"Shawshank" star Tim Robbins returns to prison

Tim Robbins teaches acting in prison 08:22

(CBS News) The 1994 film "The Shawshank Redemption" was a disturbing look at life behind bars. Now its star Tim Robbins is working behind bars again, not as an actor but as a mentor. Serena Altschul caught up with him for some Questions and Answers:

"Big breath. . . . Shake it out . . . Let the emotion grow . . . more, more, more . . . Let's see happy . . . "

This is an acting class, but not just any acting class,

The inmates at this medium security prison in Norco, Calif., are serving time for crimes ranging from possession of marijuana to murder.

One of their coaches is Academy Award-winning actor Tim Robbins.

"It creates this place, particularly important in prison, where people can step outside of what's expected of them and try to explore new emotions, create new realities, create new truths for themselves," Robbins said.

The project, now in its seventh year, is funded by The Actors' Gang, which Robbins and some acting friends founded in 1981.

Tom Robbins teaches acting to inmates at a medium security prison in Norco, Calif. CBS News

Altschul asked Robbins, "What do you say to people who say, 'Prison isn't supposed to be about having a good time'?"

"It's not a good time. It's tough work they're doing," he replied. "It's physically demanding, it requires discipline. We want full commitment from them.

"What we're asking them to do they haven't been asked to do before. It takes a lot of courage. They're actually putting on makeup and putting on costumes."

"I never thought I'd be happy to tell another man I put makeup on!" said Yousef, who told Altschul preparing for a performance was liberating.

"You can always say ' We're acting, that's not really me.' But the truth is, this is us. We're not all bad people."

"A lot of people are afraid to show they could be sad, or they could be happy," said another inmate, Yoshi. "They gotta have this mad mug all the time."

Robbins recalled one inmate telling him, "I didn't realize 'til I took this class that I've been wearing a mask on the yard for the last eight years."

Tim Robbins' first experience of prison was playing Andy Dufresne in the 1994 film "The Shawshank Redemption."

"I spent some time in solitary, to prepare for 'Shawshank.' I asked to be locked up. It gives you a good idea of what the isolation is, and what the loneliness of it is."

It's one of the most beloved and acclaimed films of all time.

"Everyone who comes up to you on the street must want to talk about 'Shawshank,'" said Altschul.

"Yeah, it's up there," he replied.

Also "up there": "The Player," in which Robbins plays Griffin Mill, a cravenly ambitious studio executive; and "Mystic River," playing Dave Boyle, a Boston man scarred by childhood abuse . . . a role that earned him an Oscar in 2004.

And who could forget "Bull Durham" -- playing talented, loopy "Nuke" LaLoosh, who learns some of pitching's finer points from Annie Savoy (played by Susan Sarandon).

"It was a blast," Robbins said of the film. "I met Susan, had kids with her and it was a great, great experience."

The couple split in 2009.

"Every time I mention to someone that I'm doing the interview with you they always say, 'You guys were the model couple -- the activism, the films, and just that partnership of 23 years," Altschul said.

"Not gonna go there," Robbins replied. "Nope. It's just something that I've never done, and I don't see any reason to do it now."