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A renowned veteran of both stage and screen, actor Nathan Lane established himself both off-Broadway and on the Great White Way as a multi-talented performer capable of essaying roles in comedies, dramas and musicals. Following a breakthrough performance opposite the great George C. Scott in "Present Laughter" (1982), Lane became known after touring in Neil Simon's "Broadway Bound" (1987). As a result, he began making strides in television and film, appearing in "Ironweed" (1987) and "Joe Versus the Volcano" (1990) while continuing to excel on the stage; particularly in roles crafted by playwright and friend Terrence McNally. Despite parts in several high-profile features, including "He Said, She Said" (1991) and "Addams Family Values" (1993), Lane made his film breakthrough voicing an animated, scene-stealing meerkat in "The Lion King" (1994). His Tony Award win for "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" was followed by perhaps his most recognizable role, playing a flamboyant drag queen stepfather opposite Robin Williams in "The Birdcage" (1996). After affirming suspicions that he was gay following the murder of Matthew Shepard in 1998, Lane went on to enjoy enormous Broadway success...
A renowned veteran of both stage and screen, actor Nathan Lane established himself both off-Broadway and on the Great White Way as a multi-talented performer capable of essaying roles in comedies, dramas and musicals. Following a breakthrough performance opposite the great George C. Scott in "Present Laughter" (1982), Lane became known after touring in Neil Simon's "Broadway Bound" (1987). As a result, he began making strides in television and film, appearing in "Ironweed" (1987) and "Joe Versus the Volcano" (1990) while continuing to excel on the stage; particularly in roles crafted by playwright and friend Terrence McNally. Despite parts in several high-profile features, including "He Said, She Said" (1991) and "Addams Family Values" (1993), Lane made his film breakthrough voicing an animated, scene-stealing meerkat in "The Lion King" (1994). His Tony Award win for "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" was followed by perhaps his most recognizable role, playing a flamboyant drag queen stepfather opposite Robin Williams in "The Birdcage" (1996). After affirming suspicions that he was gay following the murder of Matthew Shepard in 1998, Lane went on to enjoy enormous Broadway success playing the conniving theater producer Max Biayalstock in a musical adaptation of Mel Brooks' 1968 film "The Producers" (2001), which earned the actor his second career Tony Award. Though the 2005 film re-adaptation failed to excite audiences like the long-running Broadway show, Lane nonetheless remained a versatile performer able to transition from stage to screen and back again with considerable ease and the full support from his fans.
Born on Feb. 3, 1956 in Jersey City, NJ, Lane was raised by his father, Daniel, an aspiring tenor singer and truck driver who died from complications due to alcoholism, and his mother, Nora, a secretary who reportedly suffered from manic depression. After graduating St. Peter's Preparatory High School in 1974, Lane skipped college to pursue acting professionally, making his stage debut in "Jerz" (1976). He knocked around the New York theater scene for a few years, paying his dues in acting workshops, off-off-Broadway productions, summer stock and dinner theater before moving westward to Los Angeles, where he formed the comedy team, Stack and Lane, with friend Patrick Stack. Following a small role as the stage manager in the ultra-campy "Jacqueline Susann's 'Valley of the Dolls 1981'" (CBS, 1981), he returned to New York and caught his first break when he was cast by director-star George C. Scott in the Broadway revival of Noel Coward's "Present Laughter" (1982). In his Broadway debut, Lane played a character whose sexually ambiguous relationship with Scott's character was trimmed from the production, with Lane remembering it as "a great, great experience" and his famous mentor as being "very paternal and sweet."
Following a brief stint as a regular on the sitcom "One of the Boys" (NBC, 1982), Lane returned to Broadway as Prince Fergus in the short-lived musical, "Merlin" (1983), starring master illusionist Doug Henning and featuring an adolescent Christian Slater. He stayed along the Great White Way in the even shorter-lived musical version of "The Wind and the Willows," which he followed by appearing off-Broadway in "Measure for Measure" (1985) for the New York Shakespeare Festival and in "The Common Pursuit" (1986). But it was his role in the 1987 national tour of Neil Simon's "Broadway Bound" that helped propel his career both on stage and on the screen. After breaking into features with a small role in the depressing Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson drama "Ironweed" (1987), he starred in Jon Robin Baitz's first full-length play, "The Film Society" (1988). Assuming a British accent, Lane garnered his first real acclaim as Baitz's mild-mannered, yet ruthless South African schoolteacher. Meanwhile, the exuberant actor raised his onstage profile as a gay Maria Callas-obsessive in "The Lisbon Traviata" (1989), his first collaboration with playwright Terrence McNally, with whom he would quickly reteam on a revival of "Bad Habits" (1990). Back on film, he had a small, but memorable role in the quirky Tom Hanks comedy, "Joe Versus the Volcano" (1990).
Though he was making strides in film and on television, Lane continued to find success and acclaim as a New York theater actor. Following the off-Broadway hit "Lips Together, Teeth Apart" (1991), Nathan appeared with mentor George C. Scott in a Broadway revival of Paul Osborne's "On Borrowed Time" (1991). A big screen role as the harried director of a morning television talk show in "He Said, She Said" (1991) was soon followed by playing Michelle Pfeiffer's gay neighbor in Garry Marshall's "Frankie and Johnny" (1991), which was written by playwright and friend Terrence McNally expressly for him. Pushing forward in the film world, he had a small role in the Paul Rudnick-scripted "Addams Family Values" (1993), and played Michael J. Fox's brother in the lightweight comedy, "Life with Mikey" (1993). Prior to receiving praise for his performance as a priest obsessed with musical comedies in "Jeffrey" (1995), scripted by Rudnick from his play, Lane enjoyed a huge hit as the voice of the feisty meerkat Timon in Disney's animated "The Lion King" (1994). Lane teamed with fellow stage actor Ernie Sabella, who voiced the warthog Pumbaa, to enchant children by singing one of the more memorable numbers in Disney film history, "Hakuna Matata." He also voiced Timon for the television version, "The Lion King's Timon and Pumbaa" (CBS, 1995), which earned him a Daytime Emmy Award.
Back on the stage, Lane reprised his 1977 role of Nathan Detroit in the Broadway revival of "Guys and Dolls" (1992), which earned the actor his first Tony Award nomination. Following a Broadway turn as the Sid Caesar-like star of Neil Simon's "Laughter on the 23rd Floor" (1993), Lane reunited with Terrence McNally in his Tony-winning "Love! Valour! Compassion!" (1994), playing a wise-cracking, HIV-positive gay man who discovers love. Expected to reprise his role in the 1997 film version, Lane withdrew, citing scheduling difficulties that temporarily drove a wedge between himself and the playwright who had meant so much to his life and career. But Lane remained busy in numerous capacities, appearing in a series of commercials for NyQuil, giving his own take on the Cowardly Lion in "The Wizard of Oz in Concert: Dreams Comes True" (TNT, 1995), portraying one of the mentally-challenged residents who share a suburban home in the made-for-television movie "The Boys Next Door" (CBS, 1996), and offering snide, witty comments as host of "The 50th Annual Tony Awards" (CBS, 1996). Chosen for his duties partly due to his triumph in the Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim's "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," he topped off an impressive evening by taking home his own Tony for Best Actor in a Musical to accompany his Drama Desk Award win.
Lane experienced his first taste of onscreen stardom after portraying the flamboyant drag queen and stepfather to his partner's son in Mike Nichols' "The Birdcage" (1996), an Americanized remake of the smash French farce, "La Cage aux Folles" (1978). In co-star Robin Williams, he found someone equally daring and hilarious, while Nichols allowed both leads their share of improvisational takes, all of which kept the director laughing, even if some of their more outrageous work was left on the cutting room floor. As the fussy, effeminate Albert, Lane swiped the rug out from under his co-stars, which included Gene Hackman in drag and Hank Azaria as a Guatemalan houseboy in short-shorts. Meanwhile, the normally manic Williams was somewhat muted in his role as Albert's partner. Though gay activists bristled at the stereotypical treatment of homosexuals, "The Birdcage" was sufficiently mainstream to become an unqualified hit, earning an excess of $100 million at the box office. For his next film, Lane co-starred with British comic Lee Evans to play the hapless victims of a wily rodent in the board game-inspired comedy "Mouse Hunt" (1997), which, although no "Birdcage," was nonetheless a commercial hit.
Following a guest starring role on "Frasier" (NBC), Lane was given his own starring vehicle, "Encore! Encore!" (NBC, 1998-99). In his second foray into regular series television, Lane proved ultimately unsympathetic as an opera singer who returns to his family's California winery to wreak havoc when his voice fails him. The show performed poorly in the ratings despite some critical acclaim. Under-utilized as a vision therapist in Irwin Winkler's "At First Sight" (1999), he scored another smash as the snide voice of Snowbell, the fluffy Persian nemesis of "Stuart Little" (1999), a role he reprised for the 2002 sequel. That same year, Lane came out of the closet to publicly declare his homosexuality in an interview with The Advocate, following the 1998 torture and murder of gay teen Matthew Shepard. Back on the big screen, he starred opposite Bette Midler in the Rudnick-scripted biopic of Jacqueline Susann, "Isn't She Great" (2000), which he followed with marvelous turns as the vaudevillian clown of Kenneth Branagh's musical version of "Love's Labour's Lost" (2000) and as an alcoholic entertainer in Alan Rudolph's "Trixie" (2000). Also that year, the busy actor lent his voice-over talents to Don Bluth and Gary Goldman's animated feature "Titan A.E." and provided the voice of Spot, a talking canine who disguises himself as a boy named Scott in order to go to school, where he becomes "Disney's Teacher's Pet" (ABC, 2000-01).
He also returned to Broadway as the title character in a revival of "The Man Who Came to Dinner" before landing one of the biggest roles in his career. Once again stepping into a role created by Zero Mostel, Lane won critical kudos for his turn as the con man/wannabe theatrical impresario Max Biayalstock, opposite Matthew Broderick's wide-eyed theater neophyte Leo Bloom, in the 2001 stage musical version of Mel Brooks' film comedy, "The Producers." The stage show became one of Broadway's longest-running productions on its way to winning 12 Tony Awards, including a Best Actor statue for Lane. A major Broadway sensation, "The Producers" was re-adapted into a movie in 2005, in which both Lane and Broderick reprised their respective roles. After a big screen supporting role in "Nicholas Nickleby" (2002) and a hilarious cameo in "Austin Powers in Goldmember" (2002), Lane gave regular series television a go again with "Charlie Lawrence" (CBS, 2003), in which he played an openly gay former television star who wins a seat in Congress. Once again, however, Lane proved not to be a ratings draw and the show was summarily canceled.
Back at home on stage he took the role of Lou Nuncle in Terrence McNally's "Dedication or the Stuff of Dreams" (2005), followed later that year by the highly anticipated Broadway reunion with Broderick in Neil Simon's "The Odd Couple" (2005), with Lane playing the sloppy Oscar Madison to Broderick's Felix Unger. Lane next played the incumbent U.S. president in David Mamet's political comedy, "November" (2007), which premiered that year on Broadway at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. In "Swing Vote" (2008), he played the campaign manager of a Democratic candidate for president (Dennis Hopper) battling his Republican opponent (Kelsey Grammer) for the single vote of a lovable loser (Kevin Costner), who surprisingly finds himself as the lone deciding factor in the election. Returning to voiceover work, he joined an all-star cast that included Kristen Bell, Samuel L. Jackson and Donald Sutherland in the animated superhero adventure, "Astro Boy" (2009). After co-starring opposite Bebe Neuwirth in "The Addam's Family" (2010) on Broadway, Lane appeared as the ulta-flamboyant friend of Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and Cameron (Eric Stonestreet) on "Modern Family" (ABC, 2009- ), a role that earned him an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series.
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Question: During "The Birdcage" to-do you were adamantly closemouthed about your personal life. So when Jason Alexander--who played your stage role in the film version of "Love! Valour! Compassion!"--stated in an interview that he was "the first straight man to have played Buzz," were you pissed?
Lane: I was just surprised that that was his way of saying he was straight. . . . as we all know Jason is straight because he just announced it, but I would like to take this opportunity to thank him for clearing up that conundrum, that unsolved mystery wrapped in an enigma that is my sexuality. A nation can now sleep easily. I also said, Look, I'm 40, I'm single and I work in the musical theater--you do the math. What do you need, flashcards?"
--From US, February 1998.
"It's a farce and I play a stereotypical flamboyant--that's a camouflage word for 'effeminate'--kind of character. On the other hand, my character is wonderful and caring and I'm proud to play him. He's like a wounded bird. And I think the fact that there are more movies made about homosexuality, slowly but surely people will say, or at least producers will say, 'It's a part of our lives.' I hope one day that it's not just categorised as a gay film with gay characters but rather a film with human beings with a story to tell." --Lane on "The Birdcage" in Empire, June 1996.
"I had to grow up very fast. My father was an alcoholic, and my mother had to raise three children essentially on her own. So I sort of became the adult and had to deal with the death of my father and help my mother cope. I'm sure that having a sense of humor helped. So did getting involved in theater at school--I'm sure that was my escape. In many ways, if you want to get analytical about it, I'm still living out my childhood. But I don't know where my desire to perform comes from. It's actually a frightening thing, and yet I am driven to do it." --Lane to Brendan Lemon in Interview, March 1996.
"People think they know me because of the plays. There's an expectation that I'm funny, that I'm on. That's one of the reasons I used to drink . . . because of my shyness. I have a very dark, self-destructive side. And that I keep under control." --Lane in USA Today, March 8, 1996.
"I can remember somebody interviewing me when 'Frankie and Johnny' came out, and this persistent interviewer asked me to elaborate on my 'dating' life, and I said, 'Well, I've seen fire and I've seen rain,' and I think that annoyed him. He said, 'Everyone knows you're gay,' and I said, 'So why do I need to talk about it then?' I didn't seem to be keeping it a secret, and I made jokes, and I went out to bars. There were no secrets in that sense. I didn't know I was supposed to make a public declaration. I didn't think anybody cared." --Lane to Bruce Vilanch in The Advocate, February 2, 1999.
"I remember telling my mother [about being gay]. I came out in a relationship. I was living with my mother in Rutherford, NJ, but I was moving in with him. I'd let my mother know I was seeing someone, but she assumed it was a girl. I never lied to her, we were always very honest with each other. I had dealt with her manic-depressive illness and my father's alcoholism, so there weren't any secrets.
"I was feeling good about what was happening, so I felt I could share it with her. 'I know you think it's a girl,' I told her, 'but it's a guy.' The blood drained from her face, and she said [very deeply], 'You mean you're a homosexual?'--why does she suddenly sound like Harvey Fierstein? She's an Irish Catholic woman. 'Well, yes, I guess so.' And she said, 'I would rather you were dead.' I said, 'Well, I knew you'd understand.' And once I got her head out of the oven, everything went fine." --Lane in The Advocate, February 2, 1999.
On the success of "Stuart Little": "When it came out, I thought it was a perfect family film, it's fun and it's smart. So I'm thrilled it's number one. It's better than not number one. It means they made a lot of money and now 'Stuart and Snowbell Go to Vegas', there'll be a lot of that.
"But as an actor, it's not like 'The Talented Mr. Ripley'. I'm the voice of a [expletive] cat. It's disconcerting, after 25 years being an actor, some of the best reviews I've ever gotten--and I'm the voice of a [expletive] cat. Ain't that show business? I just think it's hilarious." --Lane to Stephen Schaefer in Boston Herald, January 25, 2000.
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