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Robin Williams lets the tiger out of its cage

April 16, 2011 | 10:00 am

Robintiger When Robin Williams joined the Broadway cast of “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo,” in which he stars as a very philosophical tiger, he knew he had to rein in some of his wilder impulses: the funny voices, the wild gesticulations, the intense need to improvise. But sometimes he just couldn’t help himself.

There he was, making his way through a scene where the tiger debates the existence of God, when he felt the familiar urge. “I just started spontaneously mimicking every world religion I could think of,” Williams says, unleashing a torrent of impersonations that touches on everything from Orthodox Judaism to Native American spirituality. “The director said, ‘That’s funny, you can keep it. We’ll give you three minutes.’ And I said, five minutes? And they said, ‘Three minutes.’ And I said, 'OK, have it your way. Five minutes.”

And yet, for the most part, Williams’ performance has been praised for his restraint. He understands the importance of playing this role straight, because the play's subject is personal for him. To find out why Williams feels so invested in the Iraq War, click here for our Arts & Books profile of him.

— Melissa Maerz

Above: Williams at the Richard Rodgers Theater in New York. Credit: Jennifer S. Altman / For The Times.