Up next: He continues on Broadway in “The Odd Couple,” with Matthew Broderick.
It wasn’t exactly like Nathan Lane had to research the part.
Since opening on Broadway in April 2001, with Matthew Broderick as his co-lead, Lane has played Max Bialystock thousands of times, for both Gotham auds and in London, where he began a West End run on just a few days’ notice.
But with “The Producers” coming to the bigscreen — after originating there with Zero Mostel in the role in 1968 — Lane’s oafish and greedy Bialystock now will be seen by more people after just a few weeks of the pic’s run than in all those live perfs combined.
Lane’s career is filled with both stage and film projects. He was nominated for a Tony for a revival of “Guys and Dolls” before winning for “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and “The Producers.” His movies include “Ironweed,” “Frankie and Johnny” and his best-known pic, “The Birdcage,” for which he was a Golden Globe nominee.
Even with that experience in both mediums — and knowing every nook and cranny of Bialystock’s being — there was still some apprehension about transferring “Producers” from stage to screen.
“We were so used to an audience being there, and they can be an active part of the process with a certain rhythm,” Lane says. “But you have to let go of that. To go back to what it is your character wants and needs.”
Susan Stroman, who won Tonys for directing and choreographing “The Producers” onstage but was helming her first feature film, says it helped tremendously that Lane and Broderick — along with supporting players Gary Beach and Roger Bart — were so familiar with their characters.
“Matthew and Nathan are natural stage actors, and they’re also natural on film,” she says. “They know what it’s like to perform for 1,500 people and they know what it’s like to perform for one camera.”
Lane says acting for Stroman, with whom the cast already had a rapport, helped raise the comfort factor on the set.
“She really … was tremendously prepared,” he explains. “She did a lot of homework and came in really in charge, knowing what she wanted to do. And, in many ways, she was teaching the film people how to do a musical.”