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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

It started as a movie about a play with one big musical number. Then about 30 years later it became a Broadway musical about a Broadway musical, and starting tomorrow "The Producers" is a movie musical about a Broadway musical. All three versions bear the indelible stamp of Mel Brooks. The last two starred Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick in the role of Max Bialystock, the irrepressible impresario, and Leopold Bloom, the neurotic accountant who conspired to make millions by producing the biggest flop in the history of show business. But first, they have to find their play.

(Soundbite of "The Producers")

Mr. MATTHEW BRODERICK: (As Leo Bloom) Max, I'm reading plays that I read last night, Max. I can't go on anymore. It's too much. Let's face it, we'll never find it.

Mr. NATHAN LANE: (As Max Bialystock) (Laughs) We'll never find it. We'll never find it. We'll never find it.

Mr. BRODERICK: (As Leo Bloom) OK.

Mr. LANE: (As Max Bialystock) We'll never find it. Leo. Leo, see it, smell it, touch it, kiss it. Kiss it.

(Soundbite of kiss)

Mr. LANE: It's the mother lode.

Mr. BRODERICK: (As Leo Bloom) What is it? You found the flop?

Mr. LANE: (As Max Bialystock) A flop. That's putting it mildly. This is a catastrophe, a disaster certain to offend peoples of all races, creeds and religions, a `guaranteed to close in one night' beauty.

Mr. BRODERICK: (As Leo Bloom) Well, let's see it.

(Soundbite of pages being turned)

Mr. BRODERICK: (As Leo Bloom) "Springtime for Hitler," a gay romp with Eva and Adolf at Berschtesgarten. Oh, my God.

Mr. LANE: (As Max Bialystock) Oh, my God, is right. It's practically a love letter to Hitler. (Laughs)

Mr. BRODERICK: (As Leo Bloom) Max, this will run a week.

Mr. LANE: (As Max Bialystock) A week! Are you kidding? This play has got to close on page four.

CONAN: Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick join us for the remainder of this hour. If you have questions for them about "The Producers" or about their previously distinguished careers, give us a call at (800) 989-8255. That's (800) 989-TALK. Our e-mail address is totn@npr.org.

And, first of all, thank you both for being with us today.

Mr. LANE: Oh, thank you for having us.

Mr. BRODERICK: Thank you.

CONAN: After finishing the movie such a long time ago, do you get nervous waiting for the reviews that will be out in the papers tomorrow?

Mr. LANE: (Laughs) Funny you should say that. Well, sure, you always--you hope that people enjoy what you've done, and no matter how long it was--well, it doesn't seem that long. But, yeah, it's--certainly you--especially with a big movie musical and you want some support, so--to get people into the theaters and--yeah, sure, we're all a little nervous.

CONAN: Yeah. But you guys are now on Broadway in "The Odd Couple." I don't know which one plays which one. But, anyway, the...

Mr. LANE: I play Oscar. He plays...

CONAN: Oh, no. No! Really, I'm shocked. But are you going to go to Sardi's after the show tonight and read the reviews? Do people do that anymore?

Mr. BRODERICK: Some people. My fami--my wife has a movie, as it happens, opening tomorrow as well and...

Mr. LANE: Things could get ugly.

Mr. BRODERICK: Yes. But we've actually banned--no newspapers tomorrow.

CONAN: No newspapers.

Mr. BRODERICK: That's our way...

Mr. LANE: Yes. I think that's a healthy thing.

CONAN: Uh-huh. Sarah Jessica Parker, your wife, plays, as I understand it, a person who's wound really, really tight.

Mr. BRODERICK: Yes.

CONAN: And you play a character who carries a piece of his baby blanket in his pocket.

Mr. BRODERICK: Yes.

CONAN: What's home life like?

Mr. BRODERICK: (Laughs) Yeah, we're both extremely neurotic and wound very tight, and we have a lot of blankets in every nook and cranny of the home.

CONAN: I do have to ask you if you were afraid of comparisons to the two people who originated these roles in the original 1968 movie "The Producers," the great Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. And I'm going to play a tape. This is, in fact, that same scene that we just a little bit heard before...

Mr. LANE: Oh, thanks a lot.

CONAN: You're welcome. And now here's the same parts played by Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder.

(Soundbite of "The Producers")

Mr. ZERO MOSTEL: (As Max Bialystock) Leo, smell it, see it, touch it. Touch it.

Mr. GENE WILDER: (As Leo Bloom) What is it?

Mr. MOSTEL: (As Max Bialystock) What is it? We've struck gold, not fool's gold but real gold, the mother lode, the mother lode, the mother of them all. Kiss it. Kiss it.

(Soundbite of kissing0

Mr. WILDER: (As Leo Bloom) You found a flop.

Mr. MOSTEL: (As Max Bialystock) A flop. That's putting it mildly. We found a disaster, a catastrophe, an outrage, a `guaranteed to close in one night' beauty.

Mr. WILDER: (As Leo Bloom) Let's see it.

Mr. MOSTEL: This is freedom for one, forever. This is a house in the country. This is a Rolls-Royce and a Bentley. This is wine, women and song and women.

Mr. WILDER: (As Leo Bloom) "Springtime for Hitler," a gay romp with Adolf and Eva at Berschtesgarten. Wow.

Mr. MOSTEL: (As Max Bialystock) Wow. It's practically a love letter to Hitler.

Mr. WILDER: (As Leo Bloom) This won't run a week.

Mr. MOSTEL: (As Max Bialystock) A week! Are you kidding? This play has got to close on page four.

CONAN: That's from the original movie.

And I have to ask--I mean, obviously the dialogue is just about the same. Did you--do you end up trying to channel those characters or--did you get away from them? How do you deal with this?

Mr. LANE: Well, it's been a part of the whole process from the very beginning and--because when we started the show, I mean, that was the--you were standing in those shadows and...

CONAN: Sure.

Mr. LANE: But, you know, there's enough new material in the play that it eventually starts to become your own. And, I mean, certainly it was written with Zero in mind, and then he also had seen Gene in--he was in "Mother Courage" with Anne Bancroft. And he had told him years before, `I'm writing this thing, and there's a part for you in it.' So he knew that--what those two people did and crafted it around them, really. And so, you know, look, you have to honor the material. You know, at times you have to reach sort of operatic heights, and Zero and Gene were not afraid to go to that place. And so, you know, you're sort of carrying on that tradition and--but ultimately you have to--you know, you wouldn't want to get out of bed in the morning if you thought about that all the time. Eventually you have to, you know, trust your own instincts and--but certainly, you know, they were a huge influence.

CONAN: Sure. Matthew Broderick, when Mel Brooks approached you to do the Broadway show, did you think of yourself as, `Gee, suddenly I'm a Gene Wilder type'?

Mr. BRODERICK: Yeah. I mean, I was just so thrilled to even, you know, have a chat with Mel Brooks; it was so exciting. So I remember our first meeting, I was just so happy just to actually be in a room with him. And then that--you know, of course, both Nathan and I--I mean, I can pretty much close my eyes and watch that whole movie if I feel like it, the original and "Young Frankenstein," "Blazing Saddles." And I've always loved Gene Wilder.

So my first thing was, you know, how do I just not hear his voice in my head all the time when I'm doing this material. But it--you know, I think I definitely--it's sort of like, you know, I am playing him in a way. I had to let him in. And at the same time stuff that didn't work on stage or seem as funny as it did in the movie, Mel--and, you know, we would gradually not do. We would cut it, and it gradually did grow toward me and Nathan as we kept repeating it and working on it in Chicago and New York. You know, what suited us stayed and what didn't, you know, went away.

CONAN: We want to give listeners an opportunity to ask questions. So (800) 989-8255 is the phone number. E-mail address is totn@npr.org.

And we'll start with Elizabeth. Elizabeth calling us from St. Louis.

ELIZABETH (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi.

ELIZABETH: I just wanted to say, first of all, I'm so excited to talk to you guys. I'm such a big fan. But...

Mr. BRODERICK: Thank you.

Mr. LANE: Thank you.

ELIZABETH: ...I was wondering since Mel Brooks directed the first movie, how involved he was with this one.

Mr. LANE: Well, he was there as a producer. He and--and he also wrote the screenplay with Tom Meehan based on the stage show. But, you know, he was there as much as he could be.

CONAN: His wife was ill.

Mr. BRODERICK: Yeah.

Mr. LANE: Yes. Anne was very, very ill, and so that really became the priority, obviously. And so it was--I mean, there were times, you know, in many ways he would come for an hour or so, and I think it was, you know--it was--he enjoyed just coming just as a distraction for a couple of hours. But essentially that's what he was dealing with, so he couldn't be there every day.

ELIZABETH: Mm-hmm. Well, thank you so much.

Mr. LANE: Sure.

CONAN: Elizabeth, thanks for the call.

ELIZABETH: Thank you.

CONAN: And let's see if we can get another caller in. This is Mark. Mark calling from Nashville, Tennessee.

MARK (Caller): Hi.

Mr. BRODERICK: Hello.

Mr. LANE: Hello.

MARK: I just wanted to say thank you. First of all, my girlfriend and I--our first date was seeing the Broadway production of "The Producers," so thank you for that.

Mr. BRODERICK: Oh, wow.

CONAN: And their children are now in college, I think.

MARK: Yeah. Well...

Mr. LANE: Children, Max and Leo.

MARK: ...we're still together, so that's a miracle in and of itself.

Mr. BRODERICK: Yeah.

MARK: But I wanted to know whose decision it was to cast Will Ferrell. That's a hilarious choice for the movie.

Mr. BRODERICK: My understan--was it Mel? I think...

Mr. LANE: I think so.

Mr. BRODERICK: The first I heard it was from Mel. You know, Mel, in being a producer, was very--yeah, right away, all the casting, I think, went through Mel, and I believe that one was his--it was his idea.

CONAN: Let's listen. We happen to have a clip right here of Will Ferrell as Franz Liebkind, the German author of the play "Springtime for Hitler." Max and Leo just told him that they loved the play and they want to put it on Broadway.

(Soundbite of "The Producers")

Mr. WILL FERRELL: (As Franz Liebkind) You know, not many people knows this, but the fuhrer was a terrific dancer.

Mr. BRODERICK: (As Leo Bloom) Really?

Mr. LANE: (As Max Bialystock) Gee, we didn't know that, did we, Leo?

Mr. BRODERICK: (As Leo Bloom) No. No, we sure didn't.

Mr. FERRELL: (As Franz Liebkind) That's because you were taken in by the BBC! Filthy British lies! But do they ever say a bad word about Mr. Churchill? Churchill, eugh, with his cigars and his brandy and his rotten paintings! Rotten! Hitler, there was a painter. He could paint an entire apartment in one afternoon, two coats.

CONAN: Will Ferrell as Franz Liebkind in "The Producers."

You know, if we didn't have you guys in the studio, we could just play the soundtrack of this movie. It's really good. Mark, did that live up to your expectations?

MARK: It will every time.

CONAN: OK. Thanks very much for the phone call.

MARK: Bye-bye.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

Mr. BRODERICK: Bye.

CONAN: And let's try Laura now. Laura in San Jose, California.

LAURA (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi.

LAURA: Hi. My question was--again, it's kind of about Will Ferrell and Uma Thurman. I was just wondering how they fit in with the rest of the cast since I understand, you know, it was Roger Bart and Gary Beach and you guys from the show. It was like: How did they fit in? Did they have any, like, different, like, filming techniques, you know, as opposed to going with the show, like in a stage show way if that makes sense?

Mr. BRODERICK: It does. And I think it was kind of probably a good thing and refreshing to have some people who hadn't done the show so much who could just come at it, you know, from--as a brand-new thing. And it probably was helpful to us and our performances.

CONAN: Because you guys had been doing this for--What?--almost six years.

Mr. BRODERICK: Yeah. No.

Mr. LANE: Well...

CONAN: Well, on and off.

Mr. LANE: No, we did it...

Mr. BRODERICK: It may have felt like that.

Mr. LANE: We did it for a year on Broadway, and then we went back a couple of years later...

CONAN: I see.

Mr. LANE: ...for three months.

CONAN: I see. I apologize.

Mr. LANE: And then I had done it in London for a couple of months as well.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Command performance, I think.

Mr. LANE: Well, I kind of went over at the last minute to open the show there just to help out because they were having some troubles.

Mr. BRODERICK: But anyway, I think it hel--you know, it was nice to have some--although much as I also miss the, you know, Cady Huffman and Brad Oscar who are such a big part of our little family, you know, but I think it was very nice to have new--some new blood, and they both did so wonderfully.

CONAN: Laura, thanks very much.

LAURA: Thank you.

CONAN: We're talking with Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane, the stars of "The Producers." The movie version opens tomorrow in some cities; elsewhere by the end of the month. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And, Nathan Lane, you just mentioned going over to London to do the show. Did "Springtime for Hitler" go over as well in London as it did in New York?

Mr. LANE: Yes. I mean there was some concern that would the show play as well as it had in New York, and it was just as big a hit there, and what was--it was funny because the--one of the highlights for the British audiences was the character of Franz Liebkind, and every time he came on they just went crazy. They just loved all of that stuff. The gay stuff, you know, two men and--a man in a dress was not that--not such big news for the British...

CONAN: I suspect not.

Mr. LANE: ...but Franz was a big hit.

CONAN: The--in a way, the whole film revolves, for me, around--the original and your remake--that take scene where you cut first to the audience as they're watching "Springtime for Hitler" and their jaws are in their laps.

Mr. BRODERICK: Yeah.

CONAN: It's a great shot.

Mr. LANE: Yeah.

Mr. BRODERICK: I know it's--that's a cla--something, also, that can't happen in the play.

CONAN: Yeah.

Mr. BRODERICK: Which is funny, when we first read the play it was always like, `How can you do--tell this story without that shot of a stunned audience with their mouths hanging open?' It's just such an iconic--it's just--it's what the whole movie is. But turns out in the play you actually don't even need it.

CONAN: Huh. All right.

Mr. BRODERICK: It's strange.

CONAN: Let's get another caller in--Patty. Patty calling us from DeKalb, Illinois.

PATTY (Caller): Hi. First of all, I'm so excited, I'm in awe that I'm talking to you all. You, too, Neal.

CONAN: Thanks a lot, Patty.

PATTY: The first thing I wanted to say was what a big fan I am of the movies you two have done. Nathan, your physical comedy, when you were in "The Birdcage" and you were trying to act like, quote, unquote, "real man," that just had us on the floor. And, Matthew...

Mr. LANE: Thank you.

PATTY: ...my overall favorite movie is "Glory"...

Mr. BRODERICK: Oh.

PATTY: ...and it's just one of the most powerful movies I've ever seen, and a question I had for you was: What's the difference in preparing for a hilarious comedy like "The Producers" as opposed to something so strong and powerful like "Glory"?

Mr. BRODERICK: Hmm. Well, you know, in an odd way, I don't find them all that different. I mean, getting rea--the preparing. Something like "Glory," the difference is I didn't know about--you know, I had to learn about the period and about--there's all this ba--all this really fun research to do about it. Whereas I'm a little more--you know, I can just drop into, you know, 1958 or whatever. I'm a little more familiar with the period of "The Producers." And then comedies are also different because you get all that feedback that's telling you if it's working or not. You know, it's laughs and--but actually the--making a scene play or not play is sort of the same challenge, and--it seems to me, whether you're in the Civil War or in an office or whatever.

PATTY: Plus...

CONAN: Go ahead, Patty. I'm sorry.

PATTY: Oh, no. That's OK. I was just thinking, plus it probably helps that you had done the play already.

Mr. BRODERICK: Oh, yeah. Definitely.

PATTY: I mean, you don't have to learn your lines so much.

Mr. BRODERICK: That's true. Yes and--no, that's very--we all felt, you know, very comfortable in our--with our words certainly.

PATTY: Yeah.

Mr. BRODERICK: It's a challenge, too, because you don't want to be, you know, tired out or--you know, film is supposed to be very spontaneous, I think it's--in a way, so it's a challenge.

CONAN: Did you have to unlearn anything? I mean obviously there were changes.

Mr. BRODERICK: There were changes in choreography. There weren't very many in dialogue. So the only thing we had to unlearn was to--our reliance, I think, on the audience, you know, and our...

CONAN: And the timing, sure.

Mr. BRODERICK: Taking all our rhythms--yeah, the timing, taking it all from their laughs. We had to unlearn that and find another way to do things.

CONAN: Patty, thanks very much for the call.

PATTY: Thank you. Bye-bye.

CONAN: Our guests are Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane, the stars of "The Producers." If you'd like to join the conversation, our number is (800) 989-8255, (800) 989-TALK. The e-mail address is totn@npr.org. I'm Neal Conan. I'll be back after the break. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington, and here are the headlines from some of the stories we're following here today at NPR News.

Iraqis went to the poll in droves today to vote for parliamentary elections. A strong turnout was reported amongst Sunni Muslims, many of whom boycotted the last election in January.

And the White House and US Senator John McCain have reached agreement on an amendment that would ban torture of detainees in US custody. The White House had threatened to veto any legislation that included the McCain amendment. You can hear details on those stories coming up later today on "All Things Considered" from NPR News.

Tomorrow it's "Science Friday," and guest host Joe Palca will be here to talk about a landmark paper on cloning that was published last summer, and now appears to be full of problems. So how did it get into a major scientific journal? Well, that's all tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION/"Science Friday."

Right now we're talking with Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, co-stars of the Broadway hit and the new film "The Producers." Of course, the film written by Mel Brooks, who brought it to Broadway and supervised the production of it as a movie musical. It also stars Will Ferrell and Uma Thurman as Ulla, the Swedish actress who comes to the producers looking for work.

(Soundbite from "The Producers")

Mr. LANE: (As Max Bialystock) She's in the show!

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRODERICK: (As Leo Bloom) Max, we don't even know if there's a part for her in the show.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANE: (As Max Bialystock) Would you excuse us, my dear?

(Soundbite of kiss)

Mr. LANE: (As Max Bialystock) Nonsense, Bloom! Bloom, do I have to teach you everything? There is always a part in the show for the producer's girlfriend.

Mr. BRODERICK: (As Leo Bloom) Max, we don't even know when we're starting rehearsal yet.

Mr. LANE: (As Max Bialystock) So what? So what? We're producers, aren't we? So until she goes into the show, she can work for us here because we need, nay, deserve to have ourselves...

(Soundbite of footsteps)

Mr. LANE: (As Max Bialystock) (Whispering) Deserve to have ourselves a gorgeous Swedish secretary-slash-receptionist.

Mr. BRODERICK: (As Leo Bloom) Oh, but, Max, a secretary who doesn't speak English? What will people say?

Mr. LANE: (As Max Bialystock) They'll say, `Oh, wa wa wa wa wa wa wa ruff.'

CONAN: Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane are in our bureau in New York. My transcript of that last clip from the movie "The Producers" says, `makes weird mouth noises' there at the end.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRODERICK: That's his specialty.

CONAN: You must have worked for years to get that one exactly right.

Mr. LANE: Yeah. Well, I think Zero says, `We wu wa wa wa.' I used to say in the show, `Ooh wa wa wi wo wa wa wa wa wowie.' Or `Wa wa wa wa mommy,' sometimes. Yes. It's something--it's sort of an open measure.

CONAN: It's one of those, `What would Shakespeare say?' you know.

Mr. LANE: You asked. Oh. Oh, for a muse of fire.

CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. By the way, if you'd like to join us, it's (800) 989-8255. Tucker, Tucker's calling us from Washington, New Jersey.

TUCKER (Caller): Hi. How you doing?

CONAN: Very well, thanks.

TUCKER: Hey, I was a pigeon trainer on the movie, and it--they had the most unbelievable sets for New York. I've never seen so much an elaborate set, and I was wondering if you shot strictly on those sets or if you ended up moving outside at all in the production.

Mr. LANE: Yes, we were the first film in Steiner Studios, which is the old Brooklyn Navy Yard, and the--yeah, they're just terrific and it--Mark, you know, the set designer, Mark Friedberg is it, yes, Matthew? Hello, Matthew? Matthew.

Mr. BRODERICK: Yes.

TUCKER: I believe so.

Mr. BRODERICK: Mike trouble on that one. Mike trouble.

Mr. LANE: Yes, you know, very, very talented young man, and incredible sets. But, yes, we did do location stuff. We went to Central Park and we went for the scene with Roger De Bris, his townhouse was outside the studio. And, of course, we were in Bethesda Fountain.

Mr. BRODERICK: All the inter...

TUCKER: It was very exciting to be able to work with you guys, and I thank you very much for the opportunity.

Mr. BRODERICK: Well, thank you.

Mr. LANE: Thank you.

CONAN: Tucker, how did you get those pigeons to salute like that?

TUCKER: That was up to the Henson brothers.

CONAN: I see.

TUCKER: That was Henson puppets. I just got my pigeon to fly in and out and dance with Will Ferrell.

CONAN: OK. Thanks very much. Congratulations, Tucker. I'm sure you'll be...

TUCKER: All right.

CONAN: ...looking for those in reviews tomorrow.

TUCKER: All right. Bye-bye. Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

And here's an e-mail we got from Michelle in Grand Rapids, Michigan: `I was lucky to see Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane in "The Producers" when it previewed in Chicago before opening on Broadway. I brought along a group of about 15 people, most of whom had never seen musical theater before. Everyone loved it. Our cheeks and sides hurt from laughing so hard and, Matthew, I've loved everything you've ever done. I hope it doesn't bother you to hear that to this day "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" always makes me laugh.' So...

Mr. BRODERICK: That's very nice.

CONAN: Interestingly we had Ben Stein on the show just this week, and so was a "Bueller" reference--two "Bueller" references this past week.

Mr. BRODERICK: Anyone? Yeah.

CONAN: And here's an e-mail from Sarah B. in Tucson, Arizona: `Which did you both like working on more, the movie version or the Broadway version of "The Producers"?'

Mr. BRODERICK: Hmm. Very different experiences.

Mr. LANE: Yeah. Very.

Mr. BRODERICK: Yes. The film you don't really have the same kind of, you know, adrenaline rush and excitement and...

Mr. LANE: Yeah.

Mr. BRODERICK: It's like a draw--it's like a distance run in a way.

Mr. LANE: Yeah, yeah. It was great to--obviously to get to put it on film, but I don't think--at least for me nothing can compare to when people were just discovering the show. Before anyone had talked about it, it was just, you know, us going to Chicago and working on it, and then the audiences coming and just--and loving it. And that whole--the discovery of the show and the audience enjoying it and cheering us on was--those were the most exciting days.

CONAN: And in just multimedia strangeness, as we speak now, you guys are being interviewed on CNN. It's so strange how that can happen?

Mr. LANE: We are?

CONAN: Yeah.

Mr. LANE: How's that going?

CONAN: It's going better.

Mr. LANE: Better than this, yeah.

CONAN: I should hope so.

Mr. LANE: I had a feeling.

Mr. BRODERICK: I feel a little like--I think Captain Kirk was once split into two people and...

Mr. LANE: Oh boy, I remember that.

CONAN: It's hard to imagine the evil Nathan Lane.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANE: Give me a minute.

Mr. BRODERICK: I'm looking at him.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. Mark, Mark from Salt Lake City.

MARK (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi, Mark. You're on the air.

MARK: Thanks for taking my call. I was just wondering, I don't know what the context is for the movie, but did you put it in the original setting of the late '50s, early '60s, or did you ever consider putting it in a contemporary setting and kind of addressing the hypersensitivity about PC language and PC subject matter and, you know, cultural differences and issues that may be more open now and put those jokes and references into the play and movie?

Mr. LANE: Well, the original film came out in '67, I believe, and so--and it's very '60s in the look and feel of it, and when they were putting together the musical on--for Broadway, they decided to push it back to '59. And, of course, they weren't going to use the character of LSD and--which was very '60s, and so, no, there was never--not that I was aware of--any thought of making it contemporary or happening 2001. Also, it is--it's such a--it is a period story. I mean, there aren't--there really aren't producers anymore. The last--like Max Bialystock. David Merrick was sort of the last of that kind of flamboyant breed who, you know, go around and collect money from their angels and--it's a little more corporate these days.

Mr. BRODERICK: Franz Liebkind would also be quite old.

Mr. LANE: Yes, it's true.

Mr. BRODERICK: You know, this guy, this ex-Nazi.

Mr. LANE: That's true.

Mr. BRODERICK: You'd actually just kind of feel bad for him.

Mr. LANE: He would be, you know--yes, yes, that's true. He'd be about 90.

MARK: I hadn't thought of that.

Mr. BRODERICK: Yeah.

Mr. LANE: Yeah, yeah.

Mr. BRODERICK: And I think that the present--I'm sorry.

CONAN: And also--go ahead.

Mr. BRODERICK: Well, no, but it's interesting, 'cause I think it happening when we did the play, it was different than when it came out in the '60s, 'cause all the PC times that we're in, I think people enjoyed being able to just laugh at, you know...

Mr. LANE: Yeah, that's true, you know, and--look, when the original film came out, the--it got very mixed reviews and did not do well financially, and it only became this beloved cult film over the years, and people sort of caught up to Mel. But at the time there were many, you know--New York Times found it vulgar and shallow and offensive and only, you know, kind of a few people, you know, got it.

CONAN: Mark, thanks very much for the call.

MARK: Thank you.

Mr. BRODERICK: Thank you.

CONAN: Here's--along those lines, here's an e-mail from Tim: `I've seen a number of versions of the show, including the one in London. While I certainly enjoy the play, there is still a part of me that finds it offensive to make light of a historic figure still well within living memory. I worry that a generation will grow up thinking Hitler and the Nazis were lightweight figures rather than monumental monsters who set back civilization.' Is that anything you guys thought about at all?

Mr. LANE: Well, I think anyone with reasonable intelligence can see the difference between a musical comedy and, you know, historical footage, and I--you know, I mean, you have to look at how Hitler is used in the context of the show. I mean, it's--you know, the whole point is that they're looking for something that will be a disaster and that would be offensive to people, so I--you know, I think people do put things in context. And, you know, I mean, I understand if someone has lived through that and not being able to see beyond, you know, what--the horror of that situation, but I think, you know, it's--in the context of the show, it's--you know, it's a very funny idea. I mean, I think it's one of the great comic plots of all time.

CONAN: Here's a quick e-mail from Aaron in Woodbury, Minnesota: `Mel Brooks once said the reason he portrays such a vile figure as Hitler in his films was if you can laugh at him, he loses his power and basically we take him down a peg.'

Mr. BRODERICK: Yeah. Well--and Mel Brooks fought in World War II, you know, and he's a Jew and so that's his ta--you know, it's him doing it. It's not someone making light of Hitler who wasn't, you know, horribly affected by him, by the way.

CONAN: We're talking with Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane, the stars of "The Producers." The movie opens in some cities tomorrow, around the rest of the country by the end of the month. If you'd like to listen to previous interviews with "Producers" creator Mel Brooks and watch clips from the film, you can go to our Web site at npr.org. If you'd like to get in on this conversation, you can give us a phone call: (800) 989-8255; that's (800) 989-TALK. And our e-mail address is totn@npr.org.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's see if we can get another caller in. This is Nicole. Nicole calling from Atlanta.

NICOLE (Caller): Hi. Good afternoon. It's such a pleasure to talk to you all today. I'm actually not from Atlanta. I'm from New York, but I'm on a cross-country trip and I'm an NPR junkie when I'm traveling. So I wanted to ask you, you kind of spoke to this a little bit already, so pardon me for being a little repetitive, but I actually have a theater background myself. You gentlemen, coming from such distinguished film careers and making us laugh and cry and all sorts of things, would you speak just a little bit to the experience of being on stage eight shows a week, either with "The Producers" or now back on Broadway together in a different show? Just a little bit about that experience--the highs, the lows, the exhaustion, the thrills--I think just so the audience who isn't privy to see you gentlemen on stage and know what it's like, the hard work behind the scenes.

Mr. LANE: Well, you know, doing "The Producers" eight times a week was--it's like an athletic event. I mean, you really have to take care of yourself and get a lot of rest and--because, you know, it takes over your life. I mean, eight shows a week is--you have one day off a week and--to recuperate and, you know, it's--you've got to protect yourself and--you know? I mean, there's just a huge output of energy and--I mean, you know, nevertheless there's always gonna be some wear and tear or something happens and people get sick and it's--you know, it's just you do your best to protect yourself so you can be there, you know, especially with a show like "The Producers" where people are coming to see you, and that's a lot of pressure. You know, "The Odd Couple," I wouldn't say it's easy--it's easy, but it--compared to "The Producers," it feels like a walk in the park. I--you know, it's been great fun and the audiences, again, have been so enthusiastic that it's just a joy every night.

CONAN: Nicole, thank you.

NICOLE: Thank you so much, gentlemen. Congratulations.

CONAN: And good luck to you.

Mr. LANE: Thank you, Nicole.

NICOLE: Thank you. Bye-bye.

CONAN: Here's an e-mail, this from Scott Robichaud(ph): `Loving the program as usual. Anyway, my questions are, did Mr. Broderick and Mr. Lane have much, if any, opportunity to ad lib in the filming? Mr. Lane seems prone to stray.' I think he's talking about your acting there. `And when recording the voices for their characters in "The Lion King," did your guests actually get to work together or were they in the studio at completely different times and places?'

Mr. LANE: There is, you know, improv in the movie here and there, you know.

Mr. BRODERICK: There's also old improv that got into the movie.

Mr. LANE: Well, sure.

Mr. BRODERICK: Some of the stuff that was improvved in...

Mr. LANE: Yes, yes.

Mr. BRODERICK: ...rehearsals, you know, five years before shooting...

Mr. LANE: And on stage are now--is now a part of the show.

Mr. BRODERICK: Yeah.

Mr. LANE: So, yeah, that's always a part of--has been a part of it and--but--what was the second part of the question?

Mr. BRODERICK: "The Lion King" we did not--we were not in the same room ever.

Mr. LANE: No, we--no.

Mr. BRODERICK: We overlapped. I saw him finishing up his recording before I started mine.

Mr. LANE: Ernie Sabella and I recorded together, and there was...

Mr. BRODERICK: That's the meerkat and the warthog?

Mr. LANE: Yes.

Mr. BRODERICK: Yes.

Mr. LANE: And you were adult Simba.

Mr. BRODERICK: I'm adult Simba.

CONAN: So you guys actually met really for the first time, at least professionally, when you started "The Producers"?

Mr. BRODERICK: Yeah.

Mr. LANE: Yeah.

Mr. BRODERICK: Professionally. Yeah, we had met in passing before that, but not much. And we just--that was it, the first read through.

CONAN: And when--was there a moment when you guys realized this is gonna work?

Mr. BRODERICK: (Makes musical noises)

Mr. LANE: What was that?

Mr. BRODERICK: The violin.

CONAN: The angels.

Mr. LANE: The heavenly chorus singing?

Mr. BRODERICK: Yeah, it's actually a beam of sunlight suddenly burst through, and I knew this was gonna be the rest of my life.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANE: Oh, I'm so fed up with you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BRODERICK: But we're facing each other, so it's very awkward, I might--actually looking into each other's eyes ...(unintelligible). Been very uncomfortable.

CONAN: And after this is over, then you have to go spend the rest of the evening together doing "The Odd Couple."

Mr. BRODERICK: You nailed it, that's what happens. We do press all day and then we go and do our play.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: So you guys don't hang out after the show is what I'm hearing?

Mr. LANE: Strangely enough we will occasionally.

Mr. BRODERICK: We do. Then we end up in a bar looking at each other.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANE: Well...

CONAN: Even more interesting through the bottom of a glass, I suspect.

Mr. BRODERICK: Yeah.

CONAN: Listen, guys, good luck. Congratulations.

Mr. LANE and Mr. BRODERICK: (In unison) Thank you very much.

CONAN: Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane, the stars, at the moment, of "The Odd Couple," of course Neil Simon's great play. They appear together on Broadway. They star, also, as "The Producers." The musical version of the movie opens tomorrow in selected cities across the country. Goes nationwide on December 25th. Of course, the film written by Mel Brooks.

I'm Neal Conan. This is NPR News, TALK OF THE NATION.

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