Kathy Baker was one of the people who acted with Robin Williams in what became his last (released, anyway) live-action film. In “Boulevard” the late performer plays a closeted man who finds himself inching his way out after befriending a troubled male prostitute (Roberto Aguire). Baker plays his wife, but she’s not your usual long-suffering, pathetically jilted killjoy. Her character has a life and agency of her own, and it’s clear that at the end of the day they share a deep love. The Emmy-winning actress talks about what was refreshing about this coming-out story, how it could only be an indie these days and worrying her costar would make her laugh.
With most movies about someone who’s married realizing he or she is gay, it’s not entertained that the husband and wife can still have a deep love for each other.
What I like is that they’re best friends, they’ve created a nice life together, they love each other. I think he loves her too. I mean, it isn’t a romantic or sexual love anymore, although I believe that originally, when they were very young and in college, they did have a romantic connection, as much as they could. You know what I mean? Because they were young and hormonal and Robin Williams’ character Nolan was so positive in those days. But he wants to make her happy. He has such a hard time coming out because he knows how much it’ll hurt her.
The only time, early on at least, that she seems hurt is when she learns he doesn’t like confiding in her. She’s genuinely taken aback.
She expects that they’ll tell each other everything. I also like the way she gives him a little room. She knows he lied about a couple of things, but she gives him a little room. She doesn’t jump on him. Then finally, at the end, I think it’s brave of her to start the confrontation. She just has to confront him. Because he wouldn’t confront her. It’s brave of her.
She’s in a real Catch-22 situation, because she can’t hold him back but if he fianlly comes out she's worried she'll be alone.
Her hope is that they will face this, that he’ll admit he’s gay but they will stay together and still live together. That’s where she’s not courageous. That’s where she’s not strong and he is, because he says, we both have to go out and live our own authentic lives. We both have to be who we really are. And she says, I don’t want that. I don’t want reality. I want what we have. I actually think it it’s almost harder for her because Robin’s character is going towards something. It’s something pulling him; it’s something he’s always wanted. She has to back away from something she loves and find a new path. Maybe it’s not fair to say it’s harder, but it’s equally hard for her.
Perhaps not too long ago this would have been a studio movie. Hollywood was even making movies about coming out 35 years ago. “Making Love” became a major talk piece.
I don’t think this could be anything but an independent movie, really. Studios now are in such a panic to make those big, huge movies. They really have to make those to make their money. They’re not going to make a little independent movie like this. Independent movies are just such joys for actors to make, because that’s where the great work is. I’m not saying there isn’t great work in a big franchise movie; it must be fun to play Ant-Man or Batman or Superman. But in the independent films, you can delve a little deeper. You’re not so worried about making the big bucks to make up for the huge budget.
At the same time you do have to contend with having limited resources.
Well, you know, in independent film, there isn’t much money. We didn’t have any rehearsal for this. We had sort of a day — not even that, maybe an afternoon — of getting to know each other and looking at the location and getting to know the characters. There’s not really enough money to budget in rehearsal time. And pretty much you only have 21 days to shoot, so you do sort of have to hurry, actually. With an actor like Robin, it wasn’t difficult at all to dive in because he was just so ready and so present and so professional.
This wound up being his final live-action film. What are your memories of working with him, especially given this is one where he’s very, very serious?
I was worried that he would make me laugh too much on the set and that I wouldn’t be able to concentrate. He is funny, obviously, and witty. He was completely professional and in the mood of the movie and the mode. My memories of him are of a real professional actor. He would always say, “Do you want another take? Is that what you want to do? You want to do more?” He was always concerned that I was happy with the work. I was just grateful that he didn’t crack me up too much between takes!
I don’t imagine on a film like this he’d be doing Mork routines in between takes.
Yeah, I think we were both pretty quiet between takes, pretty concentrated. There was a lot of work to do. Maybe with the other movies like “Good Morning Vietnam” he was kind of crazy between takes because he had to keep up that energy. But with us he was just completely professional and in the spirit of the role all the time.
The film does have a very quiet, gentle tone. There’s a really lovely scene about an hour in where your two characters finally have a frank discussion, but it’s done in a comforting way, with you two lying on a bed and trying to find some middle ground.
That’s a beautiful scene. It makes me tear up again after all this time. It’s actually going to be hard to watch the movie again since Robin died.