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Remembering Robin

Robin and MeI am deeply saddened to hear of the death of Robin Williams. He was truly one of the funniest people on this planet and gave so many people such great joy. I hope he knew this. He certainly made me laugh uncontrollably on many occasions, especially late at night on The Tonight Show.

This photo was taken at The Oxford Shop in Green Hills in July, 2013. I had the honor of working with him in a scene in the film Boulevard, which has received acclaim at recent film festivals and will now, more than likely, get a wider distribution this fall.

While we were waiting to film The Oxford Shop scene, the tech crew was rearranging belts in a display so that those bright orange Tennessee belts would not be so distracting on film. “Let’s get these UT belts out of here,” one of the techs said. “UT – Hook ’em Horns!” said Robin, playfully mentioning the University of Texas. I happened to be wearing my Notre Dame tie for the scene and said “Hey, put my Notre Dame tie in there.” “Notre Dame?” Robin exclaimed, “Nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah, nah…” he continued as he “sang” most of The Victory March.

In the scene we worked together, Nolan (Robin) is standing on a platform in the three-mirrored alcove found in most men’s clothing stores. It’s where a customer stands when a tailor measures a suit for alterations. He is there primarily to shop for clothes for his new friend Leo (Roberto Aquire),  but Nolan takes a moment to try on a new blue shirt. Leo is also in the alcove, talking to Nolan as he examines the shirt.

INT. MEN’S CLOTHING STORE – DRESSING AREA

Leo leans against the back corner of the alcove and looks at Nolan’s reflection in the mirror.

LEO

I like that shirt.

NOLAN

Thanks.

LEO

The blue matches the color of your eyes.

Nolan turns around and faces Leo as he realizes that this new relationship with Leo may be turning into something more than just a simple friendship.

NOLAN

What?

Just as Nolan speaks, a conservative male shopper (Christopher Fenoglio) walks into the alcove, looks briefly at the two men and then ducks into a side dressing room.

We ran through one rehearsal of the scene and then 5-6 takes with the camera at my back, looking into the alcove. I was carrying clothes to “try on” in the dressing room, so I had to hold the same clothes the same way during each take. Once I paused to look at another pair of slacks as I passed a table, but the assistant director said that interrupted the action so I should just walk straight into the alcove once I got the cue.

After those takes, the director called “Cut” and I thought we were done. During my only previous TV experience, there was a single camera angle for our scene, also from the rear. With that rear shot finished, I thought my work was done.

So, I did what any other fan of Robin Williams would do: I asked him for a photo. I know, I know, I live in Nashville where there are plenty of music stars all around (we walked right past Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban at the Green Hills Cinemas one afternoon this Spring), so everyone tries to act normally around the stars and give them their space. However, this was Robin Williams and I thought I would never get another chance like this.

Another extra had told me that he had approached Robin for a photo and that Robin had graciously agreed. So, with our work done, I asked Robin for a photo, which Roberto kindly shot [Roberto actually started the video camera first but then switched to photo. Bonus: I have my own 2-second video with Robin].

After the photo, I was getting ready to leave when one of the production guys came up to me angrily and said “Come here!” He led me outside where he gave me a scolding about asking Robin for a photo. “Of course he would say yes because he’s a good guy. But you are not supposed to interrupt the shooting for a personal photograph!” I hung my head, apologized to the production guy and said it wouldn’t happen again.

He was right, I did interrupt the shooting. While I thought the scene was over, they were just taking a break to change the angle of the camera. What I thought was going to be a single-camera shoot ended up being a three-camera shoot. The next angle was shot from the side to see Roberto. The final angle was shot from inside the alcove looking at my expression as I walked into the alcove and saw the two men.

So, for the half dozen takes of each of these two angles, I was quite bummed, even perturbed at myself for interrupting Robin and Roberto as they tried to stay in character in between setups.

We finally finished the scene and I went outside, still a bit shocked at all that had happened in the last hour. While I was standing outside, I saw Robin come out, smiling to others and chatting to folks, one of whom may have been an assistant. He was done for the afternoon and left the set in a white Lincoln Continental.

I vowed then that if I saw Robin around town during the rest of the shoot, I would apologize to him for interrupting his work and would thank him dearly for taking the time to acknowledge a long time fan.

That was my brief, wonderful experience working with Robin Williams.

Unfortunately, that scene ended up “on the cutting room floor” during the final edits. I thought it would be an important step in the relationship between Nolan and Leo. However, when I saw the final cut of the film, this scene would have taken place after a scene in which Leo is naked in front of Nolan. The subtle change of their relationship in our scene would have lost much of its impact. I hope the scenes shot in The Oxford Shop are some day included as deleted scenes on a future Blu-Ray/DVD.

I did see Robin briefly in the evening when we shot the scenes at the hospital. In one of these scenes, as Nolan is walking into the Emergency Room, I can be seen in the blurry background, sitting in the waiting room. Mom and I went to the premier of Boulevard in April 2014 during the Nashville Film Festival. When the Emergency Room scene appeared, I pointed myself out to Mom, who was able to see her son appear on the silver screen.

Unfortunately, I never saw Robin again that month to apologize and thank him. Perhaps he already knew. Still… Thanks for everything, Robin! I’m sorry I interrupted your work day, but you certainly had the class and kindness to help this inexperienced and enthusiastic background actor.

With the news of his passing, I will pray for his soul, his family and friends. I hope everyone will focus on the joy he brought to others and not the personal demons he fought most of his adult life.

Rest in peace, Robin. You will be missed.

CF

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