out into hard-edged dramatic performances as well. In the enchanting new movie August Rush, he plays Wizard, a Fagin-ish street musician who both helps and exploits a young musical genius named August (Freddie Highmore) as he tries to find the parents (Keri Russell, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) who don’t know he is alive.
At a Manhattan press conference for August Rush, the film’s director Kirsten Sheridan talked about the challenge of channeling Williams’ energy into this menacing character. She calls Wizard “a kind of double-edged sword: the more August opens him up, the more danger he opens as well. The first couple of takes Robin is all high energy. After that we’d pull it back and make it quieter and softer. And then at the end,” she laughs, “we’d always do one take that was actually the way it was written!”
“Sometimes we used his first take when we needed that energy and sometimes we used the quieter moments. So the fact that he was kind of like that anyway helped the character. Robin always has that kind of humanity in his eyes, which was great because you’re never going to have just a total bad guy—Wizard always seemed sympathetic to me.”
For his part, young Highmore says he wasn’t put off by Williams’ improvising. “It’s never too off the script,” he explains. “He would never just come up with something totally random. I think it helps – it’s more like a conversation. It doesn’t feel as scripted when you’re working with Robin. It’s like you’re just sitting there having a chat, and it becomes more relaxed, more natural.”Read More