The stars of the play re-prise their roles for the big screen
It was April 19th, 2001 - the opening night of Mel Brook's play, The Producers, on Broadway starring Nathan Lane as Max Bialystock and Matthew Broderick, his accountant turned producing partner Leo Bloom. The remake of his 1968 film was a huge hit on the stage.
So what came next - the movie, based on the play, based on the movie. But who would you get to play the two leads? Well, it had to be Matthew and Nathan; and they both jumped at the opportunity to work with Mel and director Susan Stroman again.
Matthew and Nathan sat down with Movieweb in New York to talk about the new film; here's what they had to say:
Can you talk about the chemistry between you and Matthew; how do you work so well together?
Nathan Lane: It's the sex; it's what's kept us together, and we never go to bed angry.
Matthew Broderick: We don't go to bed angry, I mean, we don't let fights fester if we have disagreements, and we don't have very many. Which isn't to say we're just like totally placid all the time, you know. We've worked for a long time together now, not as long as it is in people's minds; we've done two plays. I mean I love working with him and I hope to keep doing it.
So what about the jokes that Sarah Jessica is jealous of your relationship with Nathan?
Matthew Broderick: (laughs) No, she likes me to have my other life, my dark gay showbiz life. No, she's not jealous of Nathan, I don't think.
And what about Max and Leo, do they have a gay relationship?
Matthew Broderick: No, I don't think so, personally. No, I mean they're men, they have the same sex.
When you heard about this film were you excited? How did you approach it differently from the stage?
Nathan Lane: Well Mel first mentioned it while we were recording the cast album, even though we don't say that any more; I joked with him and said Danny DeVito and Ben Stiller will be great in the parts. It's unusual for the person who originated the part on stage to do it on film, and so I was very grateful and thrilled to be able to do that, because it's a great part, and great parts are hard to come by. The major difference is that there's no audience, and you have to let go of that, because it's a very audience driven show. And it's just going back to basics, as you would with any movie. Obviously there's a familiarity with the material and a comfortable feeling of you know this character very well.
What's your take on Mel Brooks' unique humor, and did he ever give you advice on playing this role?
Matthew Broderick: He gave a lot of advice, he was very specific sometimes about jokes, don't take that pause, or do take a pause here. But at the same time, he's very interested in you doing whatever you feel like, but if he has an idea he'll tell you and be very straightforward about it. So I always want to hear what he says and that was one of the great things about this job, was just getting to know him and work with him. I remember early on in rehearsal we were working on a bit where Nathan and I walk through a door, we're off to go raise the money to go meet Will Ferrell in the movie. But we go through the bad Oscar in the play, we go through our office door and we do that whole gag where you're – you both go at the same time, after you, after you, and then like a cartoon. And we were working on different versions of that, and then Mel was very specific – ‘Try doing it, you take a little hesitation, and he opens the door, you go,' so we did it and everybody liked that better. I caught his eye, he was on the other side of the table at rehearsal, and all of a sudden, ‘Matthew, Matthew,' and I looked up at him and he said, ‘stinks.' I put my thumbs in an upward – yeah.
Nathan Lane: Mel's sense of humor has influenced generations; he's a comic genius and an adorable human being, and I'm very glad we came into each other's lives. He's one of a kind, there's nobody like Mel Brooks. We all as kids, I went to see the movies, and listened to the 2000 year old man, and he was a huge influence and a hero. So to get to work with him was extraordinary, and for him to say I met him - we had met once before, he and Anne [Bancroft] had come to see me in a play, and then I was on a vacation. I was on vacation and I got in the pool, and the two people in the pool were Anne and Mel. We chatted, and then she went upstairs, and he said to me ‘You know, I'm working on a musical of The Producers, I think you're the only person to play Max Bialystock.' It was sort of like a dream, it doesn't seem real, you just kind of go ‘Oh, well that would be great, that would be an honor,' and then a couple of years later it happened.
How is your rehearsal process? How do you build your character?
Matthew Broderick: Well, Nathan kind of comes already – he does a lot of his work before he starts rehearsal, and I don't. I do, I read it a lot, and I think a lot, but I don't really like to set things very early and I like to just kind of go as slow as possible. With Leo Bloom, I found it grew a lot actually in front of an audience and also in Chicago, it developed a lot, because I think with all the dancing to learn and all the singing, just to get all the groundwork took me quite a while, and then you have to relax, and then you start getting the ideas; better ideas come after that, for me.
Stage and film are such different types of acting; how have you been able to accomplish both?
Matthew Broderick: Well it just happened because I did a play and then a movie, and I got jobs in both at once, I had big success on Broadway and War Games and Brighton Beach were out at the same time, so I was all of the sudden both. I just kept doing both and I don't know if I hope I still can, I don't think of them very differently; the process is different. There's almost no rehearsal in film, you don't really rehearse at all so maybe that's why I like – I like a looseness, which is very good in film; I think it's best to not prepare too much. Film seems to work best when you're sort of being surprised, when it's not too worked on. But I like doing both, and I don't know exactly what the difference is, or why I can, I'm just glad I can.
Nathan Lane: The difference is really that you're lip synching; there was some live singing, but they used very little of it, and it was only here or there, a line or two, but essentially that had to be lip synched. So obviously it's not as strenuous as doing it eight times a week in a theatre. But again, you're doing it in bits and pieces, and you don't have the freedom you have when you're on stage, whatever the pre record was, those are the rhythms you have to stick to, and lip synching is a whole art unto itself. They used to have lip synching classes at MGM; it's a whole thing, and there's someone monitoring your lips. Yeah, it's just a man in a cell, for four minutes, so how do you make that interesting? So they're getting a lot of different angles so in that sense it's not that different, it's just a lot of different set ups and trying to maintain the energy of what's going on. But that's the major difference. You can't really preserve a stage performance, because those things they film for the Lincoln Center archives, it always looks terrible. A video taped stage performance is just - it's never gonna be the same as it is if you're sitting there live in the theatre; I don't really think about posterity that much. Yes, it's true, that nature of the theatre is it lives on in people's memories and then it's gone.
Matthew Broderick: Yeah, that's really what's most fun about a play, is you really have a feeling of living the whole guy, every night. And that's great fun, and there's nobody editing, it's just you communicating with the audience and the other actors. It's a great feeling of achievement at the end, whereas on a film most days, you say ‘Oh G-d, I hope I got something, I hope one of those takes was good, this is depressing and there's so much traffic and I'm in the car again. What time is tomorrow, can't I come a little later, please?' You never get the big ‘Well, let's go to Joe Allen's and have a martini and celebrate.' You don't get that much in films.
Did you gain any insights on its popularity from seeing it as an audience member?
Nathan Lane: I never like seeing myself on screen.
Matthew Broderick: I'm telling you, it was the strangest experience sitting there watching the movie, I don't feel like I was able to really see it. I don't know why it's so popular, some people said it's the silliness of it, and that it was politically incorrect at that time, was a joy for people, to see a musical that was just entertaining, wasn't really meant to – you know, it wasn't Les Mis or anything fake – not fake, excuse me, it wasn't operatic, it was an old fashioned musical comedy. And there's just something great about the story of these two guys.
Is there anyone you would like to work with in a similar-type pairing?
Nathan Lane: In terms of an actor, there's tons; anyone who's good! Phil Hoffman, he's great, yeah; you just want to work with good people.
Do you have a list of movie actresses you want to kiss, and did it have anything to do with Uma Thurman getting cast?
Matthew Broderick: (laughs) No, I didn't have too much say in it. You know, I did it with Katie Huffman for a year on Broadway, and loved her, she was a huge part of the show, so was always – it was an adjustment to even think that it was gonna be somebody else. But then for a while it was Nicole [Kidman], who I had just worked with and who's lovely and would've been great, so I was very happy with that. Then they just said now we're gonna – I think they just went then right to Uma and she said yes, instantly. And I think they asked me, but I love Uma Thurman and I think she's terrific in the movie, it was a real pleasure to learn those dances with her; we spent weeks together. She's a joy, she's so original, a unique person, talented.
You can check out The Producers on the big screen in limited theaters December 16th, nationwide December 23rd; it's rated PG-13. You can also see Nathan and Matthew on Broadway in The Odd Couple.
Stay tuned to MovieWeb for our exclusive one on one's with Director Susan Stroman and star Gary Beach.