When you listen to the clip of Robin Williams talking about how he came up with his character in the film Insomnia you get a sense that he was playing more off of Al Pacino’s performance than you realized when watching it. These two had never starred in a film together until this point and yet the dynamic between them was such that you might have thought they’d done this before. Robin Williams actually likened the pairing to two different types of Jazz, once they finally came out and did their thing they figured out what worked and went from there.
There’s no doubt that his character in the film is evil in some way, he kills a teenage girl after all and then disposes of her body like she’s trash. Strangely enough he cleans her up, washes her hair, and then clips her nails almost lovingly. The mystery of this character is that he seems so very caring and quite normal on the outside but there is something on the inside that festers and allows him to taunt Pacino’s character while at the same time attempting to build a rapport with him. As Williams’ describes him the character is not the epitome of evil but someone that might be looking for a way to come back from the brink, someone that did something they regret and want to know that there’s a way they can recover from it.
That’s a little hard to swallow given that the character fully enjoys his verbal sparring sessions with Pacino’s character and even goes so far as to provide himself with a bit of insurance just in case Pacino gets any ideas about hauling him in. Once that trap is set Williams knows that he owns Pacino in a way, and that no matter what he does, Pacino will go down with him if he does indeed get caught. That’s a devious mind right there to think of such things and an insanely well-prepared killer that doesn’t have a shred of the remorse he pretends to.
It’s definitely a switch from his normal roles for Williams. Usually he’s the funny or dramatic guy, or both, but in this movie he becomes the wily killer that loves to play with the police and doesn’t seem to mind getting close to men and women in blue as though to play a game of ‘slap the bull’. It honestly seems like a bit of personal enjoyment for this character to match wits with a renowned detective and come out on top a time or two, but in truth it’s not all that fair since Pacino is suffering throughout the entire film from a lack of sleep and the inability to get any sleep thanks to the white night that towns that rest far enough north experience in the summer.
The dangerous game of cat and mouse almost comes to a head a couple of times but Williams’ character always seems to find a way out. How he channeled such a cold-blooded but carefree killer is anyone’s guess.
Here’s the clip