The late Robin Williams was originally cast to voice Howard the Duck in Marvel and Lucasfilm’s movie of the same name, but he quit after a week due to voice syncing frustrations.
This news comes by way of The Hollywood Reporter, who learned of this casting revelation in an interview with Chip Zien, the person who was called in to voice Howard after Williams quit. THR also spoke with the actor who played Howard’s love interest in the film, Lea Thompson, about this film and the notoriety it quickly garnered upon release.
“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 to match the flapping duck’s bill’,” Zien said. “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.”
Diving further into why Williams quit, it wasn’t necessarily that the role was just voice over — it’s that the scenes featuring Howard had already been shot, meaning that Williams would need to voice the lines in such an exact way that they line up with the footage of the character that had already been shot. This hampered Williams’ famous improvisational style (see: Disney’s Aladdin) and the frustration became enough for the actor that he quit before the first week was done.
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Zien went on to say that he had signed on for a total of three films. He was also set to work as a fill-in host on Entertainment Tonight, become the voice of AT&T, and receive the rights to talking Howard the Duck dolls. It was all overwhelming, he said.
However when Howard the Duck hit 1,554 theaters on August 1, 1986, it took in just $5 million in its first weekend. THR reports that the movie’s reported budget was more than $45 million, including marketing, and when all was said and done, the movie raked in just $16.2 million domestically and $37.9 million worldwide. It was technically Marvel’s first box office bomb.
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Anyone familiar with the character likely knows that Howard the Duck is now officially a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, having a couple of scenes with actual voice lines by Seth Green (Guardians of the Galaxy 1 and 2) and others where the character makes quick-glance cameos (Avengers: Endgame, for example). THR spoke to Green about Howard the Duck, both as a 1986 movie and as a character that he now officially voices in the MCU.
He said becoming the new Howard the Duck was a months-long process that began with a phone call from Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn. Green voiced the character again in Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and will soon do so again in Disney’s upcoming animated series, What If…?, “which is really cool because it resulted in a scene between T’Challa and Howard,” Green says.
Disney Plus’ What If…? series is the final time the late Chadwick Boseman will play T’Challa and Black Panther.
For more about Howard the Duck, check out IGN’s review of Marvel’s Howard the Duck #1 comic, written by Zdarsky back in 2015, and then read about a now-canceled Howard the Duck show that was going to release on Hulu. Check out IGN’s list of the new Marvel movies and TV shows coming in 2021 and beyond after that.
Wesley LeBlanc is a freelance news writer and guide maker for IGN. You can follow him on Twitter @LeBlancWes.