Seizing the day

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 29 April, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 29 April, 1997, 12:00am

When Robin Williams auditioned for the part of the alien in Mork And Mindy, he apparently walked into the interview, sat head first on the chair, feet in the air, and said 'nannu, nannu'.

The tale is probably invention but no one could put it past the stand-up comic and former street entertainer, who, we all know, got the part and played it to worldwide acclaim from 1978 to 1982.

Though many other actors would have found themselves typecast for life, Williams, whose ability to mimic and impersonate must be the envy of most stars, managed to move on to critical acclaim on the big screen and, at the same time, retain a highly individual persona.

His high-adrenalin attitude and in-your-face performances make him a love-him-or-loathe-him kind of actor, but most agree he is at his best when running on overdrive.

He was Oscar-nominated for his frenzied armed forces disc jockey in Good Morning, Vietnam and for his mystical vagrant Parry in The Fisher King.

But perhaps his most likely chance of taking the statuette (though he was disappointed on all three occasions) was for his relatively straight portrayal of inspirational teacher John Keating in Dead Poets Society (World, 9.30pm).

'The whole story itself attracted me, not just the character,' said Williams, who attended a traditional private school similar to Welton. 'I liked what it was about and the period in which it is set, the late 50s, when the whole country was on the verge of some pretty amazing things.

'Also, Keating's essential credo about teaching - basically pushing the envelope and taking the chance, even though other people may disagree, to find a true and creative voice of your own - that's pretty much my own core philosophy of life.' The story revolves around a group of teenage boys and their self-awakening inspired by Keating (a former pupil of the same school), who constantly tells them to 'Carpe Diem!' - seize the day.

His urging prompts the boys (notably Robert Sean Leonard and Ethan Hawke) to reform the society of the title which Keaton created when he was a pupil.

Inevitably, complexities arise and, as the characters develop, so the plot moves to its tragic climax.

Peter Weir directs Tom Schulman's screenplay (which won an Oscar) with an excellent eye for detail, underscoring the story's rising complications.

The photography from John Seale is evocative and emotive.

Some people have to live with names that burden them for the rest of the lives.

The director of Williams' film Mrs Doubtfire, one Chris Columbus, owes much to the hero of 1492 Conquest Of Paradise (Pearl, 9.30pm).

Yet, I doubt the director ever imagined his namesake to be as stodgy as Gerard Depardieu's incarnation of the explorer, who reads his lines as if they were printed on the back of his lacy cuffs.

Director Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Thelma And Louise ) fails to take the adventure by the helm and lift it off the beautifully mounted sets.

It is a long 2.5-hour haul that Sigourney Weaver and Armand Assante do little to liven up the journey.

We get another two episodes of RoboCop (World, 2.10am) tonight.

In the first, Gadget is is caught in a custody fight and leaves Sergeant Parks to be reunited with her real mother.

But RoboCop suspects the woman is part of a plot by Russian crime boss Vlad 'Stitch' Molotov and his sexy moll, Nadia.

Later, RoboCop and Officer Madigan race the clock to prove a killer is innocent before he is executed in front of millions of viewers on a hit television show.