Having starred in seemingly countless film spoofs (many of them horror spoofs), Leslie Nielsen's no stranger to screen comedy. Nor is director Bo Zenga (pictured above), who helmed the original Scary Movie. We chatted with the two gentlemen earlier this week about their latest effort, Stan Helsing, the new feature about a supposed descendant of the famous vampire hunter.
Leslie, you've starred in a lot of screen comedies, especially horror spoofs. Do you have a special affinity for the horror genre?
Nielsen: I have an affinity for comedy, and chances are if you are going to give me a decent comedy I'm going to do everything I can to get the job. Unfortunately today, too many things are misunderstood as being comedy, and you're pretty smart because you say no.
So what was it about this project that attracted you?
Nielsen: The main one was having the chance to talk with Bo. Something starts to click when you say, "I think I might be able to work with this man." The important thing is you find someone you can work with, because it's so easy to find a [poor] director. Well, maybe not that easy… [Looks at Zenga and laughs.]
How did you approach Leslie with this film?
Zenga: Leslie was in Vancouver doing another movie. I actually knew his agent, and I asked if he could get me two minutes with Leslie. I went up, and he was in makeup. It's a double-edged sword: the one thing is you really want them in your movie, and after you get him you are a little terrified working with a legend, someone who knows comedy upside down and backwards. You're afraid that you are going to give the wrong direction or something, but the first day, the first moment we clicked. After that it was just pure fun.
Nielsen: I have a problem about this routine, about "working with a legend…" Where does the legend come from?
Zenga: I know you get embarrassed when I say that, but there's not a person in this business that would say you are not a legend. If you look at the body of your work – that's what legend means. But I know its embarrassing.
Nielsen: The body of my work is dead, and that's why I'm in a horror film! Another dead body… [Laughs.]
Zenga: We had dinner with a group of people, and we were talking about the bit you did in Nuts, the Barbara Streisand film. That was a very serious role in a very important scene of the movie and it was great. It was so brilliant and cool to see Leslie do such a serious scene.
Why do think comedy and horror work so well together?
Zenga: I did the original scary movie, the first one, and… I don't know, it was time. It's about being ahead of the curve, taking your audience and, after being scared from the same thing over and over, getting them to laugh at the stuff they were scared by five minutes ago. That's sort of the trick – it happens in real horror movies: the cat jumping out of a closet. It's been done a billion times, but the first ten times it was done I'm sure it was, "Oh my God… It's just a cat." You kind of laugh to yourself. We're doing that.
Can you say what's next for both of you?
Zenga: Lunch! [Laughs.] I'm going to do a romantic comedy called How to Cheat on Your Spouse and Not Get Caught, which has given me a lot of leeway at home – because she can come in and I can be, "Honey, you know what I am working on. Now apologize to Tanya." No, I'm kidding. [Laughs.] I'm hoping Leslie will do something with me in that movie, but I know we are going to work together again.
Nielsen: I'm not going to do just anything you know. It's obviously a romance of some sort, and its going to be fun. And guess who is going to be poked fun at? He is going to poke fun at me. [Laughs.]
Can you guys say what your biggest fears are in real life?
Zenga: Snakes. I'm afraid of snakes.
Nielsen: I really don't like crocodiles. I've been taking a crocodile course, learning how to talk to a crocodile. It's not easy. You can't see their lips move. [Laughs.]
Zenga: You live in Florida, have you ever encountered a crocodile?
Nielsen: Yeah. That's a real fear. I've met a lot of them now, coming out of the woodwork!