Until Robin Williams won an Academy Award for his 1997 dramatic role in “Good Will Hunting,” many thought of the late star as "just" a comedian. But James Lipton, host of Bravo’s “Inside the Actors Studio,” said Williams’ brilliance as an actor was evident at every stage of his career — even when he was playing for laughs.
James Lipton on Robin Williams: 'His gift was genius'Play Video
Meet TODAY's Stephanie Ruhle: 'She's up for the challenge'
Amber Heard granted restraining order against Johnny Depp
Catch up on the biggest stories of the week with The Download
TSA lines move faster than expected as holiday weekend kicks off
"Great comedians have to be great actors," Lipton explained in a Tuesday interview with TODAY's Matt Lauer. "An actor reaches inside his soul ... deeper than we can go on our own and brings out something that's mysterious and a total surprise that we can't possibly predict, but that which is inevitable. (Williams) could do that. He could do that as a comedian; he could do that as an actor.
"His gift was the most mysterious of all gifts," Lipton said. "It was genius. Genius is inexplicable. ... You can teach craft. You can teach technique. You can't teach genius."
Remembering Robin Williams' classic on-screen momentsPlay Video
Have mercy: The 'Full House' home can be yours… for $4 million!
Runner's high? Weed-friendly gym to open in San Francisco
Vietnam vets reunited after 46 years: 'We found Stretch!'
Sam Waterson: 'We laugh every day' making 'Grace and Frankie'
You couldn't get Williams to contain that brilliant energy, either, Lipton recalled. When Williams appeared on "Inside the Actors Studio" in 2001, the Oscar winner was so fired up that Lipton could barely speak.
"He came out on the stage, I introduced him to our students ... then he took off," Lipton laughed. "It was six minutes before I could ask the first question." Williams' madcap marathon appearance ended up becoming the series' first two-hour episode — and viewers' all-time favorite.
Lipton recalled that when he asked Williams his standard interview question about imagining an afterlife, Williams expressed hope for eternal laughter and riffed on telling jokes with God at the pearly gates.
Said Lipton, "I have a suspicion, Matt, God is laughing right now."