As an Oscar-winning actor, Tim Robbins has played characters as disparate as a young minor league baseball pitcher (“Bull Durham”), folksinger-turned-corruptician (“Bob Roberts”) and blackmailed movie studio executive (“The Player”). As a staunchly liberal political activist and outspoken opponent of the invasion and war in Iraq since 2003, Robbins has fielded criticism from hawkish conservatives who’ve called him everything from “Saddam lover” to “terrorist supporter.”
Yet regardless of where one squats on the political spectrum, as our country approaches an historical presidential election and Robbins nears 50, there’s no undercutting the long-standing Hollywood figure’s contributive influence on modern American culture.
As a selected batch of social and political thinkers cite their favorite Tim Robbins moments, both onscreen and off, it’s clear that the actor-writer-director has proved himself an iconic player both in politics and in film:
Musician, writer, essayist
” ‘Bull Durham’ I loved because he’s playing this naive, fun young baseball player who’s not the sharpest tool in the shed,” says Densmore, the former drummer of the Doors who knows Robbins personally through mutual affiliations with the Liberty Hill Foundation, a Los Angeles-based environmental and economic advocacy group. “And Tim is very sharp, so you know he’s acting and it’s great.
“But another moment that I’ll never forget is when we were doing a live performance of the ‘Dead Man Walking’ soundtrack. It was in the Shrine Auditorium, and he was introducing all the groups. He’d beforehand planted a little piece of paper on the floor by the podium, and he looks down and he picks up this little piece of paper and reads it and he says, ‘I’m king of the world!’ pretending that it was a throwaway of one of James Cameron notes. It was real clever and real subtle. The guy is very clever.”
As for any flak that Robbins and other celebs might catch for spouting their political opinions when many consider them untested in this arena, Densmore proffers this: “Tim is an impassioned human being. He cares passionately about social change. What are celebrities supposed to do — sit around having lunch and not express our opinions? We are citizens.”
Newsweek contributing editor and “McLaughlin Group” panelist
“I appreciate his outspokenness,” Clift comments. “He and his wife, Susan Sarandon, are certainly up front about their progressive politics, which I think is great. As for his onscreen performance, ‘Bob Roberts’ — that I loved. It’s terrific how Robbins’ character gets so fed up. It’s just such a spoof on our politics.”
NPR media correspondent
“I remember him at various public events speaking with his wife,” Folkenflik says of his most distinct Robbins memory. “He was against the first Gulf War, and that was reinforced when ‘Bob Roberts’ burst onto the scene. (Robbins) drove that film not only with his performance, but he also directed and wrote that film as well. It was clear through its cynicism that was a movie that showed an ineffective political left and an absolutely immoral political right. It wasn’t a perfect movie, but it was a pretty powerful presentation of Robbins’ take on the political scene. And done not without real skill.”
Folkenflik echoes Densmore’s take on celebrity-issued political opinions with a decidedly “stars are people, too” approach.
“There are people who have thrown themselves into issues, and then people who just sort of mouth off but aren’t quite sure what it really means,” Folkenflik says. “The fact is, not every newspaper is equal; not every celebrity deserves to be listened to. Is it our job to sift through the issues on our own? Perhaps.”