Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Williams Battled Demons but Left Positive Impression on Winnipeg Film Industry

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Williams Battled Demons but Left Positive Impression on Winnipeg Film Industry

Article excerpt

Robin Williams and his connection to Winnipeg

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WINNIPEG - Robin Williams was with his local handler in the elevator of Winnipeg's historic Fort Garry hotel when the doors opened and a mom popped in.

It was 2004 and Williams was in the city filming "The Big White," a dark comedy about an Alaskan travel agent who tries to solve his money problems by passing off a dead body as his missing brother to collect a million-dollar insurance policy. Producers were drawn to Winnipeg for its big skies and, of course, the snow.

The mom had kids at a Junior Achievement event in the hotel and, recognizing Williams right away, she wondered if the Hollywood superstar would come up and meet the youngsters.

Williams looked at his handler and his handler looked back, but it was as if the star was asking permission rather than looking for a way out.

"I'm like, well, we are going to a film set shortly, but sure," Kenny Boyce, Winnipeg's manager of film and special events, recalled Wednesday about that day. "Forty minutes later, he had met everybody. He signed people's T-shirts and casts and he spoke about the film he was doing."

"The Big White," which was also shot in the Yukon and Alaska, was largely a flop with critics -- "didn't win an Academy Award," as Boyce puts it -- but Williams's time shooting in Winnipeg left a huge footprint on the film community there.

"Everyone on the crew got to know him. He wasn't the type of actor who would just leave the set and go to the trailer. He ate with the crew on set," said Boyce, who has been in the film industry for 15 years.

"At the end of the day, I would be hard pressed to find a nicer actor."

Boyce's recollections of Williams are especially striking when set next to what the actor himself admitted was going on behind the laughter at that time in his life.

It was during the filming of "The Big White" that Williams, a cocaine and alcohol addict in the past, ended 20 years of sobriety.

He recalled taking that first drink in a 2010 interview with the Guardian. It was while filming on location in Alaska, he said.

"I was in a small town where it's not the edge of the world, but you can see it from there, and then I thought: drinking. …

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