Robin Williams (Mork & Mindy, Good Will Hunting) returns to series TV on CBS’ The Crazy Ones, premiering on September 26th. In the sitcom he plays Simon Roberts, a larger-than-life advertising genius, who heads a powerful agency with his daughter Sydney, portrayed by Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Ringer).
Robin and Sarah came to the TV Critics tour to talk about their new show and the joy working together.
Mork & Mindy could not be more different than this show. Is there anything about this experience that’s remotely like the last experience?
Robin: Last time I was on TV, wired meant a gram and a bottle of Jack Daniels (he laughs).
With Mork & Mindy they literally would put in the script, ‘Mork does his thing here,’ which was like [saying], ‘Riff little white boy.’
In a weird way, that’s kind of the same thing here, but the idea now is that there’s a lot more to talk about, just in terms of products, the world, the technology.
Sarah, most of your work has been drama-related. How is it coming into this show, working with Robin?
Sarah: It’s a dream come true. The top ten comics of all time, legends to me, Robin is on that list. I think that the one thing about Buffy the Vampire Slayer that was so wonderful was it was funny, it was dramatic, it was scary. So I had a chance [to do all those things].
Comedy was something I was always interested in. I kept my feet in there, whether it was hosting Saturday Night Live or hosting the MTV Movie Awards, whatever I could do. Ultimately, this is really what I wanted to do. I think it’s the most challenging.
I always say, ‘If you cry on camera, then people feel for you. It’s much harder to get someone to laugh.’
How do you know how not to cross that line between improvisation and sticking to the script?
Robin: I know that line. Basically you have to establish a character that people buy into.
Initially with Mork & Mindy, I think they bought into the innocence of the character. And they have to buy into not just my character [in this], but the relationship with everybody else and see someone who really has good ideas and bad ones.
If I step over the line, [Sarah’s] there to say, ‘Come back, Dad.’ The idea of creating and at the same time failing, that’s what makes it interesting.
Sarah: I want to jump in and say something about Robin. It can be intimidating when you work with a comic of that level, because a lot of comedians just want their stuff to be funny.
The one thing that I can attest to with Robin, he cares almost more about making everybody else’s stuff work, and everybody else very comfortable. You have to say, ‘Go do your thing,’ because he really wants it to work with everyone, which is rare.
Your relationship with Sarah in this is touching, but they are also butting heads. Is that like the relationship with you and your kids?
Robin: I have three kids. They were always the toughest audience of all. They would go, ‘Don’t do that, Dad.’ Sarah’s character is a combination of my son and my daughter, understanding but, at the same time, tough.
Sarah, what parallels do you draw between your relationship with Robin in this show and your real dad?
Sarah: For me, a father-daughter relationship until recently was something I had to read about, because I didn’t have a relationship with my father.
But what’s amazing now is to watch the relationship between my husband (actor Freddie Prinze, Jr.) and our daughter, and to really understand it in a different way, and also to watch Robin with his daughter.
I don’t know if it’s one of those, ‘What came first, the chicken or the egg?’ I don’t know if Robin makes me a better parent or being a parent makes me a better actor opposite Robin, because it’s kind of the same thing, which is I have to keep a straight face.
When my 3-year-old says something really inappropriate, it’s really funny but I can’t laugh, that’s what it’s like working with Robin.