- Jack Nicholson, The Shining, 1979.
Judging them on Taxi Driver and Mork & Mindy., Stanley Kubrick said Robert De Niro was not psychotic enough while Robin Williams was too much so!
- Chip Zien, Howard The Duck, 1985. Everybody wanted to voice Marvel’s Howard T Duck… Williams, John Cusack, Jay Leno, Martin Short. Plus voicing specialists Townsend Colman and Rob Paulsen (more than 500 credits between them). Zien was not a voice-actor. Howard was the big deal production of the year… massive budget… George Lucas, Mr Star Wars, producing… his American Graffiti writers, writing. And. It. Bombed! Willard Huyck never directed again. And in need of funds to complete his Skywalker Ranch, Lucas sold to Steve Jobs what became… Pixar!
- Martin Short, !Three Amigos, 1986. Five years earlier, Steven Spielberg contemplated making the Western comedy. Obviously he would retained the same Lucky Day - the script’s writer-producer Steve Martin. Plus Bill Murray as Dusty Bottoms (oh, ho!)… and Williams set to steal it all as Ned Nederlander. The John Landis’ version comprised Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short. Oh yes, the film Spielberg made instead was a small, personal project. ET.
- Charles Grodin, Midnight Run, 1988. Director Martin Brest needed an improvisational actor and Williams wanted to work with his pal, Robert De Niro."It got real close - almost there. Then, they went with somebody else. In the end, he was better for it. But it was rough for me. I had to remind myself: OK, you've got other things." Including a much better De Niro film, Awakenings, 1991. Grodin had the charisma of a sandfly.
- Jack Nicholson, Batman, 1988.
- Jim Belushi, Homer and Eddie, 1989. Robin was keen on the retarded Homer and Russian film-maker Andrei Konchalovsky felt Belushi would bea fine Eddie. "But we had problems with Robin's [drug] connections with John Belushi and these memories put Jim off." Konchalovsky "fell in love with Jim, a marvellous, interesting, unpredictable actor." He became Homer and - not for the first time - Whoopi Goldberg took over a male role and became Eddie.
- Kevin Costner, JFK, 1991.
- Raul Julia, The Addams Family, 1991. Hotly tipped as Gomez, husband of Anjelica Huston's immaculate Morticia. He was, however, Hooked up as the all grownup Peter Pan.
- Matt Frewer, Star Trek: The Next Generation, TV, 1991. Mork replaced by Max Headroom..! Inspired by pal Whoopi Goldberg guesting on the series, Robin agreed to cameo as the time traveler Professor Berlinghoff Rasmussen. Until a movie intervened.
- Robert Downey, Jr, Chaplin, 1992. High on British director Richard Attenborough's list of proper Charlies. Then, Dickie found Downey "funny, touching, hugely entertaining and totally believable, justifying the faith Oona Chaplin had placed in us."
- Sam Neill, Jurassic Park, 1992.
- Denzel Washington, Philadelphia, 1993. Until Denzel expressed interest, director Jonathan Demme was keen on a lighter, indeed comedic actor for the AIDS victim’s lawyer.
Danny De Vito, Jack The Bear, 1993. Robin refused all calls from Fox production chief Joe Roth for six months after Joe "forgot" their agreement and gave the film to De Vito. In the same year, Roth greenlighted Williams' biggest hit, Mrs Doubtfire.
- John Goodman, The Flintstones, 1994. Early idea of Steven Spielberg for Fred Flintstone - opposite Phil Collins as Barney Rubble,
- Anthony Hopkins, The Road To Wellville, 1994. An Alan Parker idea for Dr John Harvey Kellogg - when the bizarre cereal king ran a health farm.
- Jim Carrey, Batman Forever, 1994.
- Dan Castellaneta, The Return of Jafar, 1994. Williams felt betrayed by Disney. Not even an offered Picasso painting mollified him. He had played fair, Disney not. He had saved the Aladdin movie, 1991, with his typical free-range improv as the blue Genie. He had worked for union scale as long as his voice was never used in toys etc, and the blue guy only having 25% of the posters and ads. Disney did the opposite! Williams refused to reprise the Genie in this video (due for cinemas before Williams exited), and…
- Dan Castellaneta, Aladdin, TV, 1994. … idem for this TV show. Castellaneta did his best in both, but he was not the manic Robin. (He was, in fact, Homer Simpson, among some 200 toon and seen voices). The studio had 16 hours of Williams improv from the first film (his George Bush and John Wayne impressions had never been used) but Robin refused any dealings with the Mouse House. A change of hierarchy finally led to public apology to Williams, who then agreed to razzle his dazzle anew for this second video sequel, Aladdin and the King of Thieves, 1996.
- Anthony Hopkins, Nixon, 1994.
For Tricky Dicky, the disgraced 37th US president (tfirst to resign the post), the JFK director Oliver Stone tried just about everyone. Warren Beatty, Gene Hackman, Tom Hanks, Dustin Hoffman, Tommy Lee Jones, John Malkovich, Jack Nicholson, Gary Oldman. Warners felt Robin’s salary a tad high - “for a drama”! (Next time around, Dan Heyda - Stone’s Trini Cordoza - was Nixon in Dick, 1998).
- Nathan Lane, The Birdcage, 1995. Having directed them in Waiting For Godoton-stage, 1988, Mike Nichols planned Steve Martin and Robin in drag for the Cage aux Folles re-make. Martin pulling out to be Sgt Bilko was all Robin required to say "I've done this!" (in Mrs Doubtfire) and vote for the "more challenging" role of the "husband," with Nathan Lane drafted into drag. As if anyone could better the French original’s Michel Serrault.
- Tom Hanks, Forest Gump, 1995. Too obvious, perhaps, yet he got a script. All Hanks got was the novel.
- Dennis Quaid, Dragonheart, 1996. More keen on voicing the CGI dragon… but Sean Connery had that role. Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Liam Neeson and Patrick Swayze were also short-listed for Bowen.
- Gérard Depardieu, Bogus, 1996. Canadian director Norman Jewison's script, created for Depardieu and no one else, was refused by four studios (including Warners who eventually released it). They all said the same thing: Drop Depardoo! Get Robin!
- Tom Cruise, Jerry Maguire, 1996. After Tom Hanks and Brad Pitt passed. writer-director Cameron Crowe held a cast reading with Robin and Mira Sorvino as his wife and the only one to survive for the movie -Cuba Gooding Jr. Show him the money!
- Greg Kinnear, Dear God, 1997. Legend has Robin refusing director Garry Marshall's comedy because it had been offered to Tom Hanks first.
Kelsey Grammer, The Real Howard Spitz, 1998. Robin was first attached to the family comedy, Writer's Block, then Michael Keaton - before the curmudgeon role went to TV's Frasier. And disappeared without trace.
- Lanny Flaherty, Home Fries, 1998. He quit just days before he was to play Drew Barrymore's father.
- Gary Cole, One Hour Photo, 2001. First selected for the SavMart manager, However, on re-studying the script, Williams asked to be Sy, The Photo Guy... as soon as Jack Nicholson walked away. Sy was the ideal employee of every month, secretly obsessed with a young family whose pix he develops and prints in the titular store. Among Williams’ top five roles, worthy of more than horror awards.
- Drew Carrey, Geppetto, TV, 2001. Disney’s (fresh?) take on Pinocchio lost Williams (and Steve Martin). Carrey was a safer bet.
- Robbie Coltraine, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, 2001. A Hollywood director was bad enough, but Warner Bros seemed determined to ruin its hoped-for franchise by also considering a US cast: Liam Aiken as Harry, Rose O’Donnell as Ron Weasleyl’s mother and Williams as the 8ft. Rubeus Hagrid. They were keen, offering to work for free!) Wiser heads prevailed (mainly author JK Rowling’s) and, in fact, Coltrane was the first actor cast for the franchise.
- Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, 2002.
Steven Spielberg loved it. In the 90s, he saw Williams or Steve Martin or Bill Murray as Jack Sparrow. (Williams’ Captain Jack would have been so cuddlesome, so why not Tom Hanks?) Spielberg couldn’t have been more wrong - or totally old-fashioned. Anyway, this was a Disney ride and was going to stay that way.
- Peter Stormare, The Brothers Grimm, 2004. An early announcement for the Napoleonic torturer in Terry Gilliam's $75m fantasy. Matt Damon and Heath Ledger were excedingly Grimm.
- Steve Martin,The Pink Panther,2004. First name thrown up (!) when MGM planned a Hollywood version of the old Peter Sellers franchise. "Despite Sean Connery, I was able to accept the other James Bonds," wrote Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert, "just as I understand that different actors might play Hamlet. But there is only one Clouseau, and zat ees zat."
- Eddie Izzard, Five Children and It, 2003. The kids escape WWI in an eccentric uncle's mansion and meet a sand fairy who grants their wishes. Yawn? Yes, but Izzard saved It(!) with a cheeky, anarchic, subversisve and largely improvised voice-over. Very much in the Williams’tradition except Robin had made too many family films by now.
- Geoffrey Rush, The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, 2004. Well, if not Clouseau, why not Sellers...! Williams said it would have been a great honor to play Sellers, but his schedule wouldn’t allow it. Fortunately!
- Johhny Depp, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, 2004. Rather inevitably part of director Tim Burton’s (23-strong) wish list: one ole Beetlejuice Michael Keaton, three Monty Pythons - John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin - plus Rowan Atkinson, Nicolas Cage, Jim Carrey, Robert De Niro, Dustin Hoffman, Michael Jackson, Dwayne Johnson, Steve Martin, Will Smith, Christopher Walken. Depp said his Willy, as it were, was “part Howard Hughes-reclusive, part 1970s glamorous rock star.” No wonder Marilyn Manson wanted the gig.
Steve Carrel, Little Miss Sunshine, 2006. Second choice (after Bill Murray) for the suicidal Frank. Next? Carrel, then unknown. And, thereby, cheaper.
- Heath Ledger, 2007.
- Sean Penn, Milk, 2007. Director Gus Van Sant had first planned a film in the early 90s about the first openly gay man elected to US public office - and assassinated for it (with San Francisco Mayor George Moscone) in 1978. Van Sant’s main candidates to play Harvey Milk were Robin, Daniel Day-Lewis, Richard Gere, James Woods.
- Jackie Earle Haley, Watchmen, 2008. Not so much “Who watches the watchmen?” as Aristotle asked, but who playeth them? And in the 20 years it took for Alan Moore’s DComic-book to be filmed, directors came and went - Darren Aronofsky, Michael Bay, Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam, Paul Greengrass. So did their choices for Walter Kovacs aka Rorschach, the masked vigilante: Williams, Daniel Craig, John Hurt, Doug Hutchinson, Simon Pegg, Sean Penn, Robin Williams and the prerequisite outsider, Richard Hansard. Unknown then. And now.
- Tracy Morgan, Cop Out, 2009. Warner picked up the script when Gold Circle dropped it in 2008. And turned James Gandolfini and Robin into Willis and Tracy Morgan as (first title) A Couple of Dicks. Director Kevin Smith’s most successful film. (Also the first he didn’t script, you see). As the director, he did not get on as well with Willis as he had when they co-starred in Love Free or Die Hard, 2006. "I don't wish him poorly or anything like that,” he said at Comic Con 2014, “but I just don't want to be near him ever again."
- Steve Carrel, Dinner For Schmucks, 2009. Among the choices for the pathetic loser (due opposite Steve Martin) in the (as always, highly flawed) re-make of the French Diner de cons, 1998, writer-directed by Francis Veber. If they’d only stopped tampering with his (near) perfection… when Jacques Villeret was the original con.
- Sacha Baron Cohen, Les Miserables, 2011. Rowan Atkinson, Billy Crystal, Ricky Gervais, Steve Martin… For some reason, it was only comics (oh, and Geoffrey Rush) seen for the despicable Thénardier. Williams would have been the most insufferably lovable Thénardier in history!
- Michael Douglas, Behind The Candelabra, TV, 2012.
Steven Soderbergh’s “final film” has been an earlier project of Philip Kaufman, who recalled Williams’ interest. “We’re working on getting the script right. Robin came into our office recently, saw a picture of Liberace with Carol Channing and proceeded to do a conversation between both of them! [Laugh]. We all fell off our chairs, laughing. He’d be brilliant as Liberace. So, we'll see.”Or not…. Planned for 2008, Soderbergh and co-star Matt Damon never gave up on Douglas, and his "throat" cancer battle - as he reported, all choked up, at his 2013 Cannes press conference.
- James Corden, Into The Woods, 2013.
- Taron Egerton, Eddie The Eagle, 2015. Mentioned in 2008, then dropped as far too old (and American) for UK plasterer Eddie Edwards, more ski-ing chump than champ (therefore, a British hero!) at the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics. Also too old but, er, local, Steve Coogan said Eddie is “quirky, dysfunctional, slightly nerdy, but his balls must be made of titanium.” Said Eddie:“I’ve been called worse.” Over the (many) years, other potential Eddies included Martin Freeman, James McAvoy, Kris Marshall and (closer to Eddie’s age) Harry Potter pal Rupert Grint. Then, Kingsman was made - and so was Egerton.
- David Tennant, Chew, 2015. Who better than the ex-Doctor Who and Broadchurch’s troubed cop, Alec Hardy, to inherit the voicing of Tony Chu, easily the most bizarre detective in movies. Chu is cibopathic. He gets psychic impressions from what he eats, ie he can nibble on a murdered corpse to find whodunnit... Robin’s shock suciide was probably not his decision but caused by being mistreated for Parkinson’s when actually suffering from DLB, Lewy bodies, a terminal form of degenerative dementia.
"Robin Williams was an airman, a doctor, a genie, a nanny, a president, a professor, a bangarang Peter Pan, and everything in between. But he was one of a kind. He made us laugh. He made us cry. He gave his immeasurable talent freely and generously to those who needed it most." - US President Barack Obama
"Robin was a lightning storm of comic genius and our laughter was the thunder that sustained him. He was a pal and I can't believe he's gone." - director Steven Spielberg
"His was truly one of the most brilliant and singular performances in the history of animation. For me, it was one of the most breathtaking, pure moments of creativity I think I have ever witnessed. Aladdin would not be the classic movie it is without his brilliance." - chief executive of DreamWorks Animation and former chairman of Walt Disney Studios Jeffrey Katzenberg