You probably know Peter Segal as the director of 'Naked Gun 33 1/3' and 'Anger Management', among other films. He's now directing 'Get Smart', a remake of the classic television show with Steve Carrell, Anne Hathaway, Alan Arkin, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Zod himself, Terence Stamp. Segal stopped to talk about his work on this project and the upcoming 'Shazam!'
Q: Is this a prequel, a sequel, a remake, what exactly?
Segal: It's a bit of a prequel. We wanted to tell an origin story of how Max became an agent and how he met 99. I talked to Mel Brooks and Leonard Stern about that and they thought it was a great idea, a great place to start. Mel had mentioned that he had taken that path with the Producers when it went from the screen back to Broadway. He added a bit of an origin element to inject some freshness to it, so he thought it was a great place to start.
Q: What was the key to the series' success that you feel is essential to replicate onscreen?
Segal: I'm really focusing on the first two seasons. The tone was a little less goofy than it became in the latter seasons, when Buck was there and when Mel was there. And Steve and I focused especially on the pilot to really say, this is the Max we want to capture in a bottle. He was intelligent, very capable, good with a gun, good with his fists, but he couldn't help it if the closet he went into to talk on his shoe phone locked behind him. That didn't make him dumb. We used that as a template for a lot of our jokes. Is Max dumb in this scene or could that be an accident that could happen to me? As long as we kept him smart and kept the humor coming out the situation, we felt like we'd be servicing the kind of Max we saw in the early episodes.
Q: Is this the same situation as in 'Naked Gun 33 1/3', where you have a long movie and then pare it down to the best jokes?
Segal: Absolutely. Well, actually, there's a bit more of a story in this than in Naked Gun, but something I learned from David [Zucker] was that even in a joke movie, you have to keep your bad guys bad and your plot believable. Some of the guys from Zucker-Abrams-Zucker have gone back to that well and failed not respecting that rule that David kept whispering to me because they would make the plots silly and then what the audience does is they just look towards the next joke and the tension deflates. And when you do that you realize you're only as good as your next joke. So we had to make sure that our story held water and that you cared about the characters and you hoped they got together and you hope they get out of this jam because if you don't believe the jam they're in, you start checking your watch.
Q: The casting? Was there really only one choice?
Segal: I had nothing to do with Steve [Carrell] signing on. I came on after Steve, because of Steve. I had been offered the movie a couple times and I turned it down because it just didn't seem right at the time. When Steve signed on I thought wow for the first time that sounds really cool. This was before 40 Year Old Virgin came out, so I called Judd Apatow, cause he's a pal of mine, and I asked him hey could I take a look at that new movie you're working on, I hear you're working with this guy and they're talking to me about this other movie 'Get Smart', and he said, sure come on over. I saw it and said, where do I sign, cause this guy is fantastic. I'd seen him in Anchorman and the Daily Show but not to the degree that he really expressed himself in Virgin. He's so smart and he really gets into the character and doesn't just tell jokes to get laughs. He tells the kind of jokes that are appropriate to the character and service the story and he's sort of an editor in that way and it's just so helpful working with someone like that.
Q: Isn't Anne Hathaway a little young to be playing opposite Steve Carrell?
Segal: You know it's interesting. First of all she really morphs onscreen. I think you're going to be really impressed when you see her. She's a great foil and has great chemistry with Max. If you look back at the original series, Barbara Feldon was much younger than Don Adams. I wondered about that at first and then I showed the screen test to my wife and my teenage daughters and I asked them do you think this works? And they said oh my god absolutely they're great together. And I listened to them. I have to.
Q: So their chemistry was more important than any other considerations?
Segal: When I saw them together, I just knew. It was one of those things where we weren't sure until they actually sat down next to each other. She was the first actress to audition with Steve in the same room and it was actually the first time that Steve performed as Maxwell Smart, so he was nervous too. And they both just gelled and played off each other and improvised around the page. We thought okay not only does she look like Barbara Feldon, she's the same height as Barbara Feldon, she can improv with Steve. We thought, she's perfect.
Q: So what's next for you? Are you thinking about a sequel?
Segal: Who knows. Too early to tell. We're working on Captain Marvel--Shazam--with New Line. John August is writing that now.
Q: How different will it be from a comedy?
Segal: We're working on that right now. Again, you've got something that started out in 1939 and as with all these comicbooks you have to find what to hang onto and where invention comes in. But the spirit of that movie is a fourteen year old boy who becomes a twenty eight year old superhero, so it's Big meets Superman. So that's for me where I thought I could have some fun in telling that story.