Harvey Weinstein Recounts Robin Williams' 'Good Will Hunting' Prank on Stellan Skarsgard
The late actor and Gus Van Sant tested Skarsgard's improv skills on set
While visiting CBS This Morning with Katie Holmes on Thursday to chat about The Giver, Weinstein — who gave an impromptu tribute during the film's premiere in New York City, just hours after news spread — reflected on the beloved actor, who died Monday at age 63. "It's been a tough week to collect your thoughts and to think about those implications, because, when you knew Robin, he made everybody else's life so good," he told Charlie Rose. "He was just so funny and so bright, for you. And if you made a movie with him, he was so good for the crew."
He continued on to recount a time on the set of Good Will Hunting with Gus Van Sant and a naive Stellan Skarsgard. "He played the opposite professor to Robin Williams — it was, like, his first role, he had just gotten off the boat from Sweden, he's a very famous actor there, [but] never did an American movie," Weinstein explained of Skarsgard at the time. "And Robin says to Gus and me, 'Let's welcome him to America. I'm going to change the script, and Gus, you tell him it's all about improvisation.'
"So here's this scene about mathematic formulas, and Robin comes out and goes, 'Jack Nicholson,' and then he does Jack Nicholson. And then Gus, he's pointing to Stellan, and he's in a state of shock like a deer, and then he does Jack and he does Bob De Niro doing the scene, and he's, like, doing 15 things, and the crew is totally straight-faced while Gus is shooting. And then Stellan starts to ad lib this Swedish gibberish, because he's so lost in the scene. And then when Gus yells, 'Cut,' 180 members of the crew exploded with laughter, and Stellan looked around and goes, 'What happened to me?' And Robin told him what was going on. Every day was like that with him."
He added of highly improvised takes with Williams, "We'd say, one for Robin, one for us, where he'd do the script. But inevitably, there was always something that he added to that film, right on the spot. Just a brilliant mind at work. ... I think for Billy Crystal and Robert De Niro, and there are people that were so close to him, I just — I emailed Billy last night. It's just too tough for a lot of people to deal with. This is just a shock."
Shifting gears, Giver actress Holmes noted what it was like to play the resident of a community with no emotion, especially when she is the mother of Jonas, the new Receiver of Memories (Brenton Thwaites). In one scene, Jonas asks his parents if they love him, though love is an emotion dulled by the residents' required daily injections.
"I believe it's precision of language, because, in this society, we're not supposed to speak of such words," said Holmes of her character's response to Jonas. "So it was an interesting role to play because she is the keeper of these rules, and yet she has this child who has been chosen to start breaking the rules and experience things that are beyond her level of understanding or experience."
The Giver hits theaters on Friday.
Aug. 14, 8:49 a.m. A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled Gus Van Sant's name. THR regrets the error.