In 2006 Robin Williams — who usually makes his paycheck appearing in films heavy on comedic fluff and light on substance — starred in the film The Night Listener, a deeply disturbing portrait of a late-night radio host who carries on a, shall we say, unsettling long-distance relationship with a 14 year-old boy. Intrigued, the British website, Orange, asked the actor at what point he decided to start appearing in darker, more dramatic films. Williams replied, “Insomnia opened up a whole kind of other side, the dark kind of stranger roles… That was a wonderful access. It’s like if you play a video game when you access the next level (deep announcer’s voice) ‘You are now welcome to the dark parts!’”
Indeed, the comedian’s role as the sociopath writer in the 2002 remake of a Norwegian film, about a police officer investigating a murder in the Arctic Circle, opened doors for a variety of noirish roles. That same year, Williams portrayed a lonely film developer dangerously obsessed with a picture-perfect family in One Hour Photo, and a clown blood-thirsty for Barney in Death to Smoochy — a far cry from the man who once donned an old-lady outfit and cleaned houses with a British accent.
Perhaps what made Insomnia the perfect stepping stone into the realm of the disturbing was the fact that there is no clear line between good and evil, right and wrong. As the protagonist, Al Pacino hides his own demons, which are significant enough that his come-uppance feels as righteous as Williams’. By the same token, Williams isn’t altogether unlikable, even as a murderous novelist; his job is to find the relatable nature of all his characters. Referring to Jeffrey Dahmer, the star once told the BBC, “You find a horrifying normalcy about him. It’s always your job as an actor to try and find the character’s humanity, because it makes it more frightening.”
Insomnia plays Saturday, April 19 at 11PM | 10C on AMC. For a complete schedule of airings, click here.