- Posted August 13, 2014 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Robin's final gift to me
- hhanks, CNN iReport producer
My first impressions of Robin were that he was everything I hoped he'd be. Meeting your idol could turn out to be very disappointing, but not with him - in fact, he became even more of an inspiration to me as I watched how he used his time that day. I saw him meet with children from the Make a Wish Foundation, perform a 20 minute set for the room while the next shot was set up, after being told by the AD that "he didn't have to do this, he could go back to his trailer" to which he replied "These guys are working for squat. The least I can do is give them a free show," and then I revelled when he joined us for lunch at our table.
Robin made a point of talking to each individual in the room, and when it came my turn, I said something that made him laugh - which isn't hard to do. I don't remember what it was, but I remember the joy I had in sharing this moment with him, and I remember as the set photographer snapped him, having this talk with me. I said to myself, I have to get that photo. More on that later.
The scene progresses and Gus van Sant decides he'd like to start the shot on me, pulling out to reveal the whole room. He tells me that he needs me to be disinterested, "wanting to get out of this class". The point was that they wanted to establish that Robin's character wasn't satisfied as a professor, and that is why he'd accept the offer of going back to his practice to take on Will Hunting. Well, Robin never does anything in a limited way, and he did the scene several ways, including as an entertaining, funny teacher, to which the whole class is enthralled with laughter. This is of course the version that made the cut of the film, but there is one student not laughing - me. Not because he wasn't funny, but because I was so worried about doing the "wrong thing", that I forced myself to disconnect, and just play the direction. "Be bored," I said to myself, "be bored." Of course they didn't use the opening shot on me as planned, but they might have if I was going along with the scene and reacting to him properly.
When I saw the film, I realized where I had gone wrong. Robin had in fact just taught me the most important lesson I would ever learn as an actor - that the key to a scene is to listen and react, not play a direction - the scene is about discovery, not replication of an idea.
I wanted nothing more than to tell Robin of this epiphonal experience, and one day I had that chance.
Back to the photo... a couple of years later I found a press still for Good Will Hunting of Robin in the classroom. It was the one! The photo I saw them take, the photo of when he was talking to me! I'm not in the photo of course, I'm at the back of the room and this is a shot towards him, and it is actually portrayed as a character shot from the film even though he wasn't "in character" - he had his hands in his pockets and was simply riffing between takes, but it didn't matter, probably no one but us would know it wasn't a still from the film. I wanted so much to talk to him about the photo, and share with him my lesson learned.
Years later, after a performance of Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, I had that chance. Despite the rain, the crowds, the fact that he had two shows to do the next day, he stopped to talk to me and really listened to what I had to say. It was everything I wanted - to get that off my chest to him, and say both thank you and sorry for not reacting to what he was giving me in the scene, and he accepted it with grace. I showed him the photo, and whether he remembered the circumstances or not, he at least pretended to. He personalized it to me, and wished me the best in my career, and thanked me for taking the time to tell him this.
When I had heard through a text message that he had passed, I went online and the first thing I saw was an article that used that very photo. It occurred to me that this was his final gift to me, he was such an important part of my life, and even though in a very small way, I am somehow part of his story as well. I can look into his glowing eyes in this photo and know that for one brief moment, I was able to give back some joy to him.
Here is that photo, and one of the moment he signed it to me years later.
I am blessed to have met him those two times, as I know so many people who are disappointed that they will never have the chance. Well I can say to them with certainty, if he had his way, they all would have.