Nathan Lane Reminisces About Favorite The Producers and Mel Brooks Memories
Nathan Lane recounts evenings with Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft while working on The Producers musical.
Nathan Lane used to be the King of old Broadway. Scratch that. Lane still sits from a high seat within the realm of American theater. In fact, when we catch up with the legendary, multi-Tony and Olivier award-winner, it’s during his day off from Studio 54. The other six days of the week, he’s at that famous nightclub turned theater, starring in Sharr White’s new memory play, Pictures from Home.
Nonetheless, for many theatergoers, the thought of Lane invariably brings to mind an iconic American musical-comedy: Mel Brooks’ The Producers. That dazzling blend of absurdist humor and showbiz schmaltz premiered in 2001 before going on to win 12 Tonys, the most for any musical or play to this day. And in the show, Lane played Max Bialystock, a Broadway producer of malleable morality who is introduced lamenting his current situation with the song “King of Broadway,” a tune with such sensitive lyrics as “My shows were always filled with class / the best champagnes would fill my glass / my lap was filled with gorgeous ass / you couldn’t call me crass in any way!”
The experience of playing such a modest soul was buoyant for Lane, who won his second of three Tonys for the musical, and who would return off-and-on to the stage production to play Bialystock opposite Matthew Broderick’s Leo Bloom for several runs across three years. They would eventually also star in a film version of The Producers musical in 2005. It was a singular moment in his career.
Yet when we catch up with Lane ahead of the release of his new film, Ari Aster’s Beau Is Afraid, what Lane seems most nostalgic about is the time he got to spend with a very unique husband and wife duo.
“You know, my favorite memory about doing the whole The Producers experience, which was sort of about five years, was the time I spent with him and Anne Bancroft,” Lane says. “Seeing them together and having dinners and socializing, they were so beautiful together. She was such a cheerleader for the show, and such a great person, and their love story was just so moving.”
Bancroft, a celebrated legend herself who won an Oscar and two Tonys in her lifetime, was married to Brooks for 41 years before her death in 2005. She remains the subject of Brooks’ most sparkling reminisces, too, in his recent memoir, All About Me!
Says Lane, “I remember an interview she gave to Charlie Rose where she said, and she’d been asked many times what does she attribute to the longevity of her relationship to Mel, and she sort of smiled and said, ‘Well, Charlie, you know we’re like any other couple. We have our ups and downs, but every time I hear the key in the door, I know the party’s about to start.’”
In recent years, Lane has taken breaks from the stage to appear in film and television, including on Hulu’s hit series Only Murders in the Building. With Brooks also returning from semi-retirement at the age of 96 to produce and co-create the Hulu series, History of the World, Part II, we wonder aloud to Lane whether he’d be interested in working with Brooks again, should History of the World get a second season (or perhaps just a “Part III”)?
“Sure!” Lane laughs. “He just has to ask. Everyone else in the Screen Actors Guild is in it, I don’t know why he didn’t get to me! Oy, how quickly they forget.”
Beau Is Afraid is now playing in theaters, and Lane is performing in Pictures from Home until the end of the month.