Canadian funnyman Leslie Nielsen is only a few months shy of his 83 birthday, but still loves making a fool of himself on camera.
Known primarily for his work with co-writers/directors Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker in Airplane and the Naked Gun movies, Nielsen has become a comedy icon for an entire generation.
But that wasn’t always the case. For the first half of his career, Nielsen was exclusively known for his dramatic work on film and television. “I’ve done comedy all of my life,” Nielsen told Metro. “It was just that people saw me in a certain light and wanted me to play more conservative roles for years.”
That all changed when Abrahams and the Zuckers cast Nielsen in the 1980 comedy classic Airplane. “They picked me to play the doctor in Airplane even though I hadn’t really done comedy. The studio wanted somebody else and didn’t think that I could do it, but they decided that I was a funny guy and fought for me to play the role,” said Nielsen.
“It turned out that I really enjoyed doing comedy, but also doing comedy the way they do it.” Nielsen specializes cartoony parody films that are over the top and filled with slapstick. But no matter how silly the role, he always plays it with dramatic conviction.
“People always say to me ‘I don’t know how you keep a straight face.’ I always say that you have to keep a straight face with this type of comedy, because if you let the audience know that you think it’s funny, they won’t laugh,” said Nielsen.
Nielsen has now spent as much of his career doing comedy as he has dramatic work and has found a comfortable niche.
His latest project is Stan Helsing a parody of horror films due to be released on Friday. He appears in drag in a small role as a waitress and enjoyed his experience working on the film, even if it was a little more haphazard than he is used to.
“These low budget films today get made pretty fast,” said Nielsen. “Sometimes you just get one shot at the scene and even if you don’t get it right, you’re moving on to the next scene. That’s the way she goes.”
Stan Helsing fits comfortably into the string of parody films Nielsen has appeared in since the ’80s and he has no intention of abandoning this style of comedy any time soon. “I always have the desire to do good comedy,” said Nielsen.
“There are genres laying all over the ground just waiting to be parodied. There’s nothing that you can’t make fun of and have a good time.”