In a candid Q&A, ''One Hour Photo'''s Robin Williams reveals why he's focusing on his underdeveloped dark side.

By Chris Nashawaty
Updated August 16, 2002 at 04:00 AM EDT

Most stars hire armies of publicists to clean up their images. Robin Williams is on a one-man crusade to sully his. After a string of such feel-gooey movies as ”What Dreams May Come,” ”Patch Adams,” ”Jakob the Liar,” and ”Bicentennial Man,” Williams seems hell-bent on swearing off the schmaltz. First came his psycho clown in ”Death to Smoochy,” which didn’t take. Then his buttoned-up killer in ”Insomnia,” which did. His latest touch-of-evil turn can be found in ”One Hour Photo” (opened Aug. 21). The indie psychological thriller (written and directed by music-video vet Mark Romanek) stars Williams as Sy Parrish — a lonely and disturbed film processor obsessed with an idyllic family whose photos he develops. On the eve of the movie’s release, and in the midst of his return to stand-up comedy after a 16-year hiatus, Williams riffed about his saintly image, wrestling with his past demons, and how he got into the mind of a lunatic.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY ”One Hour Photo” is the third film in what some are calling your ”dark trilogy,” after ”Death to Smoochy” and ”Insomnia.” Does it bother you that they’re being lumped together?

ROBIN WILLIAMS I guess if you went by color coding, these are dark. They’re not happy, light films. ”Smoochy”’s just nasty. ”Insomnia”’s more of a classic murder mystery — a thinking movie. I found myself being very moved at the end by Pacino’s performance. And my wife was like, ”Shut up, you killed him!”

EW But there seems to be this sense that you’re atoning for sentimental films like ”Patch Adams”…

RW I know. ”Patch” got the s— kicked out of it. God, all those things about how it’s saccharine crap. Listen, ”Patch,” for many people, was very powerful. For a lot of critics, it was the Antichrist. But is this a response to that? No, this is just an idea of finding characters that I haven’t been offered before. To play the full range of human behavior, rather than being locked off and being ”the kind and wonderful man.”

EW Jerry Lewis once said ”The Nutty Professor” was him acting, but his character in ”The King of Comedy” was the real him. Is there anything to that? Do you have a dark side?

RW Oh, f— yeah, who doesn’t? I mean, that’s why I gave up drinking and drugs. Because the nasty s—, you couldn’t contain it. You get so raw that you’re snapping at everybody. Everybody’s got it. It just depends how you control it, where you release it, what do you do with it, and when you need it.

EW How much does doing stand-up help to get it out?

RW That’s the ultimate catharsis. Stand-up is the place where you can do things that you could never do in public. I couldn’t go out on the street right now and talk for five minutes about eating p—-y without people going ”Officer!”

EW But if they’re paying 20 bucks with a two-drink minimum…

RW Then they want to hear the p—-y thing. Once you step on stage, you’re licensed to do that. It’s an understood relationship. You walk on stage, it’s your job. Then it’s a question of what can you get away with.