Actor, writer, singer, lyricist, musician, Oscar winner and survivor – for more than five decades Paul Williams has been all this and more. As an actor he’s appeared in everything from Battle for the Planet of the Apes to Smokey and the Bandit and Baby Driver. As a songwriter he penned hits for The Carpenters, Three Dog Night and Hellen Reddy, as well as the Monkees and Daft Punk. He wrote the lyrics to the Love Boat theme, played in Bugsy Malone both on stage and screen, and wrote scores and songs for dozens of films. He’s even the head of ASCAP, the organization for maintaining copyright for songwriters. He’s currently in the early stages of adapting Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth as a musical.
Yet for all his accomplishments, Williams is also one of the most generous, kind humans you’re likely to encounter. He practically exudes humanity, presenting a warmth and ease of affection that’s downright humbling. It’s easy to be swayed in his presence, somewhat cynical that no one can be this kind, yet in speaking with him the feeling deepens even further. We met to talk about a role that for some is his most iconic – Swan in Brian DePalma’s 1974 Phantom of the Paradise. Williams was originally tasked with the musical duties (a set of songs he wrote in his hotel after gigs while in Lake Tahoe opening for Liza Minnelli), but DePalma soon realized he found his Spector-like spectre for his film. The film was a major flop in most markets, but by a quirk of fate the city of Winnipeg, Manitoba embraced the film, and Williams in turn, as a classic.