With his trademark whoopee cushion present, 77-year old Leslie Nielsen is as sharp as a tack, and as hilarious off screen as on. Retiming with his Naked Gun director David Zucker, Nielsen upstages all around him as a slightly confused US President in this spoof of the likes of The Ring and Signs. The ex-Canadian talked films and humour with Paul Fischer.
Question: Does doing a movie such as Scary Movie, rejuvenate you in some way?
Answer: Oh, yeah. There’s just a, not a lot of good comedy and good people to handle it. When you’re in the hands of David Zucker, then you’re really in goods hands.
Question: You’ve done films that didn’t quite do that well, such as Mr. Magoo, etc —
Answer: When I was working on Magoo I really didn’t think it was going to be particularly good but what happened with the presentation of the movie itself was demographic and there was a group of young people in there and the first thing, they talk about is Magoo before they talk about Naked Gun.
Question: When you get older, is it easier to find good material, are you really selective…
Answer: It’s always hard to find good material. And then after you find good material, that’s a good start because somebody wants to do good material, and then you have to find whether the people who are going to do it, have the same point of view about it as you do, because I’ve seen material that I thought was good and it never got up on the screen the way it appeared to me.
Question: How has your sense of humour changed?
Answer: I think it’s getting better. (Laughter) It may have been sick for a while, I don’t know. (Laughter) But I guess people’s sense of humour does change, because when you are feeling more secure or less vulnerable in your daily life, that leaves you time to appreciate humour and have fun, more than when you’re on guard. And that’s where it can really change, you know. That’s why comedians, I think, can become better comedians, because they become more secure.
Question: You were once a movie heart throb and such a serious guy and suddenly, bang, one film, Airplane, sort of changed that. Did you expect that this would be the creative outlet that you’ve end up with in your career?
Answer: I never thought about it or speculated about it. In other words, if you followed any kind of show biz history, it would be the first thing that should come to your mind, but I don’t follow any history, I don’t really know too much about what I’m doing, but I knew that I knew it was funny, it was a comedy, and I simply wanted to do it.
Question: Did you have to fight or show them that you can do comedy?
Answer: No. I would never have attempted it. That was my big problem. I didn’t have the courage to tell anybody I could do comedy. I love comedy and, but just because you love something doesn’t mean to say you can do it, with the pros…But Jerry and David and Jim had the perfect vehicle for me in Airplane and they spotted me immediately for being what I was really, as a closet comedian. (Laughter) I wouldn’t try to, I wouldn’t come out and say I could do something because then you’re becoming conspicuous, and then you have a real chance of being wrong.
Question: David mentioned that there might be a fourth Naked Gun if they can persuade the humourless folks at Paramount to do it. Would you want to do it?
Answer: I’ve keep my fingers crossed. I would do it, are you kidding? I mean, it’s a special kind of humour and the essence of the humour is that they never try to tell the audience what’s funny.
Question: But without —
Answer: Well, it never crossed my mind that that would have made any difference, not to say that he wasn’t very heavy support for the film; he was a very big athlete and a big star. Very enthusiastic and very easy and wonderful to work with. But it may be that that coloured part of their consideration in choosing to not give it a run, but people have come in even after and wanted to buy the property. Paramount could have sold the property, but it’s in the archives, and you don’t sell things if you’re not going to use them yourself, because if they get sold and then become big hits, or big money maker, then somebody is responsible.
Question: How have movie parodies have changed? Do you think they’ve changed or the audiences have changes?
Answer: I guess everything is always changing in the movie business. Ah, what comes to my mind is that ah you will see, you can see the old, almost the silent film of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Going back to then, but he did everything, you know, without make-up, did nose distortion, physical distortions, and it was heralded as, you know, one of the remarkable performances of the era, and that’s fine, and I’m sure it was just great, but when you see it now, it’s old fashioned. It’s become funny. It has become funny. You will laugh at it. But when you see Charlie Chaplin, he stays funny. He doesn’t become drama, and so what really seems to endure is comedy.
Question: Is comedy all important to you now?
Question: Do you look for drama as well now?
Answer: Oh, well, sure. Because, well I do the one-man play Darrow and Clarence Darrow was one of the orators of his time. As well as being a compassionate man, he was the kind of man who was incapable of not feeling the pain of a fellow human being, but some of his summations, many of which lasted eight hours and as many as twelve hours, without notes, were composed so beautiful, he often had the entire court room in tears, and just to say those words, practice…I practiced speeches in, in my car…
Question: Would you do the one man show again?
Question: With the whoopee cushion?
Answer: Believe it or not, I tried to figure out a way… (Laughter) … go over and shuffle through the desk and pfffft …. (Laughter) …. look at the audience, excuse me … (laughter).
Question: That will always be funny. The farting thing will never go out of style.
Answer: It never has so far. And it, but, and people who, I’ve had people really…well, Leslie, it was funny the first time, you know, what is it, your security blanket, I mean, put it away or put it to rest…and then ten minutes later, something has happened with the machine, and they’re on the floor, you’re crawling and screaming with tears.
Question: What kind of President would you be?
Answer: Bow legged. (Laughter) It’s my experiences up in the North, I was a child up in the Arctic Circle, almost, and we had no proper nourishment for….carried up there, against my will, but I was carried up there.
Question: Your dad was a Mountie, right?
Answer: Yah, that’s why we went up on what they call Detachment. So ah, I got Rickets and I got bow legged, but that had nothing to do with your question. (Laughter) It just seemed like the right thing to say. (Laughter) Now, what was the question?
Question: What kind of President of the United States would you be if you were elected?
Answer: One of the best.
Question: What would you do?
Answer: That’s a good question. (Laughter) The first thing I would initiate, would be to set up committees and various groups to go around with the plane and you would call it the What Shall We Do Committee. Give a chance for everybody to talk, if you get enough people talking, then you know they’re busy doing something. It’s only when their hands are free and they’re not…you know that you get into trouble and crime takes over.
Question: Do you ever feel Canadian?
Question: What and when do you feel Canadian?
Answer: That’s a little personal… (Laughter) … we’ve got a medical problem.
Question: When you’re working with David do you guys have sort of like a rapport that you fall right back into…
Answer: It’s almost impossible not to share this humour. Even if we have disagreements and, and if you get in kind of a snit you know and grrrr … but humour always brings you back. Like I say, if you laugh at the same things, a bond builds up.
Question: When was the last time you’ve, you’ve spoken to David prior to doing this.
Answer: Well I’ve, I’ve spoken to him several times, but I haven’t seen him for a long time, and we’ve been in touch, but we have not worked together for a long time. He hasn’t been ah, batting a thousand by any means in the stuff that he’s been doing, but then neither have I. .
Question: Do you have a favourite or a least favourite film?
Answer: The first Naked Gun is my favourite. And the least favourite was a picture that I did recently, which I could classify as the worst experience I’ve ever had. [2001 A Space Travesty]
Question: How about Scary Movie 4?
Answer: There’s more likely to have a Scary Movie number four before they’l have another Naked Gun…
Question: Which you’l be doing I take it.
Answer: Depends. You know, if, if David is involved, it’s a possibility.