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Howard the Duck voice actor explains why Robin Williams quit the movie within a week

Howard the Duck
(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

Howard the Duck voice actor Chip Zien has talked about why Robin Williams quit the movie within days.

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Zien explained that the actor was frustrated at having to match his performance to the movement of Howard's mouth (or bill). Since no actor had been cast for Howard during filming, puppeteers on set read his lines – which meant the bill moved with their more straightforward delivery, compared to Williams' famous style of zany improvisation.

"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,'" Zien recalled.

Williams is the star of much-loved classics like Mrs. Doubtfire, Jumanji, and Good Will Hunting, with one of his most famous roles being the voice of Disney's Genie. Aladdin co-director and co-writer Ron Clements recounted to Variety earlier this year how Williams' talent for improvisation affected the movie: "[Williams] started out recording the script as written a few times, then took off in a multitude of directions. The original scene was meant to be about three minutes long. Each take, Robin would add and embellish, so by the 25th (and last) take, the scene had expanded to about 20 minutes long!" It's easy to understand why Williams might have felt a bit restricted by having to match the movement of Howard's bill, then.

Of course, Williams stepping away meant that Zien could take the role instead. "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," he told THR.

Howard the Duck was released back in '86 and executive produced by George Lucas. Though the film was much-maligned at the time, poorly reviewed and a box office dud, it's become something of a cult classic today – and Howard has experienced a bit of a renaissance himself, joining the MCU (voiced by Seth Green) and appearing in Guardians of the Galaxy, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and even the once-highest grossing movie of all time, Avengers: Endgame. He's also set to feature in the upcoming animated series What If…?, and Green says the duck will be meeting Chadwick Boseman's T'Challa. 

While you wait for the next chapter of the MCU to land on August 11, check out our guide to Marvel Phase 4 to see what else is coming next.

I'm an experienced online writer with articles published on film, TV, and pop culture. I am currently working at GamesRadar+ as a freelance Entertainment Reporter. I previously worked on the Disney team and freelanced on CBeebies magazine with Immediate Media.