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Williams sheds light on dark ‘Photo’ role

Funnyman’s antics break up session in Park City

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PARK CITY — Robin Williams has provided some of the darkest and lightest moments at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

First, he menaced the crowds with "One Hour Photo," a grim story in which he plays a joyless photo clerk who dangerously fixates on a family. Then Williams had people rolling in the aisles as he turned a question-and-answer session on the movie into an impromptu standup routine.

"This was a bizarre, creepy movie. Now coming up and making people laugh, it's like being an emotional sorbet," Williams said after the movie's premiere last weekend.

Williams cracked wise on why he chose such a dark role ("Because 'Mr. Rogers on Ice' was already taken"), on his character's fuzzy blondish hair ("They cut my hair with a Roto-Rooter"), on security for upcoming Winter Olympics events around Park City (anthrax-antsy guards shouting, "There's white powder everywhere!" then being told, "It's snow, sir").

Best-known for sympathetic, lovable characters in such films as "Good Will Hunting" and "Dead Poets Society," Williams has three movies coming out this year in which he plays the heavy. Preceding "One Hour Photo," which opens this fall, Williams plays a murder suspect opposite Al Pacino in "Insomnia" and a former children's-show host gunning for revenge against the man who replaced him, in the black comedy "Death to Smoochy," directed by Danny DeVito.

"Have I played a lot of these characters? No," Williams said in an interview Tuesday. "Do I want to play them? . . . yeah, because they're fascinating." In "One Hour Photo," Williams plays Sy Parrish, a quiet, lonely man who builds a fantasy life for himself as "Uncle Sy" to a family of regular customers at the photo-developing center where he works. His obsession turns to stalking, and when Sy realizes the family is not the picture-perfect unit he imagined, he takes frightening steps to set matters straight.

"It's a completely new way to see Robin Williams," writer-director Mark Romanek said. "But if you look more carefully at his dramatic work and even some of his comedic work, it isn't that far afield from some of the earmarks of other characters he's played. People who are obsessive, isolated, lonely."

Williams has been taking comments from Sundance audiences to heart over his shift to the dark side. One woman said "One Hour Photo" was "creepy in a good way," Williams said, while a man congratulated him on "making a very violent film with not much violence."

"Some woman said after the first screening, 'I didn't know it was you. I forgot it was you,' " Williams said. "That's the greatest compliment of all, that they said it's no longer Robin Williams. They just find themselves watching this man."