Howard the Duck, Robin Williams

The notoriously awful HOWARD THE DUCK celebrates its thirty-fifth anniversary this year, and although it has gone on to become something of a cult classic, at the time, the cast and crew feared that they’d never work again. Howard the Duck stars Lea Thompson and Chip Zien recently spoke with THR about the film, and Zien revealed a very interesting tidbit regarding Robin Williams involvement with the film.

Chip Zien had been starring in a production of Merrily We Roll Along when he was asked to audition for the voice of Howard the Duck. “I was kind of offended,” Zien said. “I was miffed. And I told my agent. He said, ‘Oh, my God! Someone came to you about Howard the Duck? Chip, it’s huge! This is a great thing! I am going to call right away.’ And then I became aware that everyone in the world was auditioning for it, from big names to people like me.” One of those big names was Robin Williams, and as Zien tells it, Williams actually got the role but wound up leaving after three days. During production, all of Howard’s lines were read on set by puppeteers with the animatronic bill synced to their performance, which meant that a performer like Robin Williams who thrives on improvisation was boxed in with what he could do.

What I was told was by the third day, Robin said, ‘I can’t do this. It is insane. I can’t get the rhythm of this. I am being confined. I am being handcuffed in order to match the flapping duck’s bill.’ So, on Memorial Day 1985, I got a call from my agent who said, ‘You have to get right to the airport! Robin Williams just quit and you’re now Howard the Duck. You need to get there tonight. There is a ticket waiting for you at the counter.’ I was incredibly excited.

It’s interesting to think that there could be tapes of Robin Williams voicing Howard the Duck sitting on a shelf somewhere. It’s probably just as well that Williams didn’t stick with Howard the Duck, as the very next year found him reaching new heights with Good Morning, Vietnam. You can check out the rest of THR’s excellent Howard the Duck feature right here.





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