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HEIL SMOOCHY: Edward Norton runs into scandal in Death to Smoochy.
Warner Brothers

Murder, Nazis and stuffed rhinos

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Corruption, deceit, sex and murder lie deep in the underbelly of the entertainment industry, but not where you think. In Death to Smoochy, the darker side of Hollywood is in the most wholesome corner of all--children's television.

"It has a nasty dark view of children's television," says Robin Williams, who plays popular children's TV host Rainbow Randolf in the movie. "If you want happy, just regular fun, this is not for you."

In Death to Smoochy, an FBI bust confirms allegations that Randolf was taking bribes from parents of child actors. He promptly loses his show and becomes a national disgrace. Enter Smoochy. Sheldon Mopes, played by Edward Norton, eeks out a name for himself playing birthdays and local clinic openings in a shoddy purple dinosaur suit. When the network execs at Kidnet fish for a Randolf replacement, Smoochy gets the job. From there, jealousy, anger, ulterior motives and even the Irish mob interweave to create an intricate, hilarious and extremely dark comedy--something very out of character for the typically warm-hearted Williams.

"It's nice to go the other way just to confuse someone," says Williams. "It's like when you find out there's a porno version called Snatch Adams, you go 'oh my God.'"

And the role is definitely different for Williams. His character is, in a word, crazy. Manic depressive, suicidal, substance abusing and obsessive, Randolf's off-stage character is sharply different than his TV persona. He portrays a coarse,
vindictive and violent man of desperation.

Part of Williams' over the top portrayal of the fallen host rests on the shoulders of director Danny Devito.

"There are no boundaries with him. There's this sense of try anything and he'll pick the best," explains Williams. "It's more free because, first of all, it's a comedy and working with Danny Devito, he's not afraid of it."

Devito says this attitude of experimenting as you go was at the heart of the film. He made an effort to let the actors take this where they wanted--and the results speak for themselves.

"When you have people who are really prone to improvise and have a lot of fun, your experience is broadened," says Devito. "You do the script, which we stuck by pretty closely, but I also allowed all the actors to have a few takes where they just let loose."

The result--especially from scenes Devito notes were full of improv--were quick-paced, hilarious examples of both how funny and dark this movie really is.

Although sometimes, especially in a movie as vulgar as this, you need to realize when to draw the line. This is something Devito says he's very aware of. In particular, he refers to a scene involving neo-Nazis and a resulting Smoochy scandal.

"It terms of the Nazi scenes, I thought possibly this is too much when I read the script," says Devito. "But I thought it would give Sheldon great motivation and the country itself to think this guy is such a hypocrite, so I thought it was fun to do."

Williams agrees that determining how far you can go is an issue, but doesn't want to let that hurt the film.

"Was I worried about having an edge? No. I do this in my stand-up all the time," explains Williams. "It's a challenge but a necessary one, so you don't close up the aperture."

Another concern was working with the crude script and child actors. When the script saw children on screen alongside this kind of language, Williams and Devito were careful to warn parents and try to prepare the children, though it didn't always work. Williams remembers a scene where Smoochy pulls out a rather suggestive-shaped cookie during the filming of a show.

"Smoochy pulls out the cookie and this one little eight-year-old looks up and goes 'what the fuck?'" he remembers. "It was the most bizarre thing."

Devito recalls this as well.

"Robin almost had a heart attack," laughs Devito. "He fell to the ground laughing so hard we had to stop while he recovered."

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