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December 2005
The Producers: An Interview with Matthew Broderick

The Producers: An Interview with Matthew Broderick

By Wilson Morales

In a year when musicals are making a splash on the big screen with the recent release of "Rent", here comes another Tony award winning production to the big screen. Just like the producers of Rent did, the original Broadway team of Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane will reprise their stage roles of Leo Bloom and Max Bialystock respectively in Mel Brooks's The Producers. Broderick hasn't been seen on the screen since being featured in the critically acclaimed films, You Can Count on Me and Election. Currently starring opposite Lane again on Broadway in "The Odd Couple", Broderick spoke to blackfilm.com about working with Lane and what makes their chemistry work as well as give some insight into his character.

When did you meet Nathan? And he said you guys never go to bed angry, what's your take on that?

Matthew Broderick: I met him? How did I meet him? I don't even remember. He said we met in the street in the '80s once, but that I don't remember. My comment on our sex life [laughs], yeah well you know, we made that joke a lot yesterday. 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, suddenly. Not as long as it is in people's minds, we've done two plays. People think it's been a whole career in Vaudeville or something, but it's not, it actually didn't happen.

Two plays and the movie.

Broderick: Well yeah, you're right, the movie of the play.

There's been a re-energizing of your career, how do you account for that? Why did this show hit such a chord at that time?

Broderick: You know, I don't know. Some things do and some don't? It's a good question, but I don't really know why. 'The Producers' just from the minute we started doing it, the audience was like yeah, more. That's what we want, just the second we started in Chicago, audiences loved it, they loved even jokes that weren't very good, they were like fine, that doesn't matter, it's okay. It was longer in Chicago, and we shortened it, but even when it was too long, they were like I don't care, they didn't care. And then it was just one of those jobs. I got the job and so did Nathan [Lane] because we weren't quite as washed up as you might think before 'The Producers.' I was working pretty steadily right up to 'The Producers.'

But this dynamic duo that was thrown together, do you feel that's true?

Broderick: Well I don't know, you know, it's true in 'The Producers' and 'The Odd Couple.' Yeah, if it is, great, I mean I love working with him, and I hope to keep doing it.

What's your take on Mel Brooks' unique humor? And did he ever give you advice on playing this role?

Broderick: He gave a lot of advice, he was very specific sometimes about jokes, you know, 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. And he said once, he said if I give you advice about comedy, or anybody, I'm one of the few people in the world who it's true, he's like, I'm Mel Brooks, so I do know about that stuff. And it's true. 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, but we go through our office door and we do that whole gag where you'reŠYou 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 they were like yeah that seems better. And everybody was like that seems better, and then I caught his eye, he was on the other side of the table at rehearsal, and all the sudden, Matthew, Matthew, and I looked up at him and he said, stinks. Which I guess won't translate to the newspapers, or the radio. I put my thumbs in an upward?

Do you have a list of movie actresses you want to kiss? Did it have anything to do with Uma getting cast?

Broderick: [laughs] No, I didn't have too much say in it. You know, I did it with Cady Huffman for a year on Broadway, and loved her;she was like a huge part of the show. 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. And then they just said now we're gonna get someone else. I think they just went then right to Uma [Thurman] and she said yes, like 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 and talented.

You've taken stage roles to film before. Is this a bittersweet thing to say goodbye to? Are you and Sarah taking bets on whose movie will do better?

Broderick: You know, it's bittersweet I guess with Leo Bloom because I did do it twice, and I think this probably does mean that's it. But you have to do that at some point with roles anyway. 'Biloxi Blues' is the other one I did, and I played that part twice, in 'Brighton Beach Memoirs' and 'Biloxi Blues' and it was great for me to get an opportunity to do it on film, because I didn't get to do the movie of 'Brighton Beach,' so I was so happy to get that chance, and Mike Nichols directed it, which was great. The film is very different from the play. In this case, it's a little more like, this is very much like the play. The script is almost exactly the same. So this, it was hard to not feel like you were sort of documenting the play. But I tried to look at it as a new thing, because I just think a movie should stand on its own. I remember when we were first doing the play, the musical, and the jokes that worked in the original movie didn't work sometimes. All that matters is does it work in this version of the play? Doesn't really matter what worked before.

What about the home front competition?

Have you seen her movie?

Broderick: Yes I have.

It's not a very sympathetic part.

Broderick: Yeah, well that's good. Yeah no, it is, it ends up sympathetic, but she's great in it. I love that movie, too.

So what about the jokes that Sarah Jessica is jealous of your relationship with Nathan?

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?

Broderick: No, I don't think so, personally. No. I mean they're men. They have the same sex.

How is your rehearsal process? How do you build your character?

Broderick: Well I'm probably less, you know, Nathan is very 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?

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. And I just kept doing both. And I don't know if I hope I still can, I don't think of them very differently, I mean, the process is different. There's almost no rehearsal in film, you don't really rehearse at all. 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.

Doing the whole story straight through and braving it out.

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. And it's a great feeling of achievement at the end. Whereas a film most days, you say oh god 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.

Playing Jewish characters, did you draw on your own experiences?

Broderick: I suppose so. I mean, yeah. My mom was Jewish, so some would call me Jewish. My background is very much that style of writing, Neil Simon and Mel Brooks, and 'Your Show of Show' guys are what I grew up loving. So, I probably drew on my New York background and my Jewish background for that, sure.

What was your reaction to the characters of Roger and Carmen if you step out of the production as an audience member?

Broderick: Um. Well I'm not sure I can step out, so [laughs] it's hard, I'm very un-objective about it. You mean Gary Beach and Roger Bart, yeah. I think they're amazingly hilariously good in the movie, I just thought they were great. And Roger Bart is a really close friend of mine, too, so, I was very happy for him and I was very impressed that he could cross his eyes for that long. And I think Gary singing 'Springtime for Hitler' is just fantastic. And I also think it's so nice to see a real powerful singer at that point, because he really has that gift.

But the outrageous factor, do they steal too much from your movie?

Broderick: Well why don't you answer it then? [laughs] Stealing from me and Nathan? No, no, that's their job. I think those parts should steal the movie, that's what you want, and they basically do. I thought they did great, I love them. But feel free to make it whatever you want. [laughs]

Did you gain any insights on its popularity from seeing it as an audience member?

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. It wasn't really meant to.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. I don't know what it is, but it worked great in the original movie, and then people ate it up, and I wish I had a better answer. I don't know why, but they really did.

Doing singing and dancing and comedy is a big act. This is a real turn for you; how hard or easy was it for you? You didn't mean to end up as a song and dance man originally.

Broderick: No I sure didn't. I don't know how it happened [laughs]. I did 'How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.' And I learned to sing for that, I went to a really wonderful teacher, an old teacher, and I just worked really hard. It doesn't come all that easily to me, and I didn't grow up with it. But I can sing, like I can keep a tune very well, which is sort of all you need in a way, and then the rest you can learn. And dancing, since I didn't start as a kid, I can't really like tap properly, and there's a lot I can't do. And dancing I just really love, not to give myself a pat on the back, but I worked very hard, like I tired out the people teaching me, because I'm very slow to get steps, but I am relentless. So I keep at it, and I love watching dancers, I've always loved them, I like being around them, I love dance. I'm ashamed to say for some reason [laughs], but I do.

How did you approach making this role your own? Any changes you brought, different from Gene Wilder's?

Broderick: Well, I was always worried about that, because I love Gene Wilder so much, and particularly in that I shouldn't say that, I like him in everything, but I can't get his performance out of my head; there's no way, and I remember when we started I told Susan Stroman, I was like I don't even know how to do this, because I can close my eyes and basically watch the whole movie. And she said, well once you do it over and over again it'll just drift toward you, hopefully. And that's kind of hopefully what did happen, it just piece by piece, you get your own ideas. Basically I started just with his stuff. And a lot of it is really just lifted right from him. But I think that's like the script, I didn't write the script either, so I'm basing it on words somebody wrote, and a lot of the performance is based on him too, and I hope that is okay. But then I just over time started to get more of my own ideas, and get more of myself into the part, and hopefully that stayed when we went into the movie.

What next after 'the odd couple?'

Broderick: I don't really know. I don't know for sure.

Don't you have a Lonergan film?

Broderick: Yes, that's finished shooting, and then I have a [Kenneth] Lonergan play next year too.

THE PRODUCERS Opens in Limited Release on December 16th with a wider release on December 23rd


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