How Robin Williams kept Steven Spielberg's spirits up while he made 'Schindler's List'

Ben Arnold
Steven Spielberg and Robin Williams (Credit: Rex Features)

Making the harrowing holocaust drama Schindler’s List was at times a gruelling ordeal for director Steven Spielberg.

However, there was something he was able to look forward to which would lift his spirits – weekly calls from the late Robin Williams.

Speaking at a retrospective of the movie at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York (via Deadline), Spielberg said: “He would call and do 15 minutes of stand-up on the phone.

“He would never say goodbye; he would always just hang up on the biggest laugh he got from me. Mic drop.”

Spielberg was joined by several of his stars on the movie, including Liam Neeson, Caroline Goodall, Embeth Davidtz and Ben Kingsley.

Spielberg with Schindler’s List stars Liam Neeson and Ben Kingsley (Credit: AP)

Kingsley recalled how, despite the sentiments of the film, anti-semitism crept in during the movie’s production, with swastikas regularly being daubed on sets while filming in Poland.

“It was just for us,” Kingsley said, to gasps from the crowd, while also recalling scuffling with a businessman who mimed having a noose around his neck, a gesture aimed at Kingsley’s Jewish fellow cast-member Michael Schneider.

Fiennes also said that while he was dressed in his SS uniform as the murderous Amon Göth, a woman shouted from an apartment that she wished the SS were still around to protect her.

Liam Neeson, who played the German industrialist Oskar Schindler who saved hundreds from the gas chambers, added that a remark from one of the film’s producers, Branko Lustig, had a profound affect on him, while they shot scenes at Auschwitz.

“He pointed over to the huts at Auschwitz and he said, ‘You see that hut? I was in that hut.’ It hit me, big f***ing time. Big time. I kept screwing up all the lines,” said Neeson.

The movie, often cited as one of the greatest of all time, won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.

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