Robbie Williams felt most comfortable wearing underwear in his Netflix documentary (Picture: Netflix)
‘Robbie Williams walked into the room, he looked at me and said, “Pants?”’
The director of his upcoming Netflix documentary, Joe Pearlman, didn’t question the Angel singer’s choice of attire and simply told him to wear what felt comfortable for the 25-day shoot. And that turned out to be his underwear.
‘The was a moment on about day six,’ the filmmaker, who was also behind Lewis Capaldi: How I’m Feeling Now, regales to Metro.co.uk. ‘And my cameraman, Sebastian Feehan, just turned to me and goes, “What are we doing?”
‘And I was like, “What do you mean?” He’s like, “I’m staring at Robbie Williams’ balls like what is going on?”’
Robbie’s outfit – or lack thereof – captures the essence of the documentary, a bruisingly raw retrospective of the 49-year-old ascent to superstardom after joining Take That, struggles with fame and the British press, high-profile relationships including Spice Girl Geri Halliwell, and mental health and addiction issues.
To strike the core of the entertainer’s dizzying yet troubled life in the public eye and to create a profile as ‘raw, unfiltered, and candid’ as possible, Joe wanted Rob to feel at ease. And the surefire way of achieving that? Pants.
‘Rob wanted to become as comfortable as he could be…. And that man loves being in his pants,’ Joe, 34, laughs.
The Robbie documentary is a ‘raw and unfiltered’ look at the star (Picture: BACKGRID)
Known for his larger-than-life stage presence and tendency to be frank in interviews, Joe says Robbie was a very different man at his LA home, where they filmed the documentary and where he lives with his wife Ayda Field, 44, and their four children.
What surprised Joe the most about off-stage Robbie, was that he was ‘quiet and subdued’ and invested in his art, which he regularly showcases on his Instagram account.
‘He’s not the person on stage that I thought maybe he would be. But then that’s the performance. That’s not the real person, it’s the same with all these performers, like Lewis [Capaldi], they get on stage and they have to become something other,’ he says.
The documentary covers Robbie’s high-profile relationships including with Geri (Picture: Getty)
Joe filmed Robbie for 25 days in his LA home for the four-part documentary (Picture: WireImage)
‘But Robbie, he’s a very subdued, very kind, very loving person who just wanted to sit and chat and often just sit and be quiet.’
Robbie ‘never messed’ Joe or the crew around but did show up late on the day they looked back on his 2006 Close Encounters tour. It was, Joe says, the ‘most difficult’ period of his life.
During one of the tour dates in Leeds, Robbie suffered a prolonged panic attack and vowed never to perform again. He begged his management to cancel upcoming gigs but they said no, explaining it would bankrupt them all.
Robbie’s most difficult period was during his Close Encounters tour (Picture: Getty Images)
On the day, Joe says Robbie had some awareness of what was about to unfold, but ‘didn’t have any idea of the scale and the depths that the cameras were able to capture during that time. So that was the day he was late, but it was totally understandable.’
He continues: ‘I don’t know if I’d ever seen anyone in any documentary being as cognizant in the moment of a mental breakdown; being able to describe in such detail what he is going through. When we saw that, it was really hard to watch.’
Robbie explains in the documentary the reason behind his move to the US, which he never really cracked career-wise, was to get away from the limelight, the fame, and the attention he struggled with in the UK and Europe. It offered him a fresh start.
Robbie is now happily married to Ayda (Picture: Getty)
Now he is very much a family man, and the dad to Teddy, 11, Charlie, nine, Coco, five, and Beau, three. While he has previously shielded his children from the public – he’s never revealed pictures of their faces, for example – Teddy crops up several times in the documentary.
At the start of filming, Robbie was unsure about featuring his children, Joe says, but ultimately after the final cut, signed off on Teddy’s appearances. ‘I am truly honoured they allowed me to do something like this because it’s something they consciously have not done for years,’ he adds.
In a hilarious moment in the show, Teddy, who is very curious about her dad’s life as an entertainer – Joe thinks it will be hard for Robbie and Ayda to ‘keep her off the stage’ – asks him who he hated the most in Take That.
Robbie speaks frankly about his rivalry with Gary (Picture: Getty)
Robbie first shot to fame in Take That in the 90s (Picture: Getty)
It’s of course Gary Barlow, with Robbie admitting that he ‘resented’ him because he dominated the band. Robbie felt like Take That was the ‘Gary Barlow show’ and was bitter about being ‘sidelined’, fuelling his decision to quit in 1995 and embark on a solo career the following year. They are on very good terms now, though.
Was Gary approached for the documentary? ‘From the beginning, we made a decision that we weren’t going to have any talking heads in the show: this was Rob’s story to tell,’ Joe says.
‘Th was a very conscious decision by me because I saw very early on that Rob was willing and ready to tell this amazing story.’
Joe was also behind Lewis’ documentary. He has also struggled with his mental health and the limelight (Picture: Getty)
But Joe doesn’t think Gary will be too miffed, arguing Robbie was ‘balanced’ about their well-documented rivalry. ‘With the archive we had, Robbie was going to be able to reevaluate and see [the feud] in a new light. That was really exciting. I didn’t need other people to tell me he was wrong. He was telling himself he was wrong,’ Joe says.
Having followed two of the UK’s biggest male solo stars – Robbie and Lewis – has Joe learned anything about fame?
‘Yeah,’ he says. ‘Keep me miles away from it.’
Robbie Williams is available to stream on Netflix.
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Certainly not your average day.