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Robin Williams and Director Barry Levinson Tackle Politics in 'Man of the Year'

What If a Comedian Ran for President - and Won?


Robin Williams stars in Man of the Year

Robin Williams stars in Man of the Year.

© Universal Pictures
Wrestlers, actors, even pop singers have tested the political waters with differing levels of success, so why not a comedian as President of the United States? Are we ready? That's the question posed in Universal Pictures' Man of the Year starring Robin Williams, Laura Linney, Christopher Walken, and Lewis Black. Williams plays comedian Tom Dobbs, a talk show host whose jokes often focus on politics (an easy target). Dobbs decides it's time to stop poking fun at the President and run for the nation's highest office. The punchline: Dobbs wins.

Don’t Look for Robin Williams to Enter the Political Arena Anytime Soon: “Like Arnold [Schwarzenegger]? I’m just using my movies [to get my point across]. But the idea of running? Oh, not for me,” said Williams. “Like my character, I believe I serve a better purpose just being able to make fun of everything. In many comics, the moment you chose a side even though people say, ‘You’re a Democrat!’ ‘Yes, I’ve tried for a while and what’s left of the Democratic party...’ And that’s what Barry talked about. This is not about one party or another. It’s about how the whole system sucks. Right now you have special interests running a lot of politics because it cost $200 million to run for most offices. For President definitely that much, and even for Governor it gets in the hundreds of millions just to run the ads. The ads are usually like, ‘He slept with a chicken.’ ‘Did the chicken die?’ ‘It’s not that bad?’”

Barry Levinson on Keeping Robin Williams in Control: Williams joked that Levinson was able to keep him in line through medication but Levinson claims it wasn’t all that difficult. “It’s relatively simple. There is a script and as I’ve always said, ‘This is what is written, and if we can improve upon something at any given time we’ll do that.’ A lot of times if I think that I have the take that I need, then sometimes we’ll just try something else. Or sometimes I’ll say to him, ‘Did you ever think about blah, blah?’ And then we’ll kick something around and do another take and something else may happen. And if it’s better and if it’s more interesting, great. If not, we can just move on.

The good thing about Robin is he has enough discipline as an actor to know where the boundaries are. It’s not like he’s just bouncing off the walls and whatever. He does know where we have to get to and what we have to accomplish. And if we can improve on those moments we’ll do it, even though we didn’t have a lot of time for this movie. It was only shot in 42 days and we didn’t have a lot of time and it was only shot for $20 million. So, there wasn’t a lot of time hanging around and doing that. We had to constantly keep moving and still we were able to, and Robin was able to, find things that would enhance the piece.”

Researching Politics and the ’92 Debate: Director Levinson admits to watching the ’92 Presidential debate between Bill Clinton, George Bush, and Ross Perot but not really for its actual content. “I watched it initially only for the fact we were going to have a three person debate with an Independent. I wanted to see how they laid out their video cameras because we wanted to have coverage that would be consistent to what was done, and not suddenly invent some different way of doing it. That would have been out of character for the piece. So, I was just looking at it for the credibility of it all. What was interesting in that particular debate was how many times they would begin to talk – this one says it and then this one says it. There were interruptions; there were a number of things that went on. It was a much livelier debate than what’s taken place in 2000 and 2004, certainly. My reason was just a logistical issue in terms of how we were going to deal with the cameras, etc.”

Page 2: The Tone of Man of the Year and Balancing Comedy and Drama

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