The Wild Thing Tim Robbins Did To Prepare For A Famous Role

It's not unusual for actors to go to staggering and oftentimes disturbing lengths to prepare for certain roles. Authenticity of character is an invaluable commodity in the world of movie magic, and that notion can sometimes seriously push the boundaries of what we're calling "make believe." According to Esquire, Daniel Day-Lewis spent eight weeks in a cerebral palsy clinic, spent the entirety of filming in a wheel chair, and made crew members spoon feed him his meals in order to fully encompass the character of Christy Brown in "My Left Foot." Jamie Foxx lost 30 pounds and glued his own eyes shut in order to portray Ray Charles in "Ray." Leonardo DiCaprio slept in a real animal carcass while filming "The Revenant" (via Thrillist). Really, there are few limitations to what people will do in order to nail down an unforgettable performance.

In 1994, Tim Robbins undertook the role of Andy Dufresne in "The Shawshank Redemption," an innocent man convicted of murder and doomed to suffer a life behind bars with no chance of parole. The film has become one of the most beloved depictions of benevolent absolution and miraculous vindication that this generation has ever borne witness to, but a story with such momentous emotional impact isn't achieved without sacrifice. According to History by Day, Robbins didn't hesitate to push the threshold of extremity in order to become Andy Dufresne. 

Tim Robbins lived in solitary confinement

If you've ever seen "The Shawshank Redemption," you probably recall those claustrophobic, gut-churning sequences captured in solitary confinement. After commandeering the prison's auditory system to play classical music across the hallways and courtyards, Andy Dufresne spends two weeks in a dark cell sequestered away from his friends and fellow inmates. He then returns to "the hole" for two grueling months after threatening to reveal a massive conspiracy at the core of Shawshank's corrupt political infrastructure (via IMDb). That's a lot of time away from the sun. 

To prepare, Tim Robbins reportedly asked to be placed in solitary confinement himself. He felt it was a necessary endeavor in order to fully capture the mind of an inmate — or at least as much as someone who's never spent time in jail can (per Definition). "I asked to be locked up," the actor shared later on. "It gives you a good idea of what the isolation is, and what the loneliness of it is. Acting the part of someone who's incarcerated doesn't require any specific knowledge of incarceration" (via ABC News). While Robbins only spent the duration of an afternoon in solitary confinement, as What Culture reports, the effect was profound enough to reveal what it's like to be subjected to the torment of total isolation. He also observed animals in captivity at the zoo to examine the effects of involuntary confinement from the outside. 

Tim Robbins teaches acting to real prison inmates

In 1981, Tim Robbins helped found The Actors' Gang, a charity-based acting program that carries experimental theatre and various acting exercises to underprivileged communities around Southern California. One of the core groups that The Actors' Gang focuses its efforts on are prison inmates. Robbins, along with others in the faction, teaches acting lessons to inmates in a handful of prisons across California as part of the Actors' Gang Prison Project and uses the activity as a rehabilitation technique for those looking to turn their lives around — particularly youths. 

"What we came to understand was, well, there's something about the way we work at The Actors' Gang–the combination of a physical discipline and a rigorous demand for emotional honesty," Tim Robbins told the National Endowments for the Arts in 2016. "Those two combined somehow was providing a transformative experience for the inmates that were attending the class."