Robin Williams

Peter Lorre: the man Robin Williams called his favourite actor of all time

Few comedy actors can claim to have had such an impact on the world as the late Robin Williams. He began his career as a stand-up comedian and became well-revered for his improvisational and impressional skills through the 1970s. Williams’ work throughout the 1980s saw him traverse to the big screen as he scooped up accolades left, right and centre for his acting talents.

Williams is remembered as a comedy actor, but just as quickly as he could make us laugh, he could make us cry. Towards the late 1980s and early ’90s, his acting roles began to take on a more serious tone. Beginning with 1987’s Good Morning, Vietnam, Williams showed he could take on a more serious tone to bring due gravity to a story.

He would build upon this side of his talent in subsequent dramas like 1989’s Dead Poet’s Society and 1997’s Good Will Hunting, the latter of which saw Williams win his first and only Academy Award for ‘Best Supporting Actor’.

While Williams found his footing in comedy, he had always dreamt of becoming an actor. After graduating from high school in 1969, he studied theatre at California’s College of Marin for three years, having dropped out of an initial political science course at Claremont Men’s College.

Over three illustrious decades on the big screen, Williams discussed a few of his acting heroes, but above all, Peter Lorre surfaced as his most pivotal influence. “One of my favourite actors of all time, although he doesn’t necessarily play villains, is Peter Lorre,” Williams once told Louisa Mellor of Den of Geek. “I once asked him, ‘Mr Lorre, what is it like to act?’ and he says [Peter Lorre impression] ‘I don’t act, I just make faces’. But him with those eyes, him in M, oh God, that’s one of the greatest portrayals ever.”

Lorre was a Hungarian-born American actor who became famous after starring in Fritz Lang’s 1931 movie M as a depraved serial killer who preys on young girls. Over the next three decades, Lorre would become world-renowned for portraying evil characters. Other noteworthy roles include Abbott, the criminal mastermind in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much and the first ever James Bond villain, Le Chiffre, in the 1954 TV version of Casino Royale.

Although Williams rarely portrayed evil characters in his movies, he was enamoured with Lorre’s ability to morph into such electrifying caricatures. For this reason, when Williams was gathering impression ideas for his role as the Genie in Disney’s 1992 animated retelling of Aladdin, Lorre’s name popped to mind.

In one of the scenes, the Genie contorts into a range of characters as he tries to befriend the titular character. Among the impressions, viewers recognise the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, William F. Buckley, Jr, Robert De Niro and Jack Nicholson. For one of the impressions, Williams morphs into a green, evil-looking creature and gives his best impression of his “evil” acting hero.

See Robin Williams’ various impressions as the Genie below.

Robin Williams Impressions as Genie

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