Robin Williams Was Uniquely Qualified For His One Hour Photo Role

The late Robin Williams always knew how to plant a smile on your face. His manic comedy hardly allowed you a chance to breathe before he was already on another joke — the "Jumanji" actor was truly one of the greatest to ever do it. It's really easy to see him simply as a comedic actor with commercial hits like "Aladdin" and "Mrs. Doubtfire," but a lot of the roles he chose reflected his versatility as an actor. He could play against type like nobody's business.

Even some of his more dramatic roles, such as "The Fisher King" and "Dead Poets Society," show a deeply layered actor behind the laughter. He didn't win a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for "Good Will Hunting" for nothing. It was always exciting whenever Williams got to drop the funny persona and play against type, like in Christopher Nolan's "Insomnia." But in my eyes, "One Hour Photo" is Williams at his most frightening.

The 2002 psychological thriller sees the "World's Greatest Dad" actor play a deeply lonely sociopath named Sy Parrish, a one hour photo technician who has an impeccable attention to detail and love for his work. The routine nature of the job means that he's privy to the secrets of his recurring customers, and ultimately attaches himself way too much to one family. Feeling protective of the Yorkins, Sy takes drastic measures into his own hands upon making a connection through his work.

A lot of darkness exists inside this character, and if you thought that Williams wouldn't be able to fit his comedic sensibilities within this chilling performance, you might be surprised.

Williams had the element of volcanic surprise

While promoting "One Hour Photo" on Charlie Rose, Williams spoke about the nature of the sociopath he'd been designated to play. In some of his more intense sequences that required him to give a little more, he couldn't get too "method" with it — it was too much on the film's director, Mark Romanek. But they eventually found a perfect way to release his energy. "I'd go blow it up, then come back and be very free, and be very kind of calm," says Williams.

What Williams is describing here perfectly embodies the quiet hurricane brewing within such a dark character. Sy is far from funny, but Romanek believed that Williams' explosive comedic demeanor brought a legitimacy that few actors else could have replicated (via Charlie Rose):

"I think, you know, there's a lot of tension that's created because we know Robin Williams from, you know, talk shows and the comedies and the stand-up. So we know that he's got this volcanic amount of, you now, of energy. So when he's playing this very repressed, restrained character, we know he's repressing a volcano. And that creates a lot of tension. With another actor, we may suspect he's, you know, repressing a hiccup."

Williams brilliantly plays a vulnerable sociopath who you understand, given the constraints of a traumatic childhood past reflected in his face. Sy can be an awkward character in bursts, but he knows how to play people, such as starting to read a book that Nina (Connie Nielsen), the Yorkin matriarch, is also going through herself. When he's determined to get what he needs, that confidence comes to him like a second nature, and there's one scene that best exemplifies Williams and Romanek's approach to this character.

Pretend! This is all pretend!

If you've seen "One Hour Photo" before, you know the hotel room scene is where all of Sy's wall of calculated inhibitions come crumbling down into something more unpredictably disturbing. The thing that ultimately sets him off into protector mode is when he happens upon another customer's photos that show Nina's husband, Will (Michael Vartan), having an affair. It triggers memories of his father, naturally.

It's not enough that Sy has covertly made Nina aware of the affair — he feels the need to do something about it himself. Going full=stalker mode, Sy tracks Will and his lover down to a hotel room, where he interrupts their get-together with a knife. The way he tells Will he's gonna stab him in the heart gives you the impression that he has no hesitation over this action, even though he has no inclination to do so. When Maya (Erin Daniels), the other half of Will's extramarital affair, says she won't participate, he responds with a sudden and viscous "I'm not asking! I'm telling!"

He then forces Will and Maya to pretend to do explicit things to one another while he takes pictures of them, tragically mirroring the actions of his father who took photos while molesting him at a young age. The fact that Sy just wants to envision himself in a happy family, where he's the Yorkin patriarch, makes this all the more sad on top of everything. The ticking time bomb of Williams' comedic prowess may lend Sy a deeper menace amid his outburts, but the quieter side of this performance shows Williams can give so much to a layered antagonist like Sy.

"One Hour Photo" is available for rental or purchase on most VOD streaming platforms.