Emily Hill: My night with Robin Williams
In 2007, I was working as a movie set Extra for the talent agency “Foreground/Background”. As I watched the job postings that summer one came in for a movie being shot in Seattle starring Robin Williams.
Of course I wanted to be in that movie and excitedly let the agency know that I was available that afternoon to work as an Extra for “World’s Greatest Dad,” directed by Bobcat Goldthwait.
I was not only hired for the gig – as an extra in a restaurant scene — but had the wild good fortune of being placed at the table right next to Williams as he romanced his co-star, Alexie Gilmore.
I remember reporting to the cast pen with my head shot and particulars, including a wardrobe change. The casting director’s assistant decided I should wear a tan suit and my make up was toned down for the shoot. After trading movie set war stories with the other foreground actors on a particularly hot summer evening, 30 of us were called to march single file from about a block away into the restaurant. I was giddy!
Most of the movie was shot in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood and this particular scene took place at the Rusty Pelican on 45th Street (same owners as the Edmonds restaurant). At 3 p.m, after the set crew totally transformed the restaurant from a family-friendly dining destination into a chic, hip date-night place, the set was ready! Somehow, (no wise cracks, please!) I landed first in line as we were counted off for restaurant seating and directed to a particular table in the restaurant. My new BFF – Stephanie – pinched me and nodded her head toward the next table. We had been instructed to not stare, ask for autographs, or otherwise engage Williams — a subtle nod was all it took . . .
Robin Williams’ DOUBLE was seated NEXT to us! Which meant that Robin Williams would be sitting next to us! OMG!
My full role was to walk across the restaurant with my dining partners to our table as two little siblings (seated with their parents at another table) fought and made a scene to which the director would “let” Williams ad lib about what little monsters they were. “Let” is the operative word here because Williams stole the whole evening — much to Goldthwait’s seeming delight.
In this movie trailer I am being seated in the restaurant at 1:41 (for three seconds!).
For the first 45 minutes after being seated, I was simply smitten over Robin Williams. He was pleasant and friendly to everyone seated at adjoining tables and easily put everyone at ease. As we relaxed, I looked forward to a full evening with one of Hollywood’s greatest stars.
On the nine-hour shoot there were several pages of dialogue between Williams and Gilmore that had to do with Williams making cracks about what was going on in the restaurant; also, they shot the “panty picture” scene, and Williams’ flirted with Gilmore, making lewd night club act comments (in his typical shtick format). When the movie came out I was shocked over how much of what was actually shot was left on the “cutting room floor.”
“Quiet on the set!” was a joke as Williams’ called out one-liners one after another the entire evening during the otherwise silent sound-checks. After three hours I was growing apprehensive by the maniac-tension that was growing on the set, and amazed by the tornado of energy that Robin Williams was able to conjure.
Ultimately Williams said he needed a “break” and decided to greet the huge crowd gathering outside the restaurant. That resulted in a whole nightclub act, which the cast and director Goldthwait sat through. Williams delighted the folks outside by becoming a ventriloquist talking to a little purse-sized dog that someone in the neighborhood had been walking when they discovered that a movie was being shot in their neighborhood.
When Williams tried to end his street performance and slip back into the restaurant, the crowd rushed the Rusty Pelican and police had to be called because the crowd turned into a mob. Those outside began banging on the windows to get Robin to come back out to the street and there was fear that the plate glass would shatter.
Williams double lamented out loud, “Oh no! Why does he always have to do this?” After the police came, things settled back down and the filming continued. It was 9 p.m. and I was growing concerned about how excitable Williams was becoming – he seemed unstoppable as his patter continued at almost everyone’s urging.
Several times at that point his assistant came over to brush his hair, sit on the chair adjoining his, and talk to him. Finally about 11:30 p.m. she announced that the limousine was at the back door of the restaurant to take Williams back to the Four Seasons where he was staying.
The most interesting part of the whole evening was Robin Williams’ ability to “grow” his energy as the crowd, crew and cast egged on his antics.
I hoped that he was enjoying his own celebrity, but felt he was being used for the amusement of others.
I never stepped onto another movie set as I found the atmosphere of that evening disturbing. On the other hand, Goldthwait didn’t seem to mind the manic intrusions to his directing — at all; he rather seemed to enjoy letting Robin be Robin.
I hope that Robin Williams was OK with that.
– By Emily Hill
Edmonds resident Emily Hill covers the arts for My Edmonds News through her weekly Artfully Edmonds column.