In the book, Itzkoff — who had access to Williams and his family for interviews — explains that Williams was worried “that his unique attributes would get lost in the trappings of a familiar cartoon character.” He was concerned enough that he took the script to his longtime friend and writer Bennett Tramer, who said, “Unless you talking like Popeye is enough to sell a movie, there’s no story here.”
It’s hard to think of Robin Williams’ delivery of lines being anything but a selling point, but this was early in his career, and Williams didn’t want to turn a director like Altman down for his first major film. He was also encouraged to take the role by his friend Christopher Reeve, who was fresh off his success starring in the film adaptation of “Superman.” That one had been a significant risk. It was a very expensive production for the time, with a budget of $55 million, but it ended up with three Academy Award nominations and praise from audiences.
Williams ended up taking on “Popeye,” hoping that he would have similar success.