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Masters of SciFi – An Interview with Get Smart Director Peter Segal

Get Smart Director Peter Segal” width=”560″/>

Peter Segal may be an expert in comedy, but the director, who cut his teeth on commercial hits like Tommy Boy and Naked Gun 33 1/3 , is setting his sights on on more serious subject matter. He talks to about his latest effort, Get Smart and the superhero franchise he’s tackling next. 

Q: Tackling an adaptation of a ’60s television show sounds like a daunting challenge.

A: I was very hesitant at first because I loved the show so much as a kid and I thought it would be very dicey trying to take it on. If the ingredients weren’t just right, it wouldn’t work. How can you top what Mel Brooks and Buck Henry created in 1965? So we said, “What can we inject into this?” and Steve Carell suggested a comedic Bourne Identity.

Q: How do you create a comedic Bourne Identity?

A: We told every actor we hired not think of this as a comedy; treat all the words as dramatically as possible, and it makes them funnier. As soon as people feel like they’re supposed to be funny, that’s when it gets over the top. The rules I go by are: Always keep your villains bad, and keep the plot grounded and real. If you keep those stakes, the comedy will bounce off that and work.

Q: You directed the last installment of The Naked Gun. How did you distinguish these two projects?

A: We looked at Frank Drebin and we looked at Maxwell Smart, and we wanted to make sure they were not a carbon copy of each other. Frank Drebin would back into victory accidentally — shooting a bullet one way and then having it ricochet and hit the bad guy behind him. Max was different, over the course of the show he got a little more broad, but if you look at the pilot, he’s a little bit more capable — capable with a gun, capable with his fists and very knowledgeable about all of the strategies of CONTROL. But when he goes into a closet to answer his shoe phone, he gets locked in.

Q: Does Steve Carell get to play with any new gadgets?

A: Oh yeah. We made a lot of new toys. My favorite is a Swiss Army knife that has a flame thrower and shoots harpoons connected to spider-silk nano-thread with the strength of half-inch steel cable. And of course, as with most of the gadgets from Get Smart, it doesn’t work very well.

Q: You’re working on an adaptation of Billy Batson and the Legend of Shazam. Why depart from comedy?

A: I think superheroes are heroes with flaws, and in their flaws, there is a sense of humor. A few people have asked me if I’m trying turn the film into a light comedy, and I’m saying absolutely not. However, real fans of Shazam know there’s a great sense of humor just in the fact that a 13-year-old boy morphs into a 28-year-old superstud, Captain Marvel. There’s almost a genre for movies like that – Big, 13 Going on 30 — but they’re all following in the footsteps of Shazam.

Q: There are a lot of similarities between this property and Superman. In fact, DC successfully sued for infringement in the ’40s. Do you worry people will continue to connect the two?

A: I’ll name two incredibly successful comics right now that are about a millionaire who wants to fight crime and uses technology to build suits and gadgets to help him do so. But quite frankly, I was concerned: Superman literally squashed Captain Marvel in the ’40s. There are a lot of Captain Marvel fans who are saying he got a raw deal. And since there seems to be some legal trouble in ever bringing another Superman to the screen, now feels like the right time.

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