Tim Rob­bins

The Hol­ly­wood ac­tor/di­rec­tor chan­nels gonzo jour­nal­ist Hunter S. Thomp­son.

Where New York - - Insider - By Katie Labovitz

TIM ROB­BINS, ap­pear­ing in The Town Hall’s May 5 con­cert per­for­mance of Amer­i­can au­thor and jour­nal­ist Hunter S. Thomp­son’s iconic ar­ti­cle, “The Kentucky Derby Is Deca­dent and De­praved,” didn’t just grow up read­ing Thomp­son’s works—he lived them for a while.

Like many of the baby-boom gen­er­a­tion, ac­tor/writer/di­rec­tor/mu­si­cian Rob­bins took the words of Thomp­son’s “Fear and Loathing in Las Ve­gas” and “Fear and Loathing on the Cam­paign Trail ’72” to heart. “I loved him as a writer,” Rob­bins says. “We would test the lim­its of ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­ior in Las Ve­gas, let’s put it that way. And it was def­i­nitely in­spired by Hunter.”

Though born in Cal­i­for­nia, Rob­bins and his three sib­lings were raised in Green­wich Vil­lage by equally artistic par­ents. “I was a city boy grow­ing up,” he says. “I thought trees came out of con­crete.” Rob­bins re­turned to Cal­i­for­nia to at­tend the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Tele­vi­sion and then launched a crit­i­cally ac­claimed tele­vi­sion and film ca­reer, start­ing with the tele­vi­sion drama “St. Else­where” (1982). Bit parts in films like“Top Gun” (1986) soon turned into star­ring roles, in­clud­ing the mi­nor­league base­ball clas­sic “Bull Durham” (1988), Robert Alt­man’s “The Player” (1992) and “The Shaw­shank Re­demp­tion” (1994). Rob­bins worked off­screen as well, writ­ing and di­rect­ing “Bob Roberts” (1992), which he also starred in; and “Dead Man Walk­ing” (1995), which earned him an Academy Award nom­i­na­tion for Best Di­rec­tor and an Os­car for his then-part­ner, Su­san Saran­don. His grip­ping turn in Clint East­wood’s “Mys­tic River” (2003) earned him sev­eral Best Sup­port­ing Ac­tor ac­co­lades, in­clud­ing an Os­car. “Mar­jorie Prime” (2017), Rob­bins’ lat­est film, co-star­ring Jon Hamm and Geena

Davis, pre­miered this past Jan­uary at the Sun­dance Film Festival.

“The Kentucky Derby Is Deca­dent and De­praved” is the first piece of Thomp­son’s work that was coined “gonzo jour­nal­ism,” dis­tinc­tively sub­jec­tive and per­son­al­ized jour­nal­ism. In this case, Thomp­son at­tended the 1970 Kentucky Derby to write an ar­ti­cle and in­stead of fo­cus­ing on the race—which he could not ac­tu­ally see from his lo­ca­tion—he very opin­ion­at­edly re­ported on the de­bauch­ery sur­round­ing the event. Rob­bins likens the piece to an ex­posé on South­ern tra­di­tions. “Be­hind the glam­our and nice hats lies an un­der­belly of ug­li­ness,” Rob­bins ex­plains. “That’s why I love this piece.” He be­came in­volved with the piece years ago when his friend, mu­sic pro­ducer Hal Will­ner, asked if he wanted to be part of an au­dio­book record­ing of the ar­ti­cle. “He’s an in­cred­i­bly tal­ented pro­ducer and what he did with the piece is just ex­tra­or­di­nary. He just al­ways gets sound and the au­ral land­scape of mu­sic, but also how words go with mu­sic.”

Words with mu­sic is the per­fect de­scrip­tion of what to ex­pect at his Town Hall per­for­mance, also pro­duced by Will­ner. Rob­bins will be read­ing Thomp­son’s words set to Bill Frisell’s mu­sic, cre­at­ing a live ver­sion of some­thing akin to a ra­dio play. And it will be the first time au­di­ences see Rob­bins live in a while. The last time Rob­bins per­formed in the city was at Le Pois­son Rouge with his band, Tim Rob­bins & the Rogues Gallery Band, in 2011. Be­fore that, he di­rected a run of his po­lit­i­cal satire “Em­bed­ded” at The Pub­lic Theater in 2004. The crit­i­cally ac­claimed play de­buted the year prior at The Ac­tors’ Gang in Los An­ge­les, where Rob­bins has served as artistic di­rec­tor since its in­cep­tion in 1981. He con­tin­ues to write and di­rect pro­duc­tions there, as well as teach through the non­profit theater com­pany’s Prison Project, which helps in­mates in­crease self-es­teem and tol­er­ance.

When asked if he had a pref­er­ence of what medium he worked in, he chuck­les, “[I] just go with the flow. If I’m act­ing, I love act­ing. If I’m di­rect­ing, I love di­rect­ing.”

These days, he’s on the West Coast do­ing a lot of both, act­ing in a new series for HBO, “Here, Now,” and di­rect­ing The Ac­tors’ Gang’s lat­est pro­duc­tion, “Refugee Project.” When Rob­bins does spend time in NYC, it’s with his two sons from his re­la­tion­ship with Saran­don, Jack Henry and Miles. A huge hockey fan, Rob­bins likes to go to New York Rangers games. He also cheers on the Mets and en­joys the city’s great book­stores, cit­ing The Strand as an im­por­tant one to visit. And he has seen “Hamil­ton”—twice— call­ing it “an ex­cit­ing, vi­tal story.” He feels the same way about “The Kentucky Derby Is Deca­dent and De­praved.” Says Rob­bins, “When [ Thomp­son] ex­poses truth and he is an­gry, it’s writ­ing that I be­lieve is es­sen­tial.”

“We would test the lim­its of ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­ior in Las Ve­gas, and it was def­i­nitely in­spired by Hunter.”

A DAY AT THE RACES

Above: Ralph Stead­man’s sketch, which ac­com­pa­nied the orig­i­nal Hunter S. Thomp­son ar­ti­cle in Scan­lan’s mag­a­zine.

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