Peter Segal made his feature directorial debut with The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult, and moved on to Tommy Boy, My Fellow Americans, and The Nutty Professor II: The Klumps before becoming Adam Sandler's go-to director with Anger Management, 50 First Dates, and The Longest Yard. Then, Segal took the helm of the big-screen remake of Get Smart, starring Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway. I spoke to Segal at San Francisco's WonderCon 2008.
Groucho: Hi, Peter.
Peter Segal: Hi, how are you?
G: Good. My name's Peter, as well...Did Barbara Feldon make an appearance on the set?
PS: No, she did not. But again, Annie is really honoring what she did. We had the Adams family, actually, come to the set, several times...Don's wife and daughter and granddaughter. And you know, it was so wonderful to have them there. Bernie Kopell has a cameo in the movie, as does Leonard Stern, one of the show runners.
G: Could you tell us first of all what fans of the series can expect to see make a return, in terms of gadgets and characters, and what are some of the new innovations?
PS: We have to look at our source material and bring back as many of the gadgets, the iconic gadgets, the catchphrases, characters, that we could. Shoe phone's in. Uh, Cone of Silence. Even—all three [cars]. Even though there were four cars—we didn't get the car from the pilot in, the Maserati, but we got all the other cars in.
G: That's really cool.
PS: And I really also tried to put a lot of "Easter eggs" all throughout the movie, for the real fans. And you won't be able to catch them all, I guarantee you, the first time. Some are not necessarily even in English. But they're there. Because we love the show, and I think if you look at it again and again, you'll keep finding these things...The core fans obviously have embraced Don Adams and Barbara Feldon and Bernie Kopell and everybody else. So it's gonna be different seeing different people play those roles. But we were all aware of that. And we were all very humbled by our affection for it and knew that we had big shoes to fill. And as I said out there, we knew that there was no way we could do as well. If we did half as good, and tried to embrace the spirit and bring a contemporary feel, then we could bring what we loved so much from the '60s to let our children also enjoy it as well...
G: Were you at all involved in the development of the script?
PS: Oh, absolutely. From the blank page on.
G: So how did the script develop, from page one to where you are, in the film?
PS: Many, many, many, many drafts. As a matter of fact, I have behind my desk, a stack that's over three feet tall.
G: Was it always an origin story?
PS: Yes! It was always an origin story. You know, getting involved in this—we were working with Chuck Roven, who produced this movie as well as—
G: Twelve Monkeys.
PS: Well, the last two Batmans. And so that kind of inspired me, along with Casino Royale, because I love Maxwell Smart. I love the character, and I thought, for me, if I was—and I always take it as if I'm in the audience, what would I like to see? I thought it would be interesting to see how he becomes Max. How they met. I know there was one story of how they met, obviously, in the pilot, in 1965, but I thought, "Okay, what if we take a little license there and come up with our own..." And it allowed for some friction; it allowed for some comedic sparks. But we kept refining the script all the way up to the end of post.
G: What about KAOS in 2008? What does that mean to us?
PS: Well, the nice thing—I mean, we kind of ripped our plot from the headlines. And the nice thing is that KAOS is, you know, they're mobile. The story takes place in Russia, but Terrence Stamp is British, and Ken Davidian is Armenian. And Dalip Singh is from Punjab. And, you know, so it's a multinational group of bad guys. But their story is grounded, and they're a little scary. They're funny. And, y'know, it's KAOS...CONTROL is assigned to—they're the government body to KAOS. They're the KAOS task force, as they were in the series. As we got into this and studied the big bureaucracy of Washington, we realized you think of it just as the FBI, CIA, NSA—there's over a hundred agencies. And so we thought, "Wow, this actually really could work." Then, ironically, somebody told me recently that they have a friend who wrote them a letter who was—I can't say his name, but he was very high up in the CIA—and [original series executive producer] Leonard Stern also told me this. The CIA would frequently call the writers of the original series and ask where they got the ideas for certain gadgets, as if some where "How did you find out?" and others "How can we find out?" But this other person who worked with the CIA said there actually was a Cone of Silence that existed in the U.S. embassy in Russia. And they were cones that came down over the people talking. And they played music as like a sound buffer. And I thought, "Wow. This is art imitating life. Or vice versa." But so some of those same dynamics from the '60s are still with KAOS and CONTROL in the movie...
G: We hear that the Rock is a real prankster. Were you the victim of any of Dwayne Johnson's jokes?
PS: No! Um, he texts me a lot. And my wife actually gets a little jealous. She says, "Wow, you talk to the Rock a lot, don't you?" And I said, "Yeah, what are you, jealous?" And she said, "I don't know." But no, I haven't experienced any of his pranks. I'm going to have to text him and find out why...Mrs. Adams, Don's wife, came to the set a couple of times, along with Don's daughter, and her daughter. And when we told them about James [Caan] being in the movie, she said, "Oh, well, he was Don's best friend." I said, "He didn't tell us!" And apparently, talk about a jokester: Jimmy Caan is one of the biggest jokesters. And I knew that he was in the series, but I didn't know that they were best pals. Best pals. And so that kind of permeated the feeling, the mood. And when Steve met the Adams, he was so humbled, and they got a little emotional because they felt like we were taking care of the story. And that was very important to us. And Leonard Stern visited the set many times and has a little cameo in the movie. And, you know, again it was important to have that feeling, and it permeated the whole crew because we're all fans of the show. And to feel that some of the creators and the people involved in its inception were sort of blessing us made us feel good.
G: Is there a hint of romance in this film?
PS: Uh, between the Rock and Steve, yes.
G: Everybody's very coy about that question.
PS: Well, there is sexual tension in the original series. And there is some sexual tension in this movie. But it works really well. It's an innocent relationship, but hey, they're two attractive people, they work together, and things can always happen in those situations...
G: What did it require to shoot in Red Square?
PS: What was required?
G: Yeah, or what was that like?
PS: It was fascinating. Fascinating. Um, I flew to Russia to scout it, and a couple of the other locations. When we got there—while I was on the flight, Time Magazine [had] a little banner that said, "Russia Is a Very Scary Place." And I thought, "Wow, here we go." And then Putin was having a military rally in Red Square. And when I got there, it was closed. I thought, "I just flew around the world to scout Red Square, and it's closed." Well, we found out a little of this (indicating cash) goes a long way, we got in, and what we saw was unbelievable. It was a thousand troops, high-stepping to the national anthem. I was taken back in time. And the person from the film office who was with me, who was a native Russian, said that "Wow, I've never seen this before in my lifetime." So from that moment to actually filming in Red Square was amazing. And especially, there was one night where we had to scout Red Square in order to position our lights for the following night that we shot. And we were there at four in the morning and we were not too happy about it because we didn't want to scout after we had shot. But then I stopped the crew—there was about twelve of us—and I said, "Look around. We're the only ones here. This will never happen again in your lifetime. We were the only ones. It was us, and Lenin. And he was asleep.