Nathan Lane an engaging storyteller at Proctors
Recalling when he filmed “Ironweed” in Albany 30 years ago, Nathan Lane said, “With a rock sticking out of my head, I had the great line, ‘Why did you kill me?’”
In the 1987 movie, adapted from local author William Kennedy’s novel, Lane was cast as a scab trolley driver who, during a violent strike, is killed by a rock thrown by Frank Whaley, playing a young version of the main character, Francis Phelan. Later, Lane’s ghost, made up in white with a stone protruding from his cranium, haunts Jack Nicholson as the aging Phelan.
Speaking to a small but appreciative audience of less than 1,000 at Proctors during a Q&A following a screening of his 1996 comedy “The Birdcage,” Lane, doing his best Nicholson impression, said Nicholson would leave the film set by saying, “Another day, another $100,000.”
Lane’s appearance, produced by Saratoga Springs-based Mills Entertainment, is part of a series of celebrities discussing their careers after a screening of one of their movies, including Molly Ringwald with “The Breakfast Club,” John Cleese with “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” and Mel Brooks with “Blazing Saddles.” Proctors was the third such date for Lane, in a conversation moderated by his longtime friend Scott Wittman, a Broadway lyricist (“Hairspray,” “Catch Me If You Can”) who has also directed concerts for the likes of Bette Midler, Raquel Welch and Dame Edna Everage.
During the course of an entertaining hourlong chat that included impressions of Walter Matthau, Bob Hope, Clint Eastwood, Alan King, George C. Scott and others, Lane, dressed in jeans, black sweater and black fedora, was relaxed, witty and engaged. If he wasn’t howlingly funny or as animated as he sometimes is during the miniperformance that is a couch-sit on late-night talk shows, Lane largely satisfied the audience’s desire to see and hear from him.
His best bits were spontaneous, as when, on taking the stage, he examined the generously upholstered if dated fabric chairs in which he and Wittman were ensconced and surmised of Proctors, “They went to an old woman’s house and stole her furniture,” adding, “This is from the Judi Dench estate.”
Later, describing how daunted he felt while playing the Herculean role of Hickey in “The Iceman Cometh,” including having to deliver a 30-minute monologue in the middle of the drama, Lane said he asked himself, referring to a classic play about a rabbit, “Why didn’t I do ‘Harvey?’”
Wittman cracked, ”‘Do Harvey’? Oh, you didn’t mean Weinstein.”
Lane guffawed and, as the audience caught up with the aside and laughed along, said dryly, “It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.”
At other points, Lane described Eastwood’s response to Lane volunteering to be in the director’s next Western (“Maybe as the schoolmarm”); said, “You haven’t lived until you’ve seen George C. Scott direct children”; said that, as a result of the Canadian magician Doug Henning being unable to do accents, a bomb of a 1980s musical about the Arthurian sorcerer Merlin “all seemed to be taking place near Ottawa”; and said that the role of Leo Bloom in “The Producers,” opposite Lane, was originally intended for Martin Short but went to Matthew Broderick when Short declined. (Lane was offered the role of Max Bialystock by Brooks while they floated in a pool at The Ritz in Paris.)
On a more serious note, Lane discussed his discomfort, as the only gay man in the principal cast of “The Birdcage,” with saying the word “fag” in a scene in which Lane’s character mentioned Alexander the Great’s homosexuality. “We probably did 40 takes,” he said, with Lane riffing on non-f-word options, including “Alexander was light in the sandals” and “Alexander the Great was a fruitcake.” The movie’s director, Mike Nichols, convinced Lane to say the line as originally written. “Of course,” he told the Proctors audience, seeming ambivalent or perhaps still mildly disappointed even 21 years later, “that’s what’s in the movie.”
firstname.lastname@example.org • 518-454-5489 • @Tablehopping