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Nathan Lane Teases ‘The Birdcage’ Sequel: ‘This Idea Is So Good’

Matt Wilstein
·5-min read
Getty Images
Getty Images

If fans of The Birdcage ever actually get a sequel, we will have Nathan Lane’s newfound love of podcasts to thank.

With a lot of extra time on his hands staying at home over the past year, Lane decided to check out a 2018 episode of the podcast Beyond the Box Set in which the two British hosts pitch sequels that “nobody asked for” for films they love. It was titled “The Birdcage: Starina Rides Again.”

“So, I’ve got nothing to do, I listened to it,” he says in this preview of next week’s 100th episode of The Last Laugh podcast. The first idea they threw out there was “not good” in his opinion, but as he listened to their second pitch he started thinking to himself, “Gee, this is really good, I’d like to see this movie.”

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With both director Mike Nichols and his co-star Robin Williams gone, Lane had always thought that “you can’t really revisit” the classic comedy film, which was released 25 years ago next week. “But what this guy came up with, I thought, wow, it’s a way to honor Robin and go off on another adventure with my character and [Hank Azaria’s] Agador Spartacus going to Guatemala,” he explains. “It’s a really smart, clever, funny pitch.”

“So, I said to my manager, listen to this,” Lane continues. “He takes it to MGM. MGM likes it. So they’re optioning it and they’re going to try to team with a streamer and see if it can actually happen! And this is all because of a podcast.”

Then, all of a sudden, he realized, “Maybe someone should mention this to Hank Azaria.” Lane called up the actor to see what he thought and Azaria told him something along the lines of, “I can’t possibly play the part again. People would go crazy. I have one word for you: Apu.’”

Before Azaria’s breakthrough film performance as Agador Spartacus, he had already made a name for himself voicing several characters on The Simpsons, including Kwik-E-Mart owner Apu.

After comedian Hari Kondabolu released his documentary The Problem With Apu in 2017, which highlighted the racist implications of having a white actor play that stereotypically Indian character, Azaria ultimately decided to stop playing the role. He recently told The New York Times, “Once I realized that that was the way this character was thought of, I just didn’t want to participate in it anymore. It just didn’t feel right.”

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For the actor to then step back into the role of a Guatemalan “house boy” in a sequel to The Birdcage would inevitably open him up to another round of justified criticism. According to Lane, Azaria said, “I loved playing it, I would love to do it again, but it’s just not appropriate now. And you should get a Latin actor.”

“So then, again, I thought, ‘Oh well, maybe that’s the end of that,’” Lane says. “And then I thought, ‘Gee, this idea is so good, if you could find a great Latin actor or comedian, it could maybe still work.’ It’s now 25 years later, we’re all older looking. Maybe Agador looks a little different.”

When I suggest that the story could center on Albert and Agador’s son somehow, Lane gets excited. “‘The Birdcage 2: Son of Agador!’” he imagines. Then he deflates again, adding, “Anyway look, I don’t know if it’ll ever happen.”

Of course, this conversation about who is “allowed” to portray which parts also extends to the debate surrounding straight actors playing gay roles. That public conversation was recently reignited amid the release of the new film Supernova, starring straight actors Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth as an aging couple, and HBO Max’s It’s a Sin, in which all of the lead gay roles are played by gay performers.

Lane was notably the only gay actor in the main cast of The Birdcage, even though he did not come out publicly until he started promoting it—more on that in our full interview next week—but he says he does not believe gay roles “have to be played” by gay actors.

“Do I think maybe something special might come from it? Perhaps,” he says. “You have to take into consideration the world we’re living in right now. And on some level you can’t really fight it. Sometimes there’s a point and sometimes it seems ridiculous.”

As someone who has been able to play plenty of straight roles over the past quarter-century, he thinks there has to be some room for actors to take on characters that are unlike themselves.

“I certainly get it. But to say it has to be this—I mean, to a certain degree, it’s like, well, does this mean Meryl Streep is out of business because she can’t do another accent ever again?” Lane adds. He imagines the accusatory mob shouting, “She’s not Polish!”

“What about acting?” he asks. “This is a part of acting, to take on different personalities, a totally different character than you. So, I don’t know. Obviously, I think it’s a healthy discussion, but I think it can be taken to an extreme and I get nostalgic for just being able to act.”

Subscribe to The Last Laugh podcast now to hear our full conversation with Nathan Lane about the 25th anniversary of ‘The Birdcage,’ including stories about Mike Nichols, Robin Williams, Gene Hackman, Oprah Winfrey and a lot more when it drops next Tuesday, March 2nd.

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