With … Tim Robbins: ‘Hollywood Is Changing,’ Says Its Veteran Activist, Tim Robbins

Mr. Robbins is passionate about politics but protests that he is not a radical.

He does cop to driving in Santa Monica many years ago with his older son, Jack, when he was about 12, and when Mr. Robbins saw Henry Kissinger coming out of the posh Ivy at the Shore restaurant, he leaned out and yelled, “War criminal!”

“And my son was like, ‘What? What? Why are you doing that?’”

He does not regret speaking out against our misguided wars, even though, during the Iraq fiasco, he got denounced by conservatives as a “terrorist supporter” and a “Saddam lover.”

“My children were young when 9/11 happened, and that was a traumatic experience,” he says. “And they saw how a traumatic experience was turned into using manipulated information to produce another catastrophe, which was the war. So it’s kind of a double trauma. And I don’t think they trust the institutions of power and so they’re looking to create their own. Many of our leaders are no longer on moral high ground. The millennials are living in a society where if you fail you succeed, from the bankers who almost brought down the economy and then got bonuses to Trump and his bankruptcies. It started with Nixon. The degradation of it all. Wouldn’t we be living in a different country right now if Richard Nixon went to jail?”

He laughs, noting wryly that “the millennial midlife crisis will be one for the ages.”

He avidly supported Bernie Sanders in the primary before switching to Hillary Clinton in the general. (His ex Susan Sarandon, also an independent spirit, got heckled by Hillary supporters for refusing to support Mrs. Clinton; she said, “I don’t vote with my vagina,” and then switched to Jill Stein after Mr. Sanders was out.)

“I think the Democratic Party is making a huge mistake right now, trying to caustically marginalize those people that voted for Bernie, because they’re not going to be shamed,” Mr. Robbins says.

When he started his career, Mr. Robbins got offered a lot of roles as psycho killers. Then came “The Player.” Now, at 59, he says that “most of the parts I get offered are middle-aged dudes having existential crises.”

He’s depicting another in Alan Ball’s new HBO series, “Here and Now,” which has its premiere on Feb. 11. Mr. Robbins’s character is a depressed philosophy professor named Greg Boatwright who plays Candy Crush and cheats on his wife, played by Holly Hunter, with a young hooker. In addition to their biological daughter, the couple, who met at Berkeley, has the “great experiment” of three adopted children (black, Asian and Hispanic), now grown.

The show centers on the dynamics of having this pocket of progressivism in Portland, Ore., when white supremacy groups are lurking right outside of town. Mr. Robbins’s gloomy character sees “ignorance, hatred, terror and rage” winning, which makes his wife yearn to “smack him in the face with a big, wet fish.”

Mr. Robbins has also been working on a memoir about growing up in a one-bedroom railroad apartment with a dog, two cats, a rabbit and his folk singing family — his father, Gil, was a guitarist and songwriter with the Highwaymen — and meeting a lot of “crazy creative geniuses” in Greenwich Village. (Mr. Robbins lived nearby in Chelsea during his long relationship with Ms. Sarandon.)

“My dad’s way of dealing with his depression was to build something, a harpsichord or cabinets or a loom,” he says. “I still have some of the things from his weaving period.”


Inmates at the California Rehabilitation Center participate in the Actors’ Gang Prison Project, a workshop in improvisational theater led by Mr. Robbins in 2011.

Monica Almeida/The New York Times

Mr. Robbins says he is “super-proud” of his children. Ms. Sarandon’s daughter with Franco Amurri, Eva — Mr. Robbins refers to Eva as his daughter — has two children and writes a parenting blog called “Happily Eva After.”

Mr. Robbins has been producing short films for his oldest son, Jack, who got into Sundance last year and this year. And his younger son, Miles, is going on tour with his band and has roles in the upcoming “X Files” and “Halloween” movies.

Perhaps because he got used to wearing the garter belt of Ms. Sarandon’s character in “Bull Durham,” Mr. Robbins was not bothered by Miles’s op-ed in HuffPost talking about how, even though he is “mostly heterosexual” — he has kissed a few men — he likes to wear dresses on stage sometimes or to parties.

“He’s a showman,” said his father, adding that he himself wouldn’t do it because “You’ve got to have nice legs for that.”

He is still very private about his two-decade romance with Ms. Sarandon, noting that accounts of stars’ personal lives are inevitably “artificial or manufactured because when you’re promoting a movie, you’re trying to tell people what they want to hear. And they’re operating in stereotypes from the past — younger man, older woman, whatever it is — different perceptions that have nothing to do with reality.”

After dating for years, he says, “I’m with someone right now that I’ve been with for a while. I like my life right now.”

He lives in Venice, Calif., in a charming house, where he has fun art parties and writes poetry and music and plays and screenplays. (His latest, “The Heretic,” is about a trio of Jesuses, one of whom gets waterboarded because his message of love is too radical for Christian consumption.)

He is still busy with the Actors’ Gang, which he founded in 1981. Through the Actors’ Gang Prison Project, Mr. Robbins, who starred in “The Shawshank Redemption,” has had some success over the last decade in renewing interest and funding for arts programs in California prisons, which he believes can help change the behavior of criminals and teach social skills. Former Attorney General Eric Holder was a strong supporter, given the soaring incarceration rates, and Mr. Robbins says his prison plays, mingling black gang members and white supremacists, should be a bipartisan project. He says he would meet with Jeff Sessions, if Mr. Sessions were willing. He’s doing a documentary on the project.

The latest production of the Actors’ Gang, “The New Colossus,” opens on Feb. 8, with 12 actors from 12 different parts of the world reminiscing about or playing their ancestors in their journeys from oppression to freedom.

“All of our ancestors are related in a common desire,” Mr. Robbins says. “The tribalism, dividing us by race, is not who we are. It’s being manipulated for an economic cause. One night we had people from all over the world in our little hundred-seat theater and I was like, ‘This is America right here in this room.’ And it was so powerful. The division that’s happening now is all an illusion.”

MORE: Tim Robbins names his celebrity doppelgänger in a round of Confirm or Deny.

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