You have to give credit to Robin Williams for still taking risks this late in his movie career. Even if his depiction of President Dwight Eisenhower in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” was a little strange from a physical standpoint (was that Williams’s old Popeye makeup?), his basic performance was intriguing. Having two cameos (plus one upcoming) as President Teddy Roosevelt in the “Night at the Museum” franchise makes you wonder if Williams is heading into eventually playing a feature-length Presidential role. But should he get into the dramatic biopic genre when there’s still a Williams stigma of making something unintentionally funny?
One undeniable thing can be said about Williams: He seems slightly less manic now than he was in his earlier days. Had he attempted overly serious drama back in the 1970s or early ’80s, he probably couldn’t have tapped into the proper zone necessary to make it successful. Since then, he’s managed to temper his kinetic energy into being more calmly dramatic when he has to be. We finally saw that manifest in his Oscar-winning turn for “Good Will Hunting.”
Even in his new CBS comedy “The Crazy Ones”, he’s much more sedate compared to his “Mork and Mindy” days. Despite still making movies, it’s looking like he’s choosing comedy rather than committing to any immediate dramas. Yet, the role as President Eisenhower gave a hint to what he could do. One also has to ask what the real point is in playing Teddy Roosevelt in two different cameos. After all, we’re overdue for an updated feature biopic on the President who carried a big stick and didn’t necessarily speak softly.
Why not have Robin Williams play Roosevelt in a full biopic about the President? Everyone from Brian Keith to Tom Berenger played Teddy Roosevelt in the last 35 to 40 years. With Williams the most recent actor to portray the President, he already has the experience from “Night at the Museum” and a boisterous personality to warrant no audition.
If it ever happens, he’d have to compete with a biopic announced some time ago that once had Leonardo DiCaprio (yes, again!) attached with Martin Scorsese at the helm. Based on a popular book, it was going to focus on a younger Roosevelt.
The last part of Roosevelt’s life is just as fascinating, though, and older Williams has potential to do it justice. We have yet to see a dramatization of Roosevelt’s third campaign for President and a failed assassination attempt while on that same campaign trail. You can just see Williams taking on an older Roosevelt with an all-too-rare dramatic purpose.
Whether Williams ever manages to get into such a zone remains to be seen. We need some more biopics about Presidents other than Lincoln, FDR and JFK to understand other sides of history. With Williams’s clear respect for Teddy Roosevelt, he’s right up there with Daniel Day-Lewis who we all know had the same kind of assimilatory respect for Abraham Lincoln.
Those are the only people who should play Presidents, and being a zany comedian shouldn’t automatically count Williams out.