Of the many friendships the late Robin Williams formed over the course of his career, he returned to work with Terry Gilliam frequently. The actor first popped up in "The Adventures Of Baron Munchausen," took a leading role in "The Fisher King," has a cameo in "The Zero Theorem" and a voice part in the upcoming "Absolutely Anything" featuring most of the members of Monty Python (and despite reports to the contrary, Williams did complete his work on the movie before his passing). The director recently reflected on Williams' commitment to his work during production for "The Fisher King."
Discussing the "Red Knight" sequence in the movie (see below), Gilliam shares how much the actor poured into the performance. “This scene wasn’t a challenge to shoot as far as effects are concerned, but it was very hard from an acting point of view, because Robin was tearing his guts out emotionally. The interesting thing about Robin in all of those scenes was that he always wanted to do another take. He felt he had even more anguish and pain to spill out of the character," the director told Vulture. "And I had to really stop him. I had to say, ‘Robin, you’ve reached a point here, way beyond what we expected. We’ve got what we needed. Now you’re just hurting yourself.’ "
“The last shot we had to do was Robin running at the end of this scene, in this hysterical state. You can even see the light ever so slightly beginning to come on the river in the background. But Robin was so angry because it was such a crucial moment, and he felt he’d been cheated of his ability to really give this moment his all. And Robin was an incredibly strong guy: When he’d worked himself into this state of madness for the part, nobody could approach him. The first assistant, the stunt guy … nobody wanted to get near him. They were terrified," Gilliam added. “So, I had to go up there and tell him, ‘Robin, what we have here is very good. And if we look at the rushes and it isn’t, I promise you I will reshoot it.’ And I had to hug him basically, and hold him. I could feel these muscles that were so tense and so strong, they felt like they could easily rip my head off."
You can hear much more from Gilliam about making "The Fisher King" from his long out-of-print commentary for The Criterion Collection laserdisc release of the movie. Listen below.