Williams has a rather laid-back attitude about his performance and the film‚s key theme: identification with and reaching out to someone else.
"You can identify with him [the writer of the novel on which the film is based] as someone who‚s gone through transitions and comes out the other side. Life goes on. You relate to that. Everyone has experienced pain in their lives; if you haven‚t, then you haven‚t lived yet," he says.
Whether it is Gabriel, Donna (Toni Collette) or Pete (Rory Culkin) ˆ three of the film‚s core characters ˆ the desire to consciously or subconsciously share one‚s pain is the heart of The Night Listener.
"We use our lives; we use our storytelling and extrapolate on that and expand upon that to in some ways make connections and feel better," says Williams.
Not all psychological attachments are positive or healthy but the desire to somehow „make sense‰ of pain and suffering manifests itself in different ways. Listener‚s asset, according to Williams, is that it draws a web of fiction and fantasy around the hard-pressed facts and raw suffering in human life.
Armistead Maupin, one of the film‚s writers and the author of the novel, elaborated on his motivations for writing the novel and combining the particular elements and sub-themes for the film.
"There were, in the '90s, two events that kind of really affected my life and emotions: My lover left me and then I had a telephone relationship with an abused child," he says.
Williams says that having such immediate help and guidance for him on the set in the person of Maupin (the actual person he was portraying) was comforting.
„You‚re creating a character based on someone you know. I mean, Armistead was there so it's kind of interesting to have him there. It's good that you have the guy there and the feedback there. He‚s a damaged person who's trying to examine and recover and find out Œwhat is my purpose?‚ ŒI don‚t want to do the radio show anymore!‚ Literally, when a relationship collapses, you're kind of, like, stunned and when the kid comes, you start to focus.
"The thing that creeps people out about this [the film and its genre] is the potential for violation," Williams adds. "Each character has a particular calamity and has been violated in a fundamental way. Coping with these violations is what the film explores. It‚s about drawing from one's experiences and assuaging the pain by connecting to others and finding a way to somehow forget the pain and suffering—by dissociation in this case."
For a worldwide comedy star, this film and others like it (One Hour Photo and Insomniac, for example) are a professional juncture. In spite of his widespread popularity, Williams intentionally strives to expand his oeuvre to other genres.
"I wanted to just act; when I was at Julliard, I just wanted to perform. The sheer idea of being on stage was great. But, when I finished, I realized the chances of acting were slim. So I began stand-up comedy in as many places as I could find," he says.
Now, his permanent place among Hollywood‚s A-List has given him some professional capital.
"I want to try everything. It‚s just a question of tone. I like them all,‰ he adds. "Comedy and drama feed off each other. Comedy gives you fearlessness and drama gives you a sense of detail and exploration. You have to, for drama, be serious and able to get deeper into the character, you know."
The Night Listener releases in select theaters Aug. 4.