10 Questions for Robin Williams

Comedian and actor Robin Williams talks about war, alcoholism and his Broadway debut

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Peter Hapak for TIME

Robin Williams

In the play Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, you're the tiger, who becomes a ghost. How does one prepare to play that?
A little pacing, biting whenever possible. I'm basically playing the soul of a tiger, so I don't have to do a lot of tiger behavior.

The play's about the war in Iraq. Does your appearance in it reflect any personal feelings you have about the war?
The last time I was [in Iraq] I stayed in Uday's hunting lodge, although the only thing he hunted was Russian hookers. It was like if Hitler had built Graceland; it was so tacky. Even Colombian drug lords are going, "This is some tacky stuff." But my feelings about the war are about ghosts. I was just there recently, and [everything is] "winding down." What do you leave there when it just ends? There's a line in the play: "The Americans think when something dies, that's it, it's over." But when you go to the Middle East, you realize there's a real sense that things stay around.

You have done six USO tours. Why so many?
I enjoy it. I enjoy performing for heavily armed people. It's easier than going to Georgia.

This is your Broadway debut, although you left Juilliard in 1975. What have you been doing all that time?
When I went home from Juilliard, I couldn't find acting work. I took a comedy workshop that was in the basement of a church that had lesbian poetry and stand-up, which is a great double. Eventually I got gigs in TV and movies, and then the rest is somewhat history.

If I enter the right club in New York City on the right night, might I find you doing stand-up?
I haven't been able to go out since I've started the play, but I'm starting to get the urge. There's so much to talk about. The fact that Donald Trump wants to see Obama's birth certificate — I want to see his hairline first. I believe at night he walks into a small room and the hair goes [miming the hair walking off his head and talking], "Who should we marry next? We're going out! Put your name on that building!"

Is being funny sometimes a hindrance to social interaction?
I was once walking in an airport, and a woman came up to me and said, "Be zany!" That'd be like walking up to Baryshnikov and going, "Plié! Just do a plié! Do it! Do a relevé right now! Lift my wife up!"

You made headlines in 2006 when you went to rehab for alcoholism. Did you find material there? Or is it all secret?
Well, secret — hence the name Alcoholics Anonymous. I went to rehab in wine country, just to keep my options open. But it was important for me to do. I had to. I was really out of control.

And yet you own a vineyard.
I do, actually, which is weird. It's like Gandhi owning a delicatessen.

We see a lot of stars with substance-abuse issues. Why?
I think celebrity itself is a drug. There's withdrawal, because it comes in waves. You'll be hot, and then you're not, and then back again. Even now, with an Academy Award, it's still, "Mork!"

Billy Crystal says stand-up is how you process the painful. Do we have to wish more painful things on you?
You don't have to. I find them.