Tim Robbins is Hollywood's hottest player


His fame is so fresh that he's not even listed in the 1992-93 edition of "Who's Who in Entertainment."

But in the past few weeks, Tim Robbins has been called "the man of the moment" by Newsweek and "the man of the hour" by the New York Times.

The man is mesmerizing movie audiences as the creepy, charming Griffin Mill in "The Player." At Cannes last month, he was named best actor for his subtle, assured performance as a murderous studio executive.

More startling was the way he surprised and dazzled critics at Cannes with "Bob Roberts," the first feature film he has written and directed. Mr. Robbins also stars in the mock documentary as a folk-singing, right-wing U.S. Senate candidate from Pennsylvania who is pro-God.

Scheduled for release in the fall to coincide with election fever, "Bob Roberts" could be one of the year's sleeper hits. Newsweek called it "angry and hilarious" and New York Times critic Janet Maslin touted the freshman effort as "fiendishly funny. . . . 'Bob Roberts' has wicked humor and it also has teeth."

And Mr. Robbins has lip -- about the unsavory engaging characters he plays in both movies, and about the Siamese twin institutions of Hollywood and government that they satirize.

"We're in a society right now that worships image and does not care about substance," he told reporters in New York earlier this spring after a screening of "The Player," "and that's partly what my choices in playing Griffin Mill are about -- that it's a much more difficult decision you have to make as an audience: What if the murderer is likable? As I'm sure a lot of murderers are. It's not an easy choice. And I don't think it's an easy choice in life, either. Especially in an election year coming up. We have to start looking beyond these smiling faces."

The segue from murder to politics is seamless. "I modeled Griffin Mill on executives. I played Bob Roberts as a movie star," he said, laughing at his own mischief.

At the age of 33 and with "Bob Roberts" distilling the nation's political disenchantment right, left and center, Mr. Robbins is poised to be a major player.

In some ways, he's an unlikely candidate for the position. Tall and lanky, sincere rather than cynical, he has neither the manner of a mogul nor the looks of a movie star. If you had to place him in a sub-species of actorus Hollywoodensis, he'd fit right in with Timothy Hutton and a young Michael J. Pollard.

But in other ways, Mr. Robbins is typecast as an entertainer with strong political opinions.

He was born in Greenwich Village on the cusp of the '60s to a folk singer father -- Gil Robbins of the Highwaymen. As a teen-ager during Watergate, he was part of a street vaudeville act that burlesqued John Ehrlichman, H.R. Haldeman and John Dean. Mr. Robbins did a song and dance as Haldeman.

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