Robbins is experienced at playing despicable men. In his most recent turn, he’s a sadistic South African cop in “Catch a Fire.” He’s also played a homegrown terrorist in “Arlington Road,” and, perhaps just as sinister, an immoral studio executive in “The Player.”
But, of course, that’s just the characters he plays. In real life, Robbins is one of the industry’s most outspoken actors, unafraid to fight against the injustices that he often brings to light onscreen.
Producer and Gotham Awards committee chairperson Joana Vicente says Robbins was an obvious choice for the Gothams’ first humanitarian honor. “He is a die-hard believer in using his platform and its ability to provide awareness to certain issues,” she says.
Whether using the Oscars to make a plea on behalf of Guantanamo Bay Haitian detainees or victims of child abuse, volunteering at Ground Zero, or speaking out against the war in Iraq, the World Bank and the IMF, Robbins has “always been involved,” he says. “I grew up in Greenwich Village in the 1960s and I guess I never really saw a reason to stop just because I became famous.”
Aside from these public entreaties, Robbins has spent time behind the camera exploring right-wing politicians (“Bob Roberts”), the death penalty (“Dead Man Walking”), government censorship (“Cradle Will Rock”) and the neocon-orchestrated invasion of Iraq (“Embedded”).
“I see them as both connected,” says Robbins, of his art and his activism. “Part of our job is to tap into the human condition and tell stories, and when it’s at its best, affect people and bring them into a new way of thinking and a new way of feeling.”
Robbins may have taken some potshots in the media for his views, but there’s a reason why that “intimidation exists,” he says. “It exists because artists can have an effective voice, and can reaffirm what thousands of people are thinking. So I’ve never really bought the idea that it’s not my place to speak out.”