His Favorite Year: An Exhausting, Exciting Year for Nathan Lane Involves Sondheim, London's West End, Injuries, Terrence McNally, Broadway's Sold-Out Odd Couple, and a Little Movie Called the Producers

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Like Superman, actor Nathan Lane has been coming to the rescue throughout 2005. First he rewrote the book on Stephen Sondheim's long-neglected musical The Frogs. Then he dashed off to London's West End at a moment's notice to open The Producers--to massive acclaim, of course. A bum knee led to a bad back and a brief respite back in the United States. Then he filmed the movie version of The Producers and tried to rest again. But a longtime friend, playwright Terrence McNally, needed a last-minute lead actor for his new play, and Lane responded heroically. Again. That led right into a revival of The Odd Couple on Broadway that's the biggest hit since ... The Producers When you're hot, you're hot.

Obviously it's been a very good year. And exhausting. The Terrence McNally play, filming The Producers, and now The Odd Couple. Every year has its ups and downs. Does 2005 seem like a particularly good year for you?

I don't know. I just keep going. I don't turn around and look at it and say [in a slightly plummy tone], "Well, this was a good year." It has certainly been busy. I finished [my revival of the Sondheim musical] The Frogs, and I got this phone call from [director Susan] Stroman to go to London because things weren't going well to open [The Producers] there. And I had a torn meniscus in the left knee, which required surgery, but they said I could get through on just physical therapy while I was doing the show. Then my back went out because I was compensating for the knee. And I was in enormous pain. So I left a couple of weeks early, and I came back and had the surgery. Six weeks later I was filming "Der Guten Tag Hop-Clop." So it was a whirlwind. That was three months or four months or whatever it was. I went out to Long Island te finally lie down. And then Terrence lost the actor who was going to play the lead in Dedication. He was so depressed--and again it was moments before they were about to open. And I said [laughing], "Well ... I'll do it." And then I said, "Who said that?" Anyway, it turned out to be a really good thing for the both of us, and it was great to work together again. And it certainly helped him out. It was a really great experience that I was back in a rehearsal room with him again.

From the outside, the impression was that you and Terrence had had a falling-out and had been estranged for years. Obviously, his work is always good, so it wasn't the work that brought you two back together. What was it?

That was long past. We certainly had been friends. It wasn't like we weren't friends, and then we did this, and now we were. We were having dinner together when this all came up. The other stuff has been overblown. That was a long time ago. When I said, "I'll do it," it meant a great deal to him. Yes, I think it did heal something ... [laughs] that I thought was healed.

But it's even more healed.

It's even more healed. It did do something. It meant a great deal to him, so I'm doubly glad I did it.

I've no doubt you and Matthew Broderick are delighted by the attention and the sales, but I get the impression from the outside that it's got to be exhausting. People are expecting sliced bread. You two have done two shows together, and I think it was The New York Times that referred to your legendary rapport. I thought surely you should have to do at least 10 shows together before you can be burdened with having a legendary rapport.

Exactly. What can you do? You don't have any control over expectations. We were as shocked as anyone--the fact that it sold out before we went into rehearsals was rather extraordinary and unprecedented. It's exciting, but you get a little nauseous thinking about how there will be a lot of expectations.

Next year you'll do The Gin Game together. [Laughs] Oh, Jesus. No, I think we'll take a vacation for a while.

In the mainstream media profiles there were a few that made you seem very . …


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