Q&A with Tim Robbins

Simon Button

We talk to the Hollywood superstar about his role in the Stephen King-inspired TV show Castle Rock, the stuff that scares him and why he’s not mellowing as he gets older 

RD: How was it returning to Stephen King-land for Castle Rock 25 years after The Shawshank Redemption

Tim: I get asked that a lot but I didn’t think of it that way because they’re so wildly different. That’s a testament to Stephen King’s talent, that he’s able to write effectively in so many different genres.  

He can write a story that terrifies you and keeps you up at night, then he can write a story that reminds you of your humanity—such as, in the case of Shawshank, the story of a friendship between two men over a long period of time.  

 

RD: Is Shawshank the film you still get asked most about by fans? 

Tim: It depends where I am. Sometimes it’s that film, sometimes it’s Jacob’s Ladder, sometimes it’s Bull Durham, sometimes it’s The Player or Mystic River. People have different affinities but Shawshank is the one that feels like it affects people the most profoundly.  

I’ve had people say that it shifted their perspective on life and that’s a pretty intense thing to hear but also an honour. I don’t think a film like that would get made now, though. They don’t make big-budget dramas, at least not for the big screen. 

 

RD: Given that, do you find TV is where the best roles are these days? 

Tim: It’s where the good writing is. Well, let me put it this way—there’s more good writing and more opportunity for an actor to find good scripts in television right now. That’s definitely what drew me to Castle Rock

 

RD: You’re 6ft 5ins. Do you think you sometimes intimidate people? 

Tim: [Laughs] That depends on their height. I’ve met some MBA guys who are not at all intimidated by me! 

tim robbins height

 

RD: Castle Rock is a very scary show but what scares you in real life? 

Tim: If I ever admit what my phobias are then it’s like Room 101. You don’t want people to know that stuff. But it’s pretty terrifying what’s happening with the environment. That’s a large-scale horror movie with consequences that will affect us all. Meanwhile, my President is saying that it’s all a hoax. Apparently he’s smarter than every scientist in the world. 

 

RD: What was the first Stephen King novel you read? 

Tim: The Shining. Did it scare me? Hell yeah. It terrified me but I loved it. 

 

RD: Presumably you’ve met the great man himself? 

Tim: Once, yeah, many years ago. He seemed very shy. And he doesn’t really micromanage the film and TV projects. He’s on to his own thing, writing his new book. He’s a writer, he lives in Maine and he stays there most of the time. 

 

RD: You seem to be the only actor who hasn’t done a Marvel movie… 

Tim: Actually I was in the very first Marvel movie: Howard the Duck. The thing I most remember about it was that it was such a long shoot. 

 

RD: And then it flopped… 

Tim: Yeah, but I got paid twice because the chase sequence at the end took six weeks to do. But I thought the duck was miscast. I remember walking onto the set the first day and going, “Wait a second!” In the comic books his feathers are ruffled and kind of dirty, he’s smoking a cigar and he’s a bit raunchy. Then in the film he was really cute. I thought, I guess they know what they’re doing. Turns out they didn’t. 

 

RD: Season two of Castle Rock features a rather deranged fan in the form of Misery’s Annie Wilkes. Have you ever had any unsettling fan encounters yourself? 

Tim: Yeah, but I don’t even want to think about it because that person will say, “Oh, he means me!” and see it as some form of validation.  

 

RD: You’ve always been one to speak your mind but have you mellowed over the years? 

Tim: No, I haven’t mellowed. I feel like it’s everyone’s civic responsibility that if they recognise an injustice or hypocrisy or an outright lie that is trying to get us into a war, for example, then they should say something about it.  

Whether you’re a bartender who is speaking to customers or whether you’re someone like me who has a larger microphone, I just feel it’s your responsibility to speak up. Why live in a free society if you don’t use your freedom when it matters most, otherwise you’re not living in a free society at all?  

If you’re making your decisions in a judicious and pragmatic way that is based on your own self-enrichment and what you feel is best for that, I don’t think that’s particularly healthy—not for you, nor for society. 

 

RD: What have been your favourite acting jobs so far? 

Tim: The Secret Life of Words is a beautiful film that won a whole bunch of awards in Spain but which I felt didn’t get a proper release in my country. Code 46 is another beautiful film. I’m proud of Catch a Fire, which I did in South Africa. Cradle Will Rock is another favourite. I once asked Robert Altman, “What’s your favourite film of yours?” and he said, “I look at my films the way I look at my children—I love the ones that get the least attention.” 

 

RD: Speaking of children, you’ve been collaborating with your son Jack as an executive producer on his directorial projects. What do you most enjoy about that? 

Tim: It’s just wonderful working together. The latest one, VHYes, has just opened in the States to rave reviews. They’re using words like “Lynchian” and they’re comparing him to Cronenberg. I’m so thrilled for him and I’m so proud. He graduated from film school a semester early and I gave him $5,000 to make a short film—a really funny faux documentary about an eight-year-old electronica DJ which we then turned into a full-length feature.  

He said, “Dad, what’s my budget?” and I said, “Your budget is what you saved me by graduating a semester early.” He wound up selling it to Comedy Central as a TV series and I made my money back. We’ve done about three or four projects since and he’s an impressive talent. I don’t tell him how to do anything, I just show up on set, keep my mouth shut and let him do his thing. That’s a great place to be as a dad. 

Season two of Castle Rock is on STARZPLAY via Amazon Prime Video and Virgin Media from February 13 


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