|By Fred Topel
In Theaters December 16
Matthew Broderick got to see his performance in The Producers for the first time after his last ever performance of it. After two Broadway runs, it was only once the film version was completed that he could physically see himself sing and dance as Leo Bloom. Most theater actors never get to see their own work, and Broderick had actually gotten used to that.
“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,” he said. “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 Les Mis. 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.”
Broderick began working in the theater as early as he’s been making films, but the song and dance act came later. “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. 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 but I do. And it was just great to have a chance to be in the middle of these big old fashioned [numbers]. It's so rare, and to be in the center of one of them or two of them is great.”
The Producers began as a Mel Brooks film starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. When Brooks reinvented it for the stage, Broderick played Wilder’s role. “I was always worried about that, because I love Gene Wilder so much.I can't get his performance out of my head, there's no way, and I remember when we started I told [director] Susan Stroman, ‘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, 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.”
Broderick, Nathan Lane, Gary Beach and Roger Bart reprise their Broadway roles, but Hollywood stars Uma Thurman and Will Ferrell have joined the cast. As Bloom’s love interest, Thurman’s casting was a particular joy to Broderick.
“I did it with Katie Huffman for a year on Broadway, and loved her, she was like a huge part of the show, so it was an adjustment to even think that it was going to 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 I think they just went then right to Uma 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. Talented.”
Now Broderick has to say goodbye to Leo Bloom for good, but that’s okay. “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, I played that part twice, in Brighton Beach Memoirs. Biloxi Blues 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. And 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. And Mel said, ‘You know, even though we love some of these old jokes, all that matters is does it work in this version of the play? Doesn't really matter what worked before.’”
The Producers opens December 16 in limited release.