A week after the death of Robin Williams sent emotional shock waves through Hollywood and the real world alike, the beloved actor’s friends and collaborates (like David Letterman) have begun to find the words they need to say to remember the man who man who meant so many things to so many different people.
The latest on this list is former child actor Mara Wilson, who infamously yelled at Sally Field that they were “his goddamn kids too” in “Mrs. Doubtfire” as Nattie Hillard, Williams’ character’s youngest child. (She also later played “Matilda.”)
Wilson retired from acting when she was accepted to NYU in 2009 — and has become a very talented writer — so it’s no surprise that her post on Williams is lengthy, heartfelt, and beautifully written. It’s also a very informative first-hand account from someone who knew this person in a way that many of us felt like we knew him, which Wilson sums up perfectly by saying, “I suppose… we’re all his goddamn kids, too.”
The whole piece is worth a read, but here are the three biggest points in Wilson’s article that truly seem to encapsulate who Williams was to those who knew him:
1. He Was Amazing With Kids
“Robin would do anything to make me and the other kids laugh. Those hand puppets that dance alongside the genie in ’Aladdin’s’ ’Friend Like Me?’ That must have been his suggestion, because Robin made those in real life. He’d break them out between takes to entertain us between takes. ’I don’t like you,’ his left hand would say to his right. ’You smell like poop!’
I would laugh uproariously — I was five, so poop jokes were the height of hilarity — as his right hand yelled back ’Well, there’s no toilet paper at my house!’ When he saw me watching him work on his laptop during downtime, he played a sound file of Dorothy from the ’Wizard of Oz’ screeching ’You wicked old witch!’ When we were filming the petting zoo birthday scene, he fed a pony oats out of his hat, then held it out to me and said, ’Wanna wear it?’ When we were filming the climactic dinner party scene, he would make his carpet bag bark like a dog under the table, then order it to be quiet.
He seemed to know instinctively what we would find funny, and never had to resort to saying anything that was inappropriate for children. He was, after all, a father himself.”
2. … But Was Shy Around Adults
“Robin was so on so much of the time that I was surprised to hear my mother describe him as ’shy.’ ’When he talks to you,’ she told her friends, ’he’ll be looking down at his shoes the whole time.’ I figured he must have been different with grown-ups. I wouldn’t see that side of him myself until a few years later, when I was invited to be part of a table read of ’What Dreams May Come.’
He came alive in the reading, and had us all laughing at lunch, but my strongest impression came when we saw each other for the first time that day. Robin crossed to me from across the room, got down to my level, and whispered ’Hi, how are you?’ He asked how my family was doing, how school was, never raising his voice and only sometimes making eye contact. He seemed so vulnerable. ’So this is what Mom meant,’ I thought. It was as if I was seeing him for the first time. He was a person now.”
3. He Made People Feel Important
“As of this past Monday, Robin and I had not spoken in a few years. We weren’t on bad terms, we had just lost track of each other. He was working in films still, I was not anymore, he still lived in California, I’d moved probably nine times since I last had his contact information. The last time I saw him, I was a freshman at NYU and he was filming ’August Rush’ in Washington Square Park. I went up to him while he was walking away from the set to his trailer, and called his name. He turned around, not sure what to make of the girl in the glasses and NYU hoodie calling him like she knew him.
’It’s me!’ I said. ’It’s Mara.’
’Oh, Mara!’ He told me how grown up I looked and asked how I liked NYU. It was small talk, but something about the way Robin looked at me made it feel like he truly cared. This was someone for whom everything mattered.”
For more on Williams, as well as Wilson’s thoughtful reflections on mental illness, check out her blog, then be sure to read her “Mrs. Doubtfire” sister Lisa Jakub’s sweet story on how Williams tried to get her un-expelled from school.