I’m still not sure how I became the go-to Get Smart
guy for CHUD. I have a vague recollection of Devin asking if I wanted
to interview Peter Segal at last year’s Comic Con, and leaping at the
opportunity just so I could thank him for one of the great random jokes
in the history of cinema (it’s from Anger Management;
read my previous coverage). From there, a great… mutually beneficial
relationship was born! I got to visit the editing room for Get Smart
in January, and he got the word out on a film that was suddenly in
direct competition with Mike Myers’s latest character comedy. I hoped
our logrolling would never cease.
That’s why I’m a little disappointed to leave you with what basically
amounts to a coda from our conversation last winter. I knew going in
that time would be short, so I just queued up the important questions
and let ‘em rip until I got dragged out of the room five minutes later.
This means I had to lead with a question I’d normally try to finesse:
why the hell did The Love Guru take the M.A.D. route and move onto your date?
Having seen Get Smart,
I can tell you that it’s not a case of Segal’s film being vulnerable;
it’s a confidently constructed Hollywood entertainment with two
appealing leads, some fun supporting performances, and loads of
references to the original show (created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry)
for the fans. And Segal, probably still best known for the endearing Tommy Boy,
keeps it all moving at a suitably brisk pace (I walked out of the film
assuming it was a little over ninety minutes; it actually clocks in at
Below is the transcript of our brief chat, which begins with the obligatory Love Guru query.
Actually, that’s a good place to
start. Do you want to say anything on the record about the release
date? I know you guys had it staked out first, then [The Love Guru]
jumped on it, and now you have two comedies going after the same
Peter Segal: You know, I’ve always been a fan of Mike’s. Summer is a
great time for movies, and I think there’s enough box office to go
around for everyone.
Q: (Laughing) That’s good. Now, the first thing I’d like to talk about is the chemistry between Steve and Anne–
Segal: So you finally saw it, then.
Q: Yeah. They had a screening last night and everything.
Segal: The first time I talked to you, you hadn’t seen the movie. Okay, good.
Q: But what surprised me about the
film is that there’s actual heat between Anne and Steve. It seems like
an unlikely duo, but they’re great together.
Segal: It’s interesting. People have an impression of Anne in their
mind: some from The Princess Diaries, other from The Devil Wears
Prada*. She’s not exactly what people have in mind when they think of a
99 matchup for Steve. But the first litmus test I have to use,
obviously, is my gut; and when they sat down together, their chemistry
was just fantastic. Then the second thing I always do is take the
screen tests home, and I show them to my teenage daughter and my wife.
And they fell in love with her. They thought they were perfect
together. I said, “No problem with the fact that Steve’s a little
older?” And they said, “Not at all! They’re adorable!” I think that’s
pretty much what everybody says when they see them together, and it’s a
testament to Anne’s ability that she really rises to the occasion and
becomes a completely different character that she’s never played
before. The battle is fighting preconceived notions of the kinds of
roles that she’s played in the past, and how will that work here?
Q: And with Steve… it still seems surprising that he’s a leading man after we watched him for years on The Daily Show. What’s more, he’s great with women.
Segal: *Please* don’t tell him that! His ego is big enough as it is.
But, no, he’s adorable. That’s the thing about guys with a sense of
humor like that. It dates back to high school: not always the jocks
would get the girls; the funny guys would occasionally get the girls,
too. And that’s the kind of guy Steve is.
Q: We talked about this before, but you really go out of your way to shove a lot of easter eggs into the film for the fans.
Segal: There a lot of them in
there. You might have to watch the film a second time to find all of
them. It was designed that way. Some are in different languages, some
are hidden in props. One particular thing in the very beginning of the
film is a tip to the pilot episode. I talked to Mel [Brooks] about the
character of Mr. Big, and asked “If he was on an FBI ‘Most Wanted’
poster, what would his name be?” He had to go back forty-plus years in
his memory to figure out what Mr. Big’s name would’ve been, so that was
kind of fun.
Q: Getting Mel’s blessing on a movie
like this, and collaborating as much as you could with him… did you
ever get a chance to workshop gags with him?
Segal: Every time I talked to
Mel, whether I was just giving him an update on how things were going
or if I just had a question for him, he would always offer a joke. It
was great! The only joke we were not able to put in – and it was a
really hilarious idea, but it kind of competed with the Cone of Silence
because it was a different kind of disturbance frequency. It was a
vibration machine that, if you put it near you, it would vibrate so the
person next to you couldn’t hear what you’re talking about. Of course,
there was a lot of discussion of what would vibrate off the table. It
was a hilarious idea, but sometimes you have only so many minutes to
put everything in.
Q: With special effects comedies like
this, there’s always a concern that the f/x will overwhelm the gags.
You’ve been building up to working on this kind of scale; now that
you’ve done it, how do you keep sight of the funny when you’re also
having to integrate these huge set pieces?
Segal: That’s the hard part.
Every time we were strapped onto a vehicle that was burning and
hurtling down the tracks, we always had to think, “How do we fit a joke
in here?”. We had to remind ourselves that we’re not making James Bond,
we’re doing Get Smart. It’s interesting because… people would get so
caught up in the action in this movie that a couple of times we
actually had to take a joke out of a certain moment. And some of the
jokes would either start or stop the action. That was the challenge
that Steve and I embraced, to push the tone a little, and increase the
scale a little bit – which the series did in its day. We just did it
*This is where I’m thinking “Some from Havoc“.