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Gilliam, 73, was still struggling with what happened when he was required to revisit Fisher King for an upcoming home video re-release.
“Criterion are putting out a Blu-ray [edition of The Fisher King], and last week I had to watch it, just for technical reasons,” Gilliam tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I’d been pretty depressed since Robin died and watching it was exhilarating because there was Robin — alive and well.”
See more Robin Williams’ Most Memorable Roles
In the film, Williams plays Parry, who after his wife is murdered becomes delusional and homeless as he sets out on a quest to find the Holy Grail. It’ s a role Gilliam feels pulled more out of the actor — both professionally and personally — than any other in Williams’ career.
“It is the whole breadth of Robin, which no other part I think out there does,” explains Gilliam. “From the hysterically funny to the manic to the utterly sweet to the sensitive and tormented, it’s all there.”
But it’s the tormented aspects of the character that have taken on new meaning for Gilliam when he revisited the film, in particular the scene in which Williams is pursued by the Red Knight, a figment of Parry’ s delusions.
Gilliam tells THR that the Red Knight scenes were somewhat “cutesy” as written in the script, but that he had wanted them to be darker and found Williams more than willing to follow his direction.
“Some of those scenes when he is being pursued by the Red Knight, looking at them now is hard because we now know the story,” says Gilliam. “I didn’t have to push him because he believed that was true. He knew the darker side and what it means to have demons.”
Gilliam continues: “There were times we were on the treadmill doing the running scenes and I’d have to say, ‘Robin stop, you’ve been at this for awhile now, and it’s not getting any better.’ And he’d say, ‘No, I’ve got more to give.’ “
The director and actor-comedian were frequent collaborators. In addition to starring in The Fisher King, Williams had a supporting role in 1988’s The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, made a cameo in The Zero Theorem, which hits theaters Friday, and shortly before his death completed voice work as Dennis the Dog in Absolutely Anything, a new film due in 2015 which reunites Gilliam with his Monty Python crew.
“It was horrible when he killed himself,” Gilliam says of Williams’ shocking death at age 63. “All of us, any of us who worked with him — Matt [Damon], Jeff [Bridges] — it was just so hard to imagine he was gone.”
Still, Gilliam found solace in the outpouring of love that followed: “The worldwide reaction was amazing. Hollywood had probably become very cynical that his stuff wasn’t working, but the world loved him and that was because he was so utterly unique.”
“I came out of that Criterion screening last week smiling because the real Rob was there,” Gilliam says.
You can listen to Gilliam’s original Fisher King commentary from the out-of-print Criterion laser disc here.
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Jamie Lee Curtis