3 Acting Lessons I Learned From Robin Williams

Acting lessons come from many places.  And I keep asking myself how can we make sense of the seemingly senseless loss of a great talent like Robin Williams. My way of dealing with tragedy has always been to first acknowledge its innate sadness, then let it go and THEN to find a way to FEEL GOOD when I think about it.

And then I thought of you.  So here are 3 acting lessons you can run with from the great performances of of Robin Williams.

As an actor, one of the greatest resources for you is the experience of other actors. Other actors, no matter how “successful” can teach you so much – about the artistry, the craft, the mindset and even the business of acting.

This seemed the perfect moment to honor the life and career of Robin Williams and see what we could learn from his acting career and walk away feeling GOOD.  As I reminded myself of all of his wonderful characters and performances over the years these 3 acting lessons showed themselves to me.

Acting Lessons From Robin Williams' Performances – #1

acting lessons

I was just a kid when I saw him as “Mork” in “Happy Days” all those years ago. This character was unlike anything that had appeared on TV before it. It was an odd choice for that show (a big hit) to take such a risk and put an alien character on this very in-the-box 50’s comedy.

In fact, I had heard that 2 other actors were cast in the role before Robin Williams and they backed out. Someone remembered him from his stand-up doing an alien character and that’s how he got the job.

In this situation, he could easily have shown up, been intimidated by the caliber of stars and success all around him on this HUGE hit show. He could have allowed that to keep him from throwing himself in 110% and creating this odd, fabulous, breakout character that took the TV world by storm. But he did not.

He let his unique, creative self SOAR outside the box and it was the beginning of his successful career as an actor.

It sounds so simple but it’s the MOST important part of YOUR success as an actor. Be you. Be FIERCELY you. >>> Tweet This <<<

Acting Lessons From Robin Williams Performances – # 2

acting lessons

When we look at the arc of the kind of roles that Robin Williams took on over the years it’s easy to see this one. RISK.

As an actor who was primarily known for making people roar with laughter on a sitcom for years, taking on a dramatic role of note is always a risk. Even though the reviews of him were just fair after his first big dramatic role in “The World According To Garp”, he continued to take on uber-challenging roles and allowing himself to grow as an actor.

And from this we saw performances in The Fisher King, Dead Poets Society, Awakenings, Good Will Hunting, One Hour Photo, etc, that took our breath away.

Here’s what I want you to get from this.

It’s easy to allow others judgments of you to take over and let them inform your decision on what to do next. Easy yes, but it doesn’t usually serve you and it doesn’t feel good.

This can take the form of letting a bad review make you doubt yourself and stick to safer choices. It can also take the form of getting bad feedback (or no feedback) in an audition and allowing it to make you feel “less than” and then show up with a suitcase full of self-doubt at your next audition.

It’s easy to do that. Don’t fall into it. It doesn’t serve you.

When you are being FIERCELY you taking risks, you don't feel judgment. You feel good. >>> Tweet This <<<

Acting Lessons From Robin Williams Performances – # 3

acting lessons

When it comes to saying YES, Robin Williams was the KING. When I speak of saying yes, I’m not talking about to offers on projects. I’m referring to your creative process as an actor.

Here's what I mean…

If you’ve ever taken an improv class, you will no doubt have heard that the first rule of improv is to “say yes” or “agree” to everything. So, if you’re in an improv situation and your improv partner pulls out his cellphone and points it at you saying “Stop or I’ll shoot!”, You don’t say, “That’s not a gun, it’s a cellphone”. You agree that his cellphone is a gun and act accordingly.

You say YES.

This concept, once you understand how to apply this to your auditions and your performances, can be the difference between booking and frustration for the rest of your career.

Robin Williams did this in spades. He listened and responded and followed the impulses, saying YES at every turn.

And take note of this carefully. Listening and responding is the backbone of acting, of course. But you really take it to the next level, the creative genius level, when you learn how to do it within yourself.

As an actor, being willing to say YES to an impulse and see where it takes you, is the gift that keeps on giving. >>> Tweet This <<<

It’s the way to create unique performances that nobody else could have imagined. Robin Williams did that in spades, too.

Yes, this was definitely a gift of Robin Williams. But it is not unique to him. When YOU apply this principle, when you decide to be FIERCELY you, take risks and say YES to every impulse, what you create will be extraordinary, too.

There are many more wonderful acting lessons we can learn from the performances of the wonderful Robin Williams. Please share yours in the comments so we can all celebrate his unique & special gifts and let his creative legacy live on!

You DESERVE The Red Carpet!

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Amy Jo Berman - Acting Coach
Amy Jo Berman's Tips On Acting & Auditioning Blog
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“I show actors how to be better, book more jobs and live The Red Carpet life!”

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76 Responses

  1. Doreen Condry says:

    Robin Williams was an absolute treasure! Those 3 lessons were very helpful in my quest. The ability to be fiercely one’s self would be the gift I’d like to share with the world! Thank you so much AmyJo

  2. I loved that you mentioned taking risks. I’ve aspired to be an actress all of my adult life. I will need to do some more research, and find a good studio that will take me.

  3. Tressielynn Kincannon says:

    Beautiful tribute to him. He gave us so much and taught us, as actors, and us, as people, so many great lessons.

    Everything here struck a chord with me, and I most definitely need to put these lessons into action!

    <3 Robin, you'll always be loved and cherished… Always.

  4. Richard890 says:

    He was my idol and I was deeply saddened, thanks Amy.

  5. Grahamburgers says:

    I knew Robin Williams was a creative genius, but I don’t think it ever dawned on me how much of his work was just him doing his own thing until I saw him on Inside the Actor’s Studio. There was one part of the episode where he got his hands on someone’s scarf (I no longer recall how he got it, just that it was there) and he just played with it for a few minutes. It became *everything* (except a scarf) and no matter how bizarre or off-the-wall whatever he was imagining was, you believed it and you *had* to believe it. He wasn’t giving you any other options. When the scarf became a car wash (and Robin Williams became a car in the car wash) you were right there with him. It was just incredible.

  6. candice says:

    Awesome! He was so gifted!

  7. Robert Sean-Riaz says:

    He had some good things to say. I’m now going to watch ‘one hour photo’ again.

  8. Jason Roeser says:

    Thank you for sharing, this is fantastic.

  9. Watching Robin be so open and free and truly inspired was a masterclass each and every time I saw him. No matter how many times I have seen or hear him perform I know that just by watching his breathtaking talent I am enhanced and uplifted as an actor. Thank you for the reminder.

  10. Angel Matheson says:

    Amy, Thank you so much for sharing. These are three fabulous tips and I love that they come from Robin Williams. It’s crazy how much pain you can feel for the loss of someone you never met but feel they were like family.
    Amy you inspire with all that you share.

  11. Thank you very much, Amy!

    On uniqueness: This reminds me of Lauren Bacall:
    “Actors today go into TV, which I don’t consider has a lot to do with acting. They only think of stardom. If you photograph well, that’s enough. I have a terrible time distinguishing one from another. Girls wear their hair the same, and are much too anorexic-looking.”

  12. Deborah Cowdrey says:

    Thank you for the Acting Lessons From Robin Williams’ Performances. I am a new actor with so much to learn and Robin Williams was one of the greats. I the love his work and will embrace these lessons.

  13. Robbi Meckley says:

    Upon hearing of Robin Williams’s death, just like many others I was deeply saddened. Since March I had posted on a blog and Twitter the need of us as a society to look more into mental illness that so many people suffer from but hide due to the stigma that goes along with it. Anxiety, depression, and many other forms of mental illnesses cause so many unexpected and “way too soon” deaths among our society today. This summer I finally decided to take a chance and took my first ever acting class at 40 years of age. During this class Robin Williams was named as a role model especially those of us starting out. I thought of him and I knew that he had suffered from depression for many years. When the teacher of the class stated that I had a natural “quirkiness” about me that would lend itself to comedy I thought of Robin and took great pride in that comment. You see as a teacher of young children who deal with some horrible situations every day of their lives when they leave school, I try to not only teach the basics of reading ,writing, and math but also how to laugh and find happiness within. However, after enduring some hardships throughout my own life, I too have suffered from anxiety and depression. I wanted a chance to not only to showcase some of my acting skills through comedy but other genres as well. After reading your blog about Robin I am hopeful and inspired.

  14. Archie Cogollos says:

    OMG!!!!!!…yup…reminds me of a saying…might have been Oscar Wilde…be yourself…everybody else is taken….or words to that effect…
    risks…….how can you not as an actor…be if you do …commit to them…go with it…saying yes….why not….it’s the only chance you get to play ..and do anything….long live the inner child in all of us..thx again AmyJo…ciao bella..Arch

  15. Ignore judgement…I need to practice that!

  16. hunter says:

    Some good words to take with ypu and utilize your carft fot thebetter

  17. Nikki says:

    I love the say “yes” to everything part which is so key to proper improvisation. I think one thing that keeps actors from just being themselves is they get caught up in their head with “actor crap”. All the actor crap we’ve been taught about movement & breathing & what would the character do & it all just clogs you head & keeps you from being in the moment & being yourself in the characters shoes. Easy as it sounds it is really hard to do.

  18. Barry says:

    Good stuff Amy Jo – thanks once again!

  19. Seni Zeqaj says:

    This is awesome !!! Thank you so very much . So sad we lost this great actor !!!

  20. Jeanne Young says:

    Thanks for this Amy…”being fiercely me” has been an ever evolving process for me…it can make one feel quite vulnerable, but man, when it truly does happen, when it just clicks and it’s real and I bring the character to life, it feels so good inside it hurts…nothing else even matters. Robin Williams was a true artist in every sense, who mastered how to touch our souls through our hearts and imaginations with such grace…because he did just that…he was fiercely himself, even as the tide was against him, even as he battled his demons, he took risks and brought it to the table. He was an inspiration…may he R.I.P..

  21. Michael Howe says:

    There is no script in life ..one just speaks and feels [or not]from moment to moment..these are gifts one should try and bring to your acting …For Robin Williams it waas hies elixir, none more so than his mind blowing performance ..LIve at the Met [If I have the wrong title please forgive me!] he brought this daring into his film work.One comes from the heart goes to the heart .He will shine forever in our hearts ..special prayers for his loved ones. God Bless you …Nanu nanu

  22. Missie Matecki says:

    Fiercely me I practice every day. Saying yes is something I am learning to do. Robin Williams was an acting genius, a kind, witty man. A legacy that lives on forever. Thank you Robin for everything.

  23. sonia Carroll says:

    So lovely. This just gave me indirect permission that it’s ok to be fiercely me!

  24. Andrea Havens says:

    Thanks to your sharing of your marvelous insight Amy Jo, now more than ever, I’m FEARLESSLY FIERCELY ME! Really, you do support us with such strong reasoning and your positive energy is a lovely light!

  25. sunday sabbath says:

    Thanks for the share. This served as actor’s education and motivation. As an African American pursuing acting from Qatar I must say has not been without it’s difficulties, but I will not be deterred. I’ve decided since the mountain will not come to me, I must go to it!

  26. Mark Perrone says:

    Nice! Enlightening, enjoyed it immensely. Thanks for sharing.

  27. Amy Lechelt-Basta says:


  28. John Smutny says:

    Wonderful insight from and incredible talent.

  29. Amie Sponza says:

    Well said, and thanks for sharing. Sharing is what Robin did so well.

  30. Lori Anne Shields says:

    Great lessons to remember – and follow. Of course while never say no has always been an improv rule, it’s even better to see it as say yes.

  31. Eric says:

    I feel those lessons are the mains reasons of my actor’s way.

  32. Darrius Walker says:

    Those 3 lessons are 3 jewels in an actor and actresses world. Learning from the legend Robin Williams is a great way to further any entertainers career. I thank you Amy for sharing your ensight and look forward to learning more from you and others such as the late Great Robin Williams in the future of my journey as am actor…

  33. Nikole Marone says:

    Yes! I agree. This is a positive message out of a tragedy. He definitely taught me- from afar, of course, about acting instinctually. Allowing the body to act, before the mind can judge a decision. We’re so, “pent up” all the time. Onstage, or in front of those deemed ‘judges’ of you, sometimes you think, “Oh, God.. mustn’t go there. Don’t cross that emotional bridge, there may be alligators on the other side! Auuugh!!” Even when your body is telling you to go, go!! He was the king of, “Hey, why not? Maybe we can invite them to margaritas at midnight. Woo hoo!!”. Turning a fear, into an OPPORTUNITY. That’s what he taught us. Changing the perspective. Thanks for this Amy. ;-)

  34. As an actor, I appreciate these lessons so much, especially because they were not ‘taught’, but exemplified. Every breath he took, Robin embodied these three ‘lessons’. I couldn’t wait to see what else he’d find in each moment. His exit was sad. Thank God we can watch his movies over and over again.

    Here is my tribute to this comedy genius, showing a skill not many knew:

  35. nikia says:

    Loved it

  36. Stephanie Zuniga says:

    I loved the part about being fiercely YOU. I learned this quickly in acting class, and have used it everyday since, even off stage its taught me that I can be me and be fierce. It also helps bringing a character to life, it makes their story more believable as if it was my own.

  37. Ivonne Vela says:

    Great lessons and an amazing way to honor Robin’s legacy. I will share them in my social media profiles to motivate my peers. Thanks Amy!

  38. Thanks for sharing this! I always enjoyed watching him in interviews. He was always so joyfully insightful! He will be so greatly missed, especially in the world of entertainment!

  39. Carlos Antonio says:

    Really enjoyed this especially fiercely being yourself, I find when I am it’s a much more believable character! Thank you so much for sharing.

  40. Natasha Halevi says:

    Thank you for this great tribute to Robin Williams! I’ve had a lot of tears over this man I didn’t know, but who I felt was my best friend/teacher/genie. I like the idea of allowing his memory to live through my pursuit of acting. I’ll certainly think of him when I am being fiercely me, taking risks, and saying yes to everything!

  41. Carmela Hayslett Grillo says:

    I enjoyed reading this today. I especially like the idea of fiercely being myself as an actress. I always tell myself while reading scripts that I shouldn’t relate to the character because the character isn’t real yet… that I should instead relate the character to myself and begin the process from there. It always works out for me quite well. I’ve also learned the power of saying “yes”… though I can’t quite put that power into words just yet. Great blog!

  42. Brandon McMullen says:

    Great lessons, Amy, definitely gonna try and implement them. Thanks!

  43. Grady Glenn Sims says:

    Very Good Stuff. Learned alot from this. All to often i start to worry or get down on my self. but this shows me to believe and try and say YES to everything.

  44. Anthony Paschal Jr. says:

    Wow! Incredibly inspirational! …yet practical. Thank you for sharing, Amy!

  45. Amy Akins says:

    Amen! Absolutely nailed it! Thanks so much for these wonderful lessons and gleaning something great from such a terrible loss.

  46. Gary Walker says:


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