David Zucker, one third of the directorial trio of Airplane! and the Naked Gun films, has written a wonderful piece about his frequent star Leslie Nielsen, who passed away earlier this week for the Hollywood Reporter.
[W]hen it came time to select an actor to play Dr. Rumack, my brother Jerry, Jim Abrahams and I remembered: “This one guy, he’s been in hundreds of television shows, and I think he played the captain of the Poseidon. What’s his name … ?” Our research revealed that the actor’s name was Leslie Nielsen. Jim, Jerry and I were thrilled when he agreed to meet, not because he was “funny” but because of his long résumé of serious films and TV. To us, he was hysterical. The long list of straight dramatic acting roles demonstrated to us that he would be perfect. When we watched those movies, we laughed.
At our first meeting, he mentioned proudly that he had done an episode of M*A*S*H*.
We assured him we wouldn’t count this brief comedy experience against him. But when he read the Airplane! script, he “got” its unconventional nature and offbeat style. We heard later that he told his agent, “Take whatever they offer; I’d pay them to do this.”
It’s a warm and funny piece, which you can check out in full here.