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Goldthwait brands Williams `World's Greatest Dad'

Bobcat Goldthwait already counts his latest movie starring buddy Robin Williams a success, no matter how well it does at theaters.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Bobcat Goldthwait already counts his latest movie starring buddy Robin Williams a success, no matter how well it does at theaters.

That's because "World's Greatest Dad" star Williams landed a slot to promote the film on NBC's "The Tonight Show," where Goldthwait once burned his own bridges by deliberately setting a chair on fire during an appearance with Jay Leno.

In an interview shortly before Williams' "Tonight Show" gig, Goldthwait marveled at the fact that the low-budget black comedy he wrote and directed would get airtime on one of Hollywood's premier publicity venues.

"I truly, not in a bitter way, am not too concerned about box office, because trust me, when I sat down and wrote this screenplay, I never thought that would happen," Goldthwait, 47, said over coffee alongside Williams. "He's going to go on `The Tonight Show' and talk about a movie I made. I'm banned from `The Tonight Show.'"

"World's Greatest Dad" continues Goldthwait's tradition of truly twisted humor, which he also showcased in "Sleeping Dogs Lie," an indie comedy about a woman whose impromptu sex act with her dog causes havoc years later after she and her boyfriend adopt a policy of complete honesty.

The new movie stars Williams as a high-school poetry teacher whose dream of becoming a famous writer finally happens after publicity surrounding a bizarre family tragedy snowballs into a national outpouring.

The story leaves Williams' single dad caught in a deception that serves his personal ambitions while sugarcoating the truth about his malignantly surly teenage son (Daryl Sabara of the "Spy Kids" flicks).

Williams, 58, has been friends with Goldthwait for nearly 30 years. He appeared in Goldthwait's 1991 directing debut, "Shakes the Clown." That movie starred Goldthwait as a boozy clown framed for murder, Williams signing on for a bit part as a favor to his pal.

"I went, `Alcoholic clown movie. Yes, I want that in my resume,'" wisecracked Williams, who shared his thoughts about Goldthwait's decision years ago to give up acting and stick to directing.

"I think your acting in `Shakes' is pretty wonderful, in the `Citizen Kane' of alcoholic clown movies," Williams told Goldthwait. "Bob can do it. It's a question of do you want to do it? It's like, people say to me, `Do you want to direct?' I went, `Not at all. I'd rather cater.'"

Goldthwait sent the "World's Greatest Dad" script to Williams to get his opinion, not thinking his friend might star in the film, which opened last week in New York City and expands to more cities starting Friday.

"Clearly, if I was writing a movie for Robin, I would have stayed away from a poetry teacher who faces tragedy. I think he covered that pretty well," Goldthwait said of Williams, an Academy Award winner for the college drama "Good Will Hunting" whose four Oscar nominations include one as a devoted instructor in "Dead Poets Society."

Williams thought he might be able to help Goldthwait out as he had on "Shakes the Clown," figuring "maybe there's a small part to play. Then I read it and I went, `Uh, you know the main guy?'"

Goldthwait, who recalled how his budget was so tight on "Sleeping Dogs Lie" that he had to break into a stranger's garage to film a scene, said he had anticipated a similarly bare-bones production for "World's Greatest Dad."

After Williams came on board, the film took on a bigger life, Goldthwait said.

"The real reason I was thinking of Robin NOT being in this movie was really because he is one of my best friends, or my best friend, but I'm also fully aware that he's one of the greatest actors we have, period. Really, period," Goldthwait said. "So the idea that he would do the movie just suddenly changed it, and watching him in these scenes, I was sitting there and I was getting goose bumps. It was so exceeding my expectations of what this movie was when I wrote it."

Williams said indie films offer a chance to cut loose on an under-the-radar project compared with his studio work such as the summer hit "Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian" or this fall's comedy "Old Dogs," in which he co-stars with John Travolta.

The set for "World's Greatest Dad" was more relaxed and less regimented, giving the cast more freedom to experiment. Goldthwait would wear a coonskin cap or a sombrero to keep the cast and crew at ease and remind them that it was just a movie, not a life-or-death situation.

"You said, `You can't get too angry, because who's going to take an angry guy seriously wearing a coonskin cap?'" Williams recalled. "`Hey, get that over there!' `Yeah, thank you, Mr. Crockett.' ... You still get work done, but you just can't cop a 'tude. You don't go like, `Oh, mein director? The one over there in the sombrero? You mean Pancho Villa?'"

In the 1980s, Goldthwait parleyed his jittery, demented standup act into a big-screen career, mostly in forgettable comedies such as "Hot to Trot," "Burglar" and several "Police Academy" movies, which he mockingly calls "Police Lobotomy."

Goldthwait fondly remembers getting kicked off the publicity mill on "Hot to Trot" for telling reporters it was a lousy movie, and his official biography in production notes for "World's Greatest Dad" mentions that his credits include "innumerable embarrassing movies."

He generally gave up on acting in the mid-1990s, around the time of his "Tonight Show" fire-starter moment. Goldthwait has continued to do standup, the occasional small role or voice work for cartoons, but his focus has been behind the camera, including regular stints directing "Jimmy Kimmel Live!"

"I jokingly say I retired from acting the same time they stopped hiring me, so it worked out really well," Goldthwait said. "I go out and do standup, and I'm starting to enjoy it again, but I go out and do that to pay bills so I can keep making these really tiny personal movies. I don't really care about being in front of the camera, mostly because I really, really take this seriously. I really want to do a good job. I really want to be concentrating on this."