This interview originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of Playbill.
The rehearsal room that Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick settle into — fresh from (or rather, exhausted by) a rehearsal of their new, shared Broadway credit, Terrence McNally's comedy It's Only a Play — looks out onto the middle of 42nd Street. A large image of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, one of the featured wax models inside Madame Tussauds, stares into the third-story window.
"We're in there," mentions Broderick. He means that the museum contains waxen doppelgangers of him and Lane, as their tuxedo-clad The Producers selves.
"We went through the process," Lane confirms, "which was kind of interesting."
"They're actually not cast," adds Broderick. The wax figures, he means. "They're modeled."
LANE: "They measure you. The whole thing."
BRODERICK: "And they take 10 million photographs. You have to be there. You have to spend hours."
So, Madame Tussauds actually consulted them before making the statues?
LANE: "No, they're not unauthorized wax figures!"
BRODERICK: "And they only look very vaguely like us."
LANE: "Like my figure of Ryan Gosling that I keep in my closet."
This opening exchange removes any doubt from the interviewer's mind that the duo has lost any of their comic repartee in the nine years since their last Broadway outing together, the 2005 revival of Neil Simon's The Odd Couple.
"We're just friends," says Lane, ruefully amused (as he is by most questions). "We socialize. We have a lot of mutual friends. It's not like The Sunshine Boys, where we've been estranged for years. Finding our rhythms is very easy."
Time apparently flies for the two, whether they're onstage or off. Told this is their first show together in nearly ten years, they don't believe it.
LANE: "No, it's not 10 years. Five years ago we did The Odd Couple."
BRODERICK: "I think so. Five or six."
LANE: "Or nine years. Is it nine years?"
BRODERICK: "I don't know. When did we do it?"
BRODERICK: "Well, it's 1997 now; 2003 at the latest. I don't believe [it's] 2014."
As with The Producers and The Odd Couple, It's Only a Play has sold well at the box office. It took in $8 million before the play even began previews August 28. The two actors didn't get facsimiles at Tussauds for nothing.
Still, Lane's not taking credit for creating the pre-sold smash. "I think it would be delusional — though that wouldn't stop us — to think it's just us who have sold that many tickets," he protests. "It's the wonderful, cumulative effect of this amazing cast. People have said, 'I want to see all those people in that play.'"
"All those people" include names as big as Lane and Broderick's — F. Murray Abraham, Stockard Channing, and Megan Mullally — and one that is arguably bigger (to Harry Potter fans, anyway) Rupert Grint. No small name himself, Tony winner Jack O'Brien directs.
One would think that, given their track record, producers are regularly banging on Lane and Broderick's doors with scripts, hoping they will re-team and lend their Midas touch to projects. That's not necessarily the case.
"This wasn't even an offer," explains Lane. "I was involved because of Terrence, and when they had a reading of it, Jack O'Brien, the director, asked Matthew to play the playwright character. And it just kind of worked out."
The dramatist played by Broderick in the comedy — which takes place on the torrid opening night of a Broadway play (Lane said McNally got the idea for the work while attending the opening night party of a 1976 Broadway bomb called Legend, a play that actually starred Abraham) — is named Peter Austin, but it's basically McNally himself.
"Terrence keeps grabbing me by the shoulders and saying, 'You're playing me, dammit!'" tells Broderick.
The play has a rocky history. It was originally called Broadway, Broadway, and featured the role of a vindictive, backbiting actor, played by James Coco (the Lane role). But the Broadway-bound production got bad reviews and closed in Philadelphia. A rewritten version was produced Off-Off-Broadway in 1982. Finally Manhattan Theatre Club staged the play with success in 1985, again with Coco.
It's Only a Play has been revised a third time for the current production, with McNally tweaking the text to keep up with the changes the Broadway business has undergone in the past three decades. And what, exactly, are those changes?
"The answer to that is in this play and what Terrence is writing about," observes Lane. "The whole theatre district has changed. It's turned into a mall.... But you can't kill it. It's been dying for years!"
The tense theatrical milieu of the play is one that is familiar to theatre folk, including some of the real-life characters name-dropped in the text.
LANE: "We name names."
BRODERICK (to Lane): "But it's hopefully nothing mean in there. Maybe a little bit."
LANE: "I'm pretty mean.…"
BRODERICK: "About people who are real?"
LANE: "No, they're not real."
BRODERICK: "That's what I'm saying. The real names that we use, we're pretty…"
LANE: "Well, they cut some of the really mean things…"