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Williams on Williams

Thesp looks back on some memorable film, TV roles

Mork & Mindy

The ABC sitcom ran from 1978-1982 and featured Williams in his first starring role as the alien from Planet Ork. Pam Dawber co-starred. He won the role after Garry Marshall asked him to sit down for the audition, and he did — on his head. Williams won a Globe for TV actor in a musical or comedy in ’79.

“Working with Pam was a gift because she could hold the center, and I could fly off like an electron. It gave it a believability that, without it, I don’t think it could have survived.”

The series’ success took the cast, crew — and ABC suits — by surprise.

“I remember a network man saying he didn’t know what (the show) was. Then they just said, ‘Oh, screw it. We’ll put it on.’ ”

The World According to Garp

George Roy Hill directed the 1982 drama that co-starred John Lithgow and Glenn Close in her film debut. Both Close and Lithgow received Oscar noms.

“It was a good thing to play Garp with a man like George Roy Hill around. I improvised and he made a face like a weasel in a wind tunnel. It was a great lesson: Just commit to the script. And it worked. I’d thought, ‘You’ve got to pump this up.’ But you don’t have to.”

Good Morning, Vietnam

Williams received an Oscar nomination and won a Golden Globe for his work in the 1987 comedy-drama, which was directed by Barry Levinson.

“Vets would see it and for them, a lot of times, watching a war movie is a painful thing. But they could (watch this) and have memories and think about their time there. One woman wrote a letter saying her husband was a Cobra pilot, and he put all his (war) stuff in a box, and after the movie, he opened the box. It was like, ‘Okay, now I can look at this stuff.’ ”

Dead Poets Society

Peter Weir directed the 1989 drama in which Williams starred with Robert Sean Leonard and Ethan Hawke. Williams was Globe- and Oscar-nominated for his lead role.

“Working with Peter Weir was like having one of the great teachers. He literally would become like Mr. Keating (Williams’ character in the film). He’d read poetry and play a beautiful piece of classical music just as preparation for a scene. He’d talk to the boys and myself and say, ‘You don’t have to do anything in this scene, just listen.’ For me, that was a great gift. It was different than George Roy Hill. It wasn’t just, ‘Say the line,’ it was, ‘Don’t say anything.’ There’s a power in silence.”

Good Will Hunting

Gus Van Sant directed the 1997 drama, which was written by, and co-starred, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Williams won an Oscar and received a Globe nom for his supporting perf.

“Gus Van Sant is the quietest director of all. I think even Buddha would say, ‘God, he’s quiet.’ He’d get down to a really conversational level…The script was (also) so conversational, but loaded enough that you didn’t have to load it up.”