The script has a four-word description: "As they sashay out." For Robin Williams, it's a veritable novel. The Oscar-winning actor, playing a brilliant but eccentric Chicago ad executive in CBS' The Crazy Ones, runs with it.
And sways. And glides. And limps. And saunters.
As Williams' Simon Roberts leaves a meeting with his partner (and daughter) Sydney (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and art director Andrew (Hamish Linklater), the character channels his inner Southern belle, politely asking protege Zach (James Wolk) to walk with him to a conference room to meet a female client both adore.
"Ahm going taw'd the light lahk a honey bee to a bug zappah," he says, walking through an airy, desk-filled office.
In one take, Williams swings his arms. In another, he and Wolk hold hands, as Wolk briefly flops to his knees before bouncing back up. Before yet another, Williams starts to bring up a new idea with director Jason Winer. "Can we try . . .
"Yes," Winer interrupts. "Whatever it is, yes."
This is Robin Williams, folks. You give the man some room. The other actors are happy to play along with Williams, starring in his first TV series role since he played an alien on Mork & Mindy more than 30 years ago.
"He's the king and we're all a bunch of jesters in his court, so he sets the tone and we figure out how many bells and whistles we can throw in alongside to harmonise," Linklater says. "He's like a Buddhist, Krishna saint. He's the sweetest, gentlest soul between takes, but when you're going, you put all your weapons on the table. You cock them and go."
Freedom to improvise is part and parcel of working with Williams, but playtime comes after the actors have recorded the scripts that are put together by a team headed by Emmy winner David E. Kelley.
Simon's "kind of similar to me," Williams says. "I think he's had a very interesting life, multiple marriages, rehab. He's an idea guy trying to be relevant in these times. In an age of social networking, he's trying to catch up, literally."
Crazy Ones, which follows the offbeat advertising adventures of Simon and his colleagues, gets some of its feel from a real Chicago ad executive, John Montgomery, whose "stories are totally insane. It's so fun to hear them. And a lot of them are making their way into our show," says Wolk, who had a stand-out turn as Bob Benson, an adman from another era on AMC's Mad Men.
The comedy seeks authenticity by mentioning real as well as fictional companies, with McDonald's a focus of the premiere. Simon's office is decorated with a wall of brand logos that includes Coca-Cola, Kellogg's and USA Today. Producers say no money has changed hands.
Some critics have questioned the product placement, but Wolk says it helps ground the ad agency. "When you have some names that people recognise, it brings a realness that brings people into (the characters') world."
At Lewis, Roberts + Roberts, the core relationship is between Simon and Sydney, the creative director and more cautious soul initially afraid of taking the risky leaps that are second nature to her father.
"There's this man, this crazy genius, who just wants to be normal for her and all she wants is that little bit of him. And she doesn't understand that she has a lot of that in her and he's going to slowly help her discover the crazy one within her," Gellar says.
"She's great to ground him, because I'll kind of go out and try wild stuff and she's like, 'Dad, come back'," Williams says. "I'm infusing her with a little bit of like, 'Take a chance, girl. Break out'."
Williams likes the character-driven nature of David E. Kelley's writing and says Crazy Ones has the feel of a 1940s comedy. "The pace is so much. Everyonetalksabitlikethis. Everything's so quick and you've got to pick up your cues. It's driven like the old Preston Sturges (movies)," he says. "You really have to get up to speed very quickly, verbally, and be prepared to jump back and forth."He's quick, too, to share the wealth, crediting his co-stars. "Everyone's got great skills," he says. "It's freeing. The pressure's really taken off."