Local remembers acting alongside Robin Williams

Posted: August 14, 2014

 J OEL FOGEL has worked with actors from Diane Keaton to Wesley Snipes to Woody Allen, but he said he never met anyone like Robin Williams, who police say hanged himself Monday.

Fogel was a day player on the set of "Dead Poets Society," which filmed on location in Wilmington and Middletown, Del. Fogel played a professor who worked alongside Williams' character, an inspirational teacher.

"I was amazed by how quickly he could change his demeanor," Fogel said. "Once, we were standing outside and he said, 'I feel like I'm in line for a fast-food restaurant in China. Chairman Mao, party for 2 million.' Then he said, 'Donner party, party of 25. Whoops, party of 12.' Then he swung around and swooped down as if he was talking to a little girl and said, 'Little girl, how's Grandma?' He swung around again and said, 'Tasty.' "

Williams made the cast laugh so hard at one point, Fogel, who calls South Jersey home, got on his knees and begged Williams to stop so they could all eat. Williams replied, "Get off your knees, Fogel. This isn't another audition."

But Fogel remembered a sadness behind the gags.

"You were laughing so hard you couldn't get down to talking to him and asking him any real questions," Fogel said.

Williams' true power was perhaps on display when he needed to be dramatic. Fogel remembered filming one of the final scenes in the movie, in which the cast heads into a chapel for the funeral of a student ( Robert Sean Leonard) who committed suicide.

Williams walked into the chapel and heard some of the younger actors laughing and joking in the back.

"He was standing in front of the cross with Jesus, he had gotten so somber," Fogel remembered. "Something had happened to him, because in that moment he was immediately in character. "He said, 'I expect you gentleman to be the professional actors you are, stop laughing. I want you to settle down and be serious.' "

Fogel said, "He switched right into the character and created an emotional environment instantly. It was intimidating, awe-inspiring and really frightening."

'Cops' talk

Damon Wayans Jr. and Jake Johnson, stars of "Let's Be Cops" (out today, see review on Page 24), have spent too much time together. They've been promoting the movie for months and work together on Fox's comedy "New Girl." They finish each other sentences and giggle incessantly at each other's jokes. Johnson has even taken to calling Wayans his bae.

But what makes their chemistry solid for Johnson is simple: "It's the good old chocolate and vanilla swirl," the white Johnson said about his black buddy. "There is just something natural about a buddy comedy when there's a little chocolate and a little vanilla, because together . . . "

" . . . it tastes real good," Wayans broke in. "You know what I'm saying? Because of the chocolate."

"Or because of the vanilla," Johnson said.

In the movie, Johnson and Wayans don police uniforms and pretend to be cops. "Cops" has its fair share of action for a comedy, allowing the actors to do more stunts than their normal sitcom fare, including one scene where Wayans finds himself under the considerable weight of an obese, naked man.

"I said, 'If I must,' " Wayans joked about doing his own stunts. "They said, 'We can actually get this shot without having you in it.' I'm a method actor! I needed the smells to drive me."

They put their gags aside to talk about their co-star Rob Riggle, a former Marine Corps Reserve officer and former "Daily Show" correspondent, who plays an actual cop. Wayans said, "He made it real. Any time he had to pick up that gun, his eyes changed. He was helping the choreography. He was like, 'Actually, I'd be right there.' He's usually super happy but the minute you put that gun in his hand . . . "

" . . . you can tell he's been in war," Johnson said, completing Wayans' thought.

Taney Dragons, in lights

How can you not love the Taney Dragons, the Philly Little League team led by rocket-armed Mo'Ne Davis? IBEW Local 98 certainly does. They sponsor the Phillies Tower in the parking lot of Citizens Bank Park, which now reads "Go Dragons!" The message will send good vibes throughout the duration of the Little League World Series.

Deep roots

"Hot in Cleveland" star Valerie Bertinelli is getting the "Who Do You Think You Are?" treatment, and it turns out she's got Philly roots. Bertinelli will be on the TLC show that traces the genealogy of celebs, tonight at 9 p.m., to explore how her maternal ancestors were some of the earliest Quaker settlers in Philadelphia.


* R&B singer Eric Benet dined at Warmdaddy's (1400 S. Christopher Columbus Blvd.) over the weekend, chowing down on turkey wings with candied yams and collards. Be on the lookout for him this weekend. I hear he said that he'll be back in town to see Marion Meadows, who will play Friday and Saturday at the South Philly spot.

Email: eichelm@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @PhillyGossipDN

Online: ph.ly/DNGossip


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