I’m sorry, but you can’t say you love the Marvel Cinematic Universe if you don’t love Howard the Duck, as it was technically the very first Marvel movie. And while I’m only joking (sort of) about having to love Howard the Duck, you wouldn’t be alone in not even liking it. As one of its potential stars couldn’t even stand it. Surprise, Howard the Duck starred Robin Williams for a time. But the reason he quit makes total sense.
But let me put you in a state of mind first. The year is 1986, and George Lucas concluded his Star Wars trilogy just a few years back. He a hot, filmmaker and everybody wants to know what the Hollywood legend is going to put his name behind next. But he had good and bad news for moviegoers. The good news is that he’s was going to executive produce another spaced-themed story. The bad news is that it’s going to be about a talking duck from outer space who gets in bed with Lea Thompson. Oh, and there’s also a scene with duck boobs in it, too.
As you could probably imagine, the film was a famous flop. Sure, it acquired a sort of cult following (myself included), but it was definitely not an auspicious start to Marvel at the movies. Well, in a recent article in The Hollywood Reporter, Into the Woods Broadway star, Chip Zien, who would ultimately go on to voice the titular duck, had this to say about his role in the film:
What I was told was by the third day, Robin said, ‘I can’t do this. It is insane. I can’t get the rhythm of this. I am being confined. I am being handcuffed in order to match the flapping duck’s bill.' So, on Memorial Day 1985, I got a call from my agent who said, ‘You have to get right to the airport! Robin Williams just quit and you’re now Howard the Duck. You need to get there tonight. There is a ticket waiting for you at the counter.’ I was incredibly excited.
Now, I actually had no idea about this. As I mentioned up top, I’ve always been a huge fan of the movie, dating back to when it would come on TV all the time. In fact, my dad would often check the local TV listings and say, “We can go see a new movie, or you can watch Howard the Duck again,” and 9 times out of 10 (That 1 time being if it was a John Goodman movie), I’d want to watch Howard the Duck.
But I definitely understand why Robin Williams would feel “handcuffed” by the role. The actor in the suit, Ed Gale, was told not to speak during his performance since the director, Willard Huyck, thought it was a little difficult to hear him talking in the suit. So, the voice work was added in during editing, which is where Williams would have fit in. But Robin Williams was the kind of actor who thrived on spontaneity, and I could only imagine him having to nail the lines in the script just right because it had to align with the facial animatronics.
And you also have to remember that Howard the Duck came out in 1986. Sure, Robin Williams was a big TV star with roles on shows like Happy Days and Mork and Mindy, but besides Popeye and The World According to Garp, Robin Williams hadn’t really exploded on the film scene yet. I could just imagine Williams looking at that script, and then thinking, are you kidding me? I have to deliver lines like this perfectly just so I can make a duck look good? No thanks, I’m out, or something of that nature. In the end, I think Chip Zien did a great job with his performance and I couldn’t imagine anybody else voicing the duck. Not even Robin Williams.
But what are your thoughts? Do you think Howard the Duck would have performed better at the box office or been a better movie if Robin Williams voiced the titular duck? Sound off in the poll below!