February 3, 1956 – Nathan Lane:
“I’m one of those old-fashioned homosexuals, not one of the newfangled ones who are born joining parades.”
In the midst of all sexual harassment allegations that swirled around Harvey Weinstein last autumn, Lane recalled his own encounter with the film producer, and no, Weinstein did not jerk-off in a potted plant in front of Lane. Weinstein attacked him at Hillary Clinton’s birthday party in 2000. Lane told a comb-over joke about Rudy Giuliani, which resulted in Weinstein throwing Lane against the wall. Weinstein told Lane: “This is my fuking show, we don’t need you”. Lane retorted: “You can’t hurt me, I don’t have a film career.”
I channel surfed on to The Birdcage (1996) recently, and whenever I chance upon it, it seemingly ends up receiving my full attention. The Birdcage was a huge box-office hit 1996, grossing $200 million worldwide and receiving rave reviews. A remake of the even better French-Italian comedy La Cage aux Folles (1978), it is directed by Mike Nichols and stars Lane and Robin Williams, Gene Hackman, Dianne Wiest, Hank Azaria, and Christine Baranski. Williams is astonishingly fun, but I think it is Lane’s movie.
I find it little junk, but I admit The Birdcage is boisterously entertaining and enchantingly witty. I also think it is an important gay film, because an unsuspecting viewer probably would not to realize that there’s a message.
GLAAD praised the film for:
“… going beyond the stereotypes to see the character’s depth and humanity. The film celebrates differences and points out the outrageousness of hiding those differences.”
Of course, the biggest Nathan Lane news is that Angels In America, Tony Kushner’s sweeping masterpiece, will be revived on Broadway beginning in three weeks, a quarter century after its winged title character first hovered over the Broadway stage. Lane plays the anti-Communist lawyer and mentor to young Donald Trump, Roy Cohn, plus Andrew Garfield as Prior Walter, a gay man with AIDS, and Lee Pace (Pushing Daisies, Halt And Catch Fire). The two-part play takes on themes of identity, illness and Americanness, set against the backdrop of the AIDS crisis and the Ronald Reagan Administration. Subtitled A Gay Fantasia On National Themes, it is one of most important plays of the 20th Century. This production played last year at the National Theatre, London, receiving ecstatic reviews, especially for Lane.
The announced revival started me thinking about Lane and how he somehow ended up with my career. I wanted to establish myself as the “go to” guy for comic musical theatre roles. I wanted to make my home on the Broadway stage, but not be afraid to venture into films; some Disney voice work would be nice and maybe do a sitcom at some point. I wanted to make room for all those Tony Awards, Emmys, SAG Awards, Drama Desk, Olivier, and Obie Awards on my mantle (really, I was going to list all of Lane’s awards for this piece, but it was just too much typing).
Like Lane, when I was firmly established as a comic leading man, I would come out of the closet and hope for the best. I wanted to play opposite Matthew Broderick in one of the biggest hit musicals of all time and follow that with turns in Samuel Beckett and Eugene O’Neill classics and maybe a new Davis Mamet play. I wanted to be Terrance McNally’s muse and have him write roles just for me in The Lisbon Traviata, Bad Habits, Lips Together/Teeth Apart, the Tony-winning Love! Valour! Compassion! and a film version of Frankie And Johnnie At The Claire De Lune. It would have been fun working with Christine Baranski on the The Good Wife.
I would have even been unapologetic when I starred opposite Bette Midler in that Jacqueline Susann biopic, Isn’t She Great.
I never did get to star opposite Bebe Neuwirth in The Addams Family on Broadway or make history with Douglas Carter Beane’s The Nance. Oh well, Nathan Lane is the toast of Broadway and I here I sit in my little hovel with a big ol’ chip on my shoulder.
He seems like he is Jewish, but Lane was born Joseph Lane in Jersey City, into a Catholic family. His father was a truck driver and an aspiring performer who died in 1967 from alcoholism when Lane was 11-years-old. His mother was a secretary who suffered from manic depression. Lane attended Catholic schools and he tried Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia for a year. He had received a Theatre scholarship, but it was not cover enough of his expenses, so he decided to leave, and work for a year to earn some money.
Because there already was a Joseph Lane registered with Actors Equity, he changed his name to Nathan after the character Nathan Detroit from the musical Guys And Dolls, a role he later made his own in a Broadway revival in 1992. He moved to NYC where he had a brief success doing stand-up comedy.
Lane soon was cast in a string of Off-Broadway productions before making Broadway debut in a 1982 revival of Noël Coward’s Present Laughter with George C. Scott, Kate Burton, and Christine Lahti. Since his big break, Lane has worked in an astonishing 50 Off-Broadway and Broadway shows, musicals, comedies, farces and dramas, plus terrific work in 40 films.
He has received 11 Emmy Award nominations for guest appearances on Frasier, Mad About You, Modern Family, and The Good Wife.
He is such a busy actor; in just the last five years, he has appeared in The Nance, a new gay-themed play by Douglas Carter Beane. He received Tony and Drama Desk Award nominations and won the Outer Critics Circle Award and Drama League Award. I cannot recommend this play enough, and you can actually see it on PBS Live From Lincoln Center, available in the PBS streaming archives.
In 2014. He appeared in Terrence McNally’s revised and updated It’s Only A Play, with F. Murray Abraham, Matthew Broderick, Stockard Channing, Rupert Grint and Megan Mullally. The show became one of the biggest hits of the season.
In 2015 he reprised the role of Hickey in the Robert Falls production of The Iceman Cometh at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. In 2016, he starred in White Rabbit, Red Rabbit Off-Broadway, and on Broadway to rave reviews in Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s The Front Page, with John Slattery and John Goodman, for which he received Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle award nominations.
In 2016, he played F. Lee Bailey in American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson on the FX channel. It received 22 Emmy nominations and won the Emmy for Best Limited Series.
When Lane told his mother he was gay, she replied: “I’d rather you were dead”. Lane replied: “I knew you’d understand”.
He came out publicly after the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard, and has been a long-time board member of and fundraiser for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, and has been honored by the Human Rights Campaign, Gay And Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, and The Trevor Project for his work for the LGBTQ community.
After nearly two decades of dating, Lane married Devlin Elliott in November 2015 in a small ceremony in NYC City Hall. They have one child, a French bulldog, Mabel, about whom they’ve written a children’s book together titled Naughty Mabel.
I hope the little fucker is happy today on his birthday.