Interview: Get Smart Director Peter Segal

pete_segal.jpg“Fat guy in a little coat… Fat guy in a little coat.” No, this isn’t a reenactment of when “Fat Guys at the Movies” co-host Kevin Carr goes into the Big & Tall store to buy a jacket. It is a quote from one of the most famous fat guy comedies, TOMMY BOY. I had a chance to sit down and talk to the man who directed that flick, Peter Segal. It turns out, Pete has a new movie coming out and a few projects on the horizon. His new film is GET SMART, starring Steve Carrell as Maxwell Smart, Anne Hathaway as Agent 99, The Rock as Agent 23, Alan Arkin as the Chief and Terrance Stamp as the mastermind behind KAOS. The film is based on the very popular 1960’s TV show of the same name — and with this renewed version, Segal and squad are just looking to pay their respects.

How do you think that the younger generation, those not familiar with the TV show, will accept this film?

That’s one of the reasons we’re here. We want to introduce it to a younger crowd. The first good example of a positive reaction was recently when our teaser came out attached to Harry Potter. The Harry Potter audience is predominantly under 25 and skews more female. And in the theater exit reports, of the five trailers shown in theaters across the country, it was voted #1. And ours was just a teaser. Why were they responding to it? Steve Carrell, maybe. Anne Hathaway, The Rock. Ironically — and it’s so wrong — that young, little boys know Ken Davitian from Borat.

They know things about Ken Davitian that they shouldn’t know…

It is so wrong. I have been with Ken Davitian and people flock to him and ask for his autograph. And I look at them and say ‘How do you know Borat? How could your parents let you watch Borat?’ But they know. And they recite lines from the movie — ‘Very Sexy! Very Nice’ — these 10 year olds.

What is more frightening, The Rock angry or Ken Davitian nude?

Well, I’ll tell ya. It might be a tie. There was one scene where Anne Hathaway was supposed to fake kick The Rock in the head and she actually made contact. And he looked at me and my life slowed down to a crawl. It was that look of, ‘If you ask for take two, then I will pull your spline out through your nose.’ And I didn’t. I said, ‘Yeah, I think we got that. But then again thinking about it, I think Ken Davitian naked is probably more scary.

getsmart11.jpgSo how did this cast come together?

It was Steve [Carrell]. He was the coat hanger. And everything else hung on that. Once Steve was in, I joined and it sounded right for the first time. And then we spent forever looking for the right 99. And even though Anne is a little younger, she just blew us out of the water. She so comes across on screen as very worthy, as someone who inherited a great roll from Barbara Feldon. And we didn’t want to treat that lightly. We didn’t want to just get any hottie off the street. We wanted to get someone who was a really great actor as well. Then the Chief — finding a guy who had a gravitas to him. You know, Ed Platt was a dramatic actor before Get Smart. And the fact that Alan Arkin could do both comedy and drama was important. And he already had a relationship with Steve. So their chemistry was important.

Then finding a really great villain to play Sigfried. And Terence Stamp was the first and last choice. And I met him and he actually, in the meeting, he had his white tennis shorts on and he said, ‘You know, people always ask me to do Zod. So I say kneel before Zod — and they’re happy.” And I said, ‘Oh my god, you just did Zod in your white tennis shorts. This is so weird.’ But he is a sweetheart. I love him to death. So you know, it just fell together. And we realized that we were on to something. And each additional actor just bolstered this cast and made it great.

Fans of the TV Series, what are they going see in your flick?

They are gonna see most all of the characters that they remember. They are going to see the same exact spirit — hopefully. And I just want to say from the outset, we are never going to be as good as the television series. We are living in their shadow. Steve himself has said that he’ll never be as good as Don Adams. We are just trying to bring the spirit of that show to a new generation. They are the winners, they’re the champions. We are just living in their shadow, very humbled. But they’re gonna see hopefully a lot of what they liked about the series.

What’s it like for you moving into a big action comedy?

I loved it. That’s what was exciting about it. You know, I’ve done a Naked Gun. And its a bit of a different tone when you have the silhouette of a T-Rex walking in the background of Police Squad to this. And I thought wow, we’re given a few shackles by Warner Brothers and were allowed to put this on a big canvas. And how can mix all the great humor from the show into an action movie and give it what the pilot in 1965 wanted to have, the best of both worlds. And so that’s what drew me to this. I wasn’t making another Naked Gun. I wanted to do something different.

shazam.jpgDo you ever see yourself ever making a ‘serious’ action flick?

Well you know, I think there is always going to be a level [of comedy]. If you some of the best action movies. Except maybe the Bournes — there is no humor in them, at all. Everything from Lethal Weapon to, even the Bonds. There is a sense of humor in them. And I think it’s good to have that.

Speaking of things that are coming up. You’ve been attached to SHAZAM!, What’s going on with that?

We are about 10 days away from getting our first draft from John August. And I know a lot of internet buzz about casting has gone on. We haven’t talked about one person. And its all conjecture, you know. I have talked to The Rock a little bit about Black Adam. But it’s just small talk. He’s a big fan of the show and the comic. You know, we’re all waiting and looking forward to seeing the first draft.

We are looking forward to seeing a little more about SHAZAM as well. But in the mean time, based on talking with Mr. Segal himself and seeing footage from GET SMART this weekend at Comic-Con, I’d say we’ll have plenty to hold us over in the mean time.

Neil Miller is the Founder and Publisher of Film School Rejects. For almost a decade, he has been talking movies on television, the radio, and the Internet. As of yet, no one has stopped him.

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