Timothy Francis Robbins in West Covina, California, 16 October 1958; son
of the folksinger Gil Robbins, of The Highwaymen.
Longtime companion of the actress Susan Sarandon, sons: Jack Henry, Miles
Attended State University of New York at Plattsburgh; University of
California, Los Angeles, graduated 1981; studied French with the actor
George Bigot of the Theatre du Soleil.
Began acting with the Theatre for the New City, an avant-garde theater,
1970; co-founded The Actor's Gang, an avant-garde theater company,
later becoming its artistic director, 1981; made short film for
Saturday Night Live
, which was later to serve as the inspiration for
1986; with Adam Simon, wrote the play
, performed at Actor's Gang, Tiffany Theater, California;
established his own independent company, HAVOC Productions, 1988.
Best Actor at Cannes Festival, British Academy Award nomination for Best
Actor, Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion
, 1992; Bronze Award at the Tokyo International Film Festival, and Golden
Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion
, 1992; Volpi Award for Best Ensemble Cast, Venice Film Festival, for
, 1993; Screen Actors Guild Award nomination, Outstanding Performance by a
Male Actor in a Leading Role, for
The Shawshank Redemption
, 1994; Academy Award nomination for Best Director, Golden Globe
nomination for Best Screenplay-Motion Picture, Humanitas Prize from the
Human Family Educational & Cultural Institute, Golden Bear
nomination and Prize of the Ecumenical Jury, Prize of the Guild of German
Art House Cinemas, and Reader Jury of the 'Berliner
Dead Man Walking
William Morris Agency, 151 El Camino Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90212,
Quarterback Princess (Black—for TV) (as Marvin)
Toy Soldiers (Fisher) (as Boe); No Small Affair (Schatzberg) (as Nelson)
Fraternity Vacation (Frawley) (as Larry "Mother" Tucker); The Sure Thing (Rob Reiner) (as Gary Cooper); Malice in Wonderland ( The Rumor Mill ) (Trikonis—for TV) (as Joseph Cotten)
Howard the Duck (Huyck) (as Phil Blumburtt); Top Gun (Tony Scott) (as Sam Wills)
Five Corners (Bill) (as Harry Fitzgerald); Bull Durham (Shelton) (as Ebby Calvin "Nuke" LaLoosh); Twister (Almereyda) (as Jeff)
Tapeheads (Fishman) (as Josh Tager, + mus); Erik the Viking (Terry Jones) (title role); Miss Firecracker (Schlamme) (as Delmount Williams)
Cadillac Man (Donaldson) (as Larry); Jacob's Ladder ( Dante's Inferno ) (Lyne) (as Jacob Singer)
Jungle Fever (Spike Lee) (as Jerry)
The Player (Altman) (as Griffin Mill)
Short Cuts (Altman) (as Gene Shepard)
The Hudsucker Proxy (Coen) (as Norville Barnes); The Shawshank Redemption (Darabont) (as Andy Dufresne); Ready to Wear ( Prêt-a-Porter ) (Altman) (as Joe Flynn); I.Q. (Schepisi) (as Ed Walters)
Nothing to Lose (Oedekerk) (as Nick Beam)
Arlington Road (Pellington) (as Oliver Lang); Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (Roach) (as The President)
Mission to Mars (De Palma) (as Woody Blake); High Fidelity (Frears) (as Ian Raymond); Anti-Trust (Howitt)
Bob Roberts (+ title ro, sc, mus)
Dead Man Walking (+ sc, pr)
Cradle Will Rock (+ sc, co-pr)
The Typewriter, the Rifle & the Movie Camera (Simon) (doc) (as Himself)
Dead Man Walking: The Shooting Script , Newmarket Press, 1997.
Cradle Will Rock: The Making of the Movie , Newmarket Press, 1999.
Robbins, Tim, "Leaving the Demons at the Office," in Premiere (New York), January 1991.
Interview with Claudia Dreifus, in Progressive (Madison, Wisconsin), June 1991.
"Tim Robbins," interview with S. Morgan, in Interview (New York), August 1992.
"20 Questions: Tim Robbins, interview with W. Kalbacker, in Playboy (Chicago), October 1992.
Robbins, Tim and Julia Roberts, "Rendezvous with Tim and Julia," interview in Interview (New York), January 1995.
Interview in Playboy (Chicago), February 1995.
"Between Ethics and Politics: An Interview with Tim Robbins," interview with R. Grundmann and C. Lucia, in Cineaste (New York), no. 2, 1996.
Robbins, Tim, "On Death Row," in Interview (New York), January 1996.
"Unser Justizsystem ist unfair," interview with M. Kohler, in Film & TV Kameramann (Munich), April 1996.
"'Cradle' Robbins," interview with Annalee Ellingson, in Box Office Magazine (Los Angeles), 10 December 1999.
Silberg, J., "Close-up: Tim Robbins," in American Film (Los Angeles), November 1988.
Carnahan, M., "Tim Robbins," in Premiere (New York), March 1989.
Kroll, Jack, "Two Coast Man," in Newsweek (New York), 12 November 1990.
Kloman, H., "Tim Robbins Running Hard," in New York Times , 12 January 1992.
Maslin, Janet, "Critic's Notebook: At Cannes, Tim Robbins Proves a Double Threat," in New York Times , 13 May 1992.
Ansen, David, "The Man of the Moment," in Newsweek (New York), 25 May 1992.
Giavarini, L., "Tim Robbins," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), June 1992.
Weber, B., "Stumping with the Movies' Favorite Son," in New York Times , 30 August 1992.
Kopkind, Andrew, "A Player Ups the Ante," in Premiere (New York), September 1992.
"The Stars and Snipes," in Maclean's (Toronto), 14 September 1992.
Frankel, M., "The Cutest Serious Person in Showbiz," in Movieline (Los Angeles), October 1992.
Zehme, Bill, "Tim Robbins: The Running Man," in Rolling Stone (New York), 29 October 1992.
Current Biography 1994 , New York, 1994.
Webster, A., "Filmographies," in Premiere (New York), January 1996.
Kelleher, E., "Robbins' 'Dead Man Walking' Probes Death Row," in Film Journal (New York), January 1996.
Pede, R., and P. Frans, "Dead Man Walking." In Film en Televisie + Video (Brussels), March 1996.
Elia, M., "Les cineastes de l'an 2000," in Sequences (Quebec), March/April 1996.
Calderale, M., "Filmografie," in Segnocinema (Vincenza, Italy), May/June 1996.
Kirkland, Bruce, "All Hands Off Robbins' Cradle," in Toronto Sun, 19 May 1999.
Turan, Kenneth, "Cannes Report: The Player at Work," in Los Angeles Times, 19 May 1999.
Turner, Megan, "Rockin' Robbins," in New York Post , 6 December 1999.
* * *
Tim Robbins took two giant steps forward in 1992. Not only did he have the primary role in one of the year's most talked-about films, Robert Altman's The Player —a film featuring a who's who of Hollywood royalty in cameo appearances—but he also wrote, directed, and starred in Bob Roberts , a pungent political satire structured as a mockumentary.
Before the release of The Player and Bob Roberts , Robbins had been appearing on-screen for almost a decade. After playing small roles in several films and even surviving the debacle of Howard the Duck , he came to critical attention in Five Corners , playing the pacifistic, socially committed Harry Fitzgerald—a character who closely mirrors the actor's offscreen concerns—and Bull Durham , cast as Ebby Calvin "Nuke" LaLoosh, fireballing minor league hurler with "a million-dollar arm, but a five-cent head." Robbins effectively adds a devilish but ultimately mindless frat-boy air to Bull Durham . But for the most part, he has been adept at playing more mature—and smarmier—characters such as Bob Roberts, and Griffin Mill in The Player , a laced-in-acid lampoon of the motion picture industry. Robbins is nothing short of perfection as Mill, the amoral, hotshot head of production at a large movie studio upon whom real life intrudes when he accidentally kills a screenwriter. In Short Cuts , also directed by Robert Altman, he is fine as an egocentric cop, a macho manipulator who brazenly cheats on his wife.
Up to the mid-1990s, Robbins's most telling film was Bob Roberts , if only because of his participation behind as well as in front of the camera. Robbins cast himself as the title character, a folksinger and self-made millionaire-turned right-wing icon who is running for a seat in the U.S. Senate. Candidate Roberts is the Bob Dylan of the New Right. His second record album is titled The Times Are Changin' Back . He parades the American flag as he says the right things to press the right buttons of the electorate. His politics are the politics of self-interest. Forget what is fair. Forget the responsibilities of government leadership. Forget human rights or the homeless. Just think of yourself.
In his speeches, Roberts lambaste the 1960s as "a dark stain on America" not because of the political climate that led to Watergate but because of social protest. Those who disagree with Roberts will be labeled a commie or, even worse, unpatriotic. Above all, the film is a deft satire of the media. Television news departments are more interested in regurgitating zippy sound bites and "good shots" of Roberts than in examining his stand on issues. The scenario lampoons the forced, superficial chit-chat in which bubbleheaded anchorpersons indulge after mindlessly reading news from teleprompters. In Bob Roberts , both the print and television media report on the latest allegations about candidates, resulting in shifts in the polls. Yet no journalist dares to investigate these allegations. The only person doing a proper journalist's job is a black radical (Giancarlo Esposito), who has discovered that Broken Dove, Roberts's organization, has been connected with failed savings and loans, drug smuggling, and more. Indeed, one of the messages in Bob Roberts , telegraphed by Robbins, is simple and clear: Think before you vote. The film—which came to movie houses during a presidential election year—is a cautionary tale about the need for substance and candor in American politics, and political campaigns. It reflects the progressive political concerns of Robbins and his longtime companion, Susan Sarandon (who appears in the film in a cameo role).
Robbins went on to direct two additional films during the 1990s. The first, Dead Man Walking, was one of the decade's most thoughtful and sensitive Hollywood films. The last, Cradle Will Rock, was something else altogether. Dead Man Walking is the riveting account of Sister Helen Prejean (Sarandon, in an Oscar-winning performance), a Catholic nun who ministers to Matthew Poncelet (Sean Penn), a convicted murderer on death row. It is to the film's great credit that both sides of the issue of capital punishment are soberly presented. Poncelet may be a brutal killer, but he still is a human being, and Robbins asks a question that is worth contemplating: Will justice truly be served if a killer is put to death? Yet at the same time, Robbins ponders the plight of the killer's victims and their loved ones, whose lives have been irrevocably shattered. The very real anguish endured by the victims' families is an integral part of the story, as much a facet of the film as the complex, evolving relationship between Sister Helen and Poncelet. Indeed, in an era in which casual on-screen violence is omnipresent, Dead Man Walking is one of the rare few films that spotlights the aftermath of violence, and its effects on individuals.
Cradle Will Rock, meanwhile, is not so much a film as a political pamphlet. It is set in the New York of the mid-1930s and focuses on a series of fact-based events, from Nelson Rockefeller's commissioning Mexican artist Diego Rivera to paint a mural in Rockefeller Center to Orson Welles's staging the Federal Theater Project production of The Cradle Will Rock, Marc Blitzstein's agitprop musical . Robbins recreates a time when federal financing of the arts allowed for the creation of probing, vital, politically relevant artworks. In Cradle Will Rock , the Orson Welles character talks of the "church of the theater" and declares, "I want angry, lust-filled theatergoers." Yet this fervent period was short-lived. Robbins offers the point of view that the "cultural elite" pays for art, so the "cultural elite" feels it has the right to control the content of art. Furthermore, the government will not support works of art that are thinly veiled attacks on corporate and personal greed, or depict the rich as decadent capitalists and the blue collar masses as their victims. In Cradle Will Rock, the wealthy are stuff-shirts and right-wing hypocrites obsessed with weeding out communists in the Federal Theater Project, while at the same time supplying Hitler and Mussolini with the raw materials that scant years later would be used to kill American soldiers on Europe's battlefields. At the finale, spirited theater workers perform an impromptu version of Blitzstein's play, while in a parallel sequence the rich attend a fancy costume ball, acting as if they are intimates of Marie Antoinette in 18th-century France.
Cradle Will Rock fails not because it is unabashedly pro-union, pro-worker, or pro-artistic freedom. At first it is dramatically flat and uninvolving, with oodles of characters frenetically parading across the screen. Then it becomes a drawn-out affair, with the events in its story painted in broad, obvious strokes. Ultimately, the film is all artifice, with its issues and characters presented in a cliched manner. Those to the right—as embodied by a prim, holier-than-thou anti-Communist named Hazel, who agrees to snitch on her fellow theater workers—are unhappy and sexually repressed. Conversely, those to the left are portrayed as members of a lusty peasant proletariat who revel in their sexuality and constantly dance, sing, and celebrate "life."
While establishing himself as a director, Robbins continues to accept acting roles, and is not incapable of playing sympathetic characters. He is especially good in Jacob's Ladder , acting the role of a psychologically scarred Vietnam veteran; I.Q. , as a garage mechanic who falls in love with the niece of Albert Einstein; and The Shawshank Redemption , cast as a soft-spoken banker-accountant locked up in jail for decades after being falsely convicted of murdering his wife and her lover. He also can play the wide-eyed innocent. In The Hudsucker Proxy , a wicked satire of corporate greed and bureaucracy, he is bright-eyed Norville Barnes—the name of a character right out of a Preston Sturges satire. Norville, fresh out of the Muncie College of Business Administration, comes to New York to work in the mailroom of a fabulously successful conglomerate and promptly becomes a pawn in a scheme concocted by the company founder-andpresident's venal right-hand man.
Now that Robbins's stature in the industry allows him to handpick his roles, his most interesting parts have been in films with a social conscience at their core. These films either depict individuals wronged by a viciously unfair bureaucracy ( The Shawshank Redemption ), or individuals who will use and abuse power within political, social, or economic systems that have gone sour ( The Player , Bob Roberts , The Hudsucker Proxy ).
In the latter half of the 1990s, Robbins appeared on screen in a comedy— Nothing to Lose, playing a stressed-out, cuckolded yuppie—and a conspiracy thriller— Arlington Road, cast as a straight-arrow suburbanite who might be a terrorist. Yet continues to be more defined by his work behind the camera.