Robin Williams tries `RV' as next vehicle


New York -- Play a clown-like healer in Patch Adams, and they rip you for being schmaltzy.

Play a homicidal children's TV star in Death to Smoochy, and they rip you for being mean.

Why can't Robin Williams win?

"Sometimes you just catch a bad wave," he says.

The ocean metaphor is an apt one for this interview, which finds the manic comedian in a laid-back California mood.

Williams, 54, returns to broad big-studio yuks in RV, opening Friday. He liked the match with director Barry Sonnenfeld but insists the film is not image repair.

Williams, an Oscar winner for his earnest shrink in Good Will Hunting (1997) and a four-time nominee, insists he stopped gauging the critical winds a while ago.

"All of a sudden you realize, you got the gig," he says. "Rodney Dangerfield once told me, `It's crazy. I'm sweating. I own the club. Why?'"

Nearly three decades have passed since Williams burst into households on Mork and Mindy.

His Juilliard instructor, actor John Houseman, once told him, "You will be our soldiers in the army of the theater ... unless, of course, you can make loads of money doing television."

Williams will take now over then. "Being middle-aged is a blessing," he says, "because you've seen more of the potholes."

In RV, Williams' ad man plans a job-saving rendezvous on the pretense of a family vacation. He rents an RV and navigates his spoiled wife (Cheryl Hines of Curb Your Enthusiasm), son and daughter through a maze of misadventures.

Williams is no camper. The main thing he could relate to was that his character has two teenagers, as he does (plus a 22-year-old). "It's a time of amazing sensitivity."

He still can launch a surgical strike to the funny bone. About his growing mistrust of the Bush administration's version of the war in Iraq, he says: "It's like saying during our Civil War, `We're just having a small brush fire down there in Atlanta.'"

The show-business obsession over money reminds him of an enforced stint in Los Angeles, where weekend box office is gospel. After one of his movies flopped in its debut, Williams recalls, "I even got it from the parking attendant. `Sorry, about this weekend.' `I'm sorry, too. Can I have my car keys?'"

Ron Dicker is a freelance writer for the Hartford Courant.

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