Steve Carell and company offer some intelligent insight into their latest action comedy
In 1965, Mel Brooks and Buck Henry joined forces to forge one of the greatest sitcoms of its time with Get Smart! The show revolved around Maxwell Smart, aka Control Agent 86, as he and his partner, the beautiful and dangerous Agent 99, worked to battle the evil forces of KAOS and save the world time after time. Now, more than thirty years later, director Peter Segel has resurrected the show in the form of a big screen outing, which stars Steve Carell as Max and Anne Hathaway as Agent 99. Rounding out the cast are Dwayne Johnson, Alan Arkin, and the great Terrance Stamp.
This fine ensemble recently gathered in Los Angeles to recount their time spent on the set and to regale us with intellectual bon mots, all in a means to help us Get Smart. Here is that wonderful conversation:
Did you guys watch the original TV show before diving head first into this endeavor?
Steve Carell: I steered clear of it. I didn't want to do an impression of Don Adams. I figured there was no way to improve upon what he had done. I thought the more I watched him, the more I would be inclined to do an impersonation. He was so good and so definitive in that role. I sort of backed away from it.
Alan Arkin: I made the choice thirty years ago not to watch the show. For me, it was easy. I had no problem making this character my own.
Anne Hathaway: I actually grew up watching the show on "Nick at Nite". I used to love it, so it was really fun to revisit that. I was one of the last people cast, so I missed the whole collaboration of it. The: "This is the movie we're making" part of it. I wanted to make sure that I understood what tone we were trying to achieve. I think we've managed to have that silly, sweet, yet sophisticated feel that the original series had.
Dwayne Johnson: I watched the show when I was a kid. I was a big fan of the show. I would have loved to have met Mel Brooks and Buck Henry. I was a big fan of the original, but I didn't get a chance to meet those guys. When they first approached me with the idea, I thought, "Uh-oh, here we go. They're messing with something that's great." You've got to be careful. But the material was great. All the elements came together. It was a director who I wanted to work with for some time. I really enjoyed Pete's work in the past. And I love Carell, of course. Then Anne Hathaway came on and the great Alan Arkin signed on to it. It all kind of fell together. And it was wonderful.
Dwayne and Anne, you both got to kiss Steve in this film. What was that experience like?
Dwayne Johnson: It was like warm apple pie with cold ice cream. You tend to find that balance where you're saying, "Oooh, uhh!" It was great, it was great. Not too many men can say that they've had a nice big lip lock with Steve Carell. The lengths I go to as a committed actor! Jack Gyllenhaal did it, Will Smith did it. I thought it was my turn to kiss a man.
Anne Hathaway: Making out with him is like the yummiest lollipop. Dipped in sunshine. Wrapped around this masculine wrapper. That's the only way I can describe it.
Anne, weren't you sick that day?
Anne Hathaway: Okay, you've got to hear this. There was a health scare last year. A certain contact solution, I won't say the name of it, was used, and it gave you conjunctivitis. I had a sinus infection at the same time. I had to go up to Steve, my eye is red, puffy and dripping green. I am just snotty and I'm like, "Come here." The worst thing was we didn't know that I had conjunctivitis at the time. I had to call our producer Alex Gartner that night and say, "Yeah, you might want to call Steve and let him know I had pinkeye and my tears kind of got in my mouth so he might want to worry about that." It was very glamorous and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.
Did you end up getting pink eye, Steve?
Steve Carell: No, I didn't.
Steve, in the film you dance with a rather large lady. What were the challenges of that?
Steve Carell: The challenge was hers. She's a fantastic dancer and I am not. I think the inherent challenge was to try to and make me look good.
Terrence, what attracted you to your role?
Terrence Stamp: I'm rather flattered that I got approached about doing some funny stuff. I didn't know about Get Smart. I didn't ever see it. When I went in to meet the production team, it was just like a chat. I hadn't seen the script. I didn't know anything about it. And then when it got serious, I did a bit of research into it. I thought it was one of those characters that I could do something with. He is somebody that is rather pretentious and looks down his nose at absolutely everybody. I thought I could have fun with that. It was just such a great troupe really. It was such a great team of people. I did have a lot of fun doing it. Even though I have to make a fool of myself, which I don't like.
Did you guys ever find it difficult to blend and meld the comedy and action genres together?
Peter Segal: Not at all. Once Steve signed onto this project, everything fell into place. Everybody wanted to come and play. The tone that we set out to make was something Steve and I referred to as a comedic The Bourne Supremacy. We went after the people who make those kinds of movies. We went after as primo a cast behind the scenes as we had in front of the cameras. We always knew what kind of tone we were trying to set.
How much ab-libbing was there on set?
Dwayne Johnson: We were all funny in our way. Merging all of us together on the set was great. We all learned from each other. All the dynamics really meshed together well. We just had a great time. It was like being around your favorite professor or your favorite family member, and they are always telling you great stories. Alan in particular. He was very gracious, not only with his comedy but with his time. Especially with me.
Steve Carell: I can safely say that I improvised every single thing that you see in the movie. No. It is a mix. We stuck to the script, but there were options to play. We would come up with alternative takes because you never know what will work. So we tried to give ourselves some options.
Alan Arkin: I like to improvise. It's my training, it's my love. But on this script, I can honestly say I improvised only one word.
Anne Hathaway: Do you remember that word?
Alan Arkin: Yeah, it was nuclear. That was my one contribution. I was not only bowled over by what Matt Ember and Tom J. Astle did, but the development from draft to draft was really amazing. These guys put in a forty-hour workweek. They go to work at nine and stop at five. I couldn't believe that. I never knew a writer that did that, except to take a drink once in a while. These guys don't seem to do that.
Is it hard not to break during a scene?
Steve Carell: There is a lot of editing to cut out all the times where I'm laughing hysterically. That's the long and short of it. I try not to laugh when someone else is doing their thing. If you laugh and ruin someone else's take, if somebody's doing something inspired or incredibly funny, it's a gift. To take that away by laughing and ruining it, I think that's a cardinal sin. There are some times you just can't help yourself. There's a scene in the movie when Alan is trying to pronounce a name at the "Cone of Silence" sequence. The scene probably took five times longer than it should have because I couldn't control myself. I took that gift from Alan. That killed me.
Anne Hathaway: That's really funny. I break all the time with Steve. Most of my scenes were with Steve. When he finally broke, it was such sweet vindication for me.
Alan Arkin: I'm actually laughing in the movie. There's a shot of me where I'm laughing at Steve in the movie. I was humiliated beyond my wildest hopes.
Get Smart opens this Friday, June 20th, 2008.