A: It's an insane combination of James Bond and Mel Brooks comedy. It has a wonderful fusion and special effects and comedy, which is very rare. Usually, when you get big special effects pictures, sci-fi and things, there's little or no comedy. Or it's a domestic comedy and there's not one special effect like "Knocked Up." But very rarely do these things fuse and come out right.
Q: You were able to do it with "Spaceballs." What's the trick?
A: I'd say the trick is talent. Andreas Voutsinas said that to me when we were making "The Producers" in 1968 he played Carmen Ghia, the gay roommate of the very gay director Roger De Bris. I said, "How do these things work, Andreas?" And he said, "Or you got it or you ain't." I said, "You're Greek, Andreas. We don't start sentences with 'or' in America."
But he was absolutely right. It's talent. Either you got it or you ain't. Give someone else the premise of "Blazing Saddles" and you'd probably get only the vulgarity. Only the farting scene. Give it to me and my cohorts and the engine is the prejudice against the black sheriff that drives the movie. So you've got to know how to do it.
Q: A lot of your projects have been getting remade recently. Do you go to them or do they come to you?
A: It's all haphazard. Someone called me up and said, "They're making a movie of 'Get Smart.' " I said, "Oh, really? What are they going to call it?" They said, "'Get Smart.' " I said, "That was wise."
Because they did do a movie based on "Get Smart" about 20 years ago called "The Nude Bomb." I said, "That's foolish."
Q: You didn't have any say in the title?
A: No, not at all. I had nothing to do with it. They never even called me! This one, they called me from Day One. They said, "What do you think of this?" Or "What do you think of that?" And I'd say yay or nay.
It's got a good director, Peter Segal. Wonderful director. The writers were great. The producers were young and aggressive and smart. But the brilliance is Steve Carell. To choose a guy who's right in the Don Adams groove. You couldn't get a better guy than Steve Carell. And yet he doesn't do Don Adams. He does none of his delivery. He just does Steve Carell.
Q: It seems like the premise is strong enough to have multiple interpretations of Maxwell Smart.
A: It's the earnest stupidity of organizations like the CIA. I would say honest and earnest stupidity. They want to do a good job. But they don't hire enough [multicultural people]. They hire too many WASPs and they get too much white-bread thinking.
Q: And this was true back in 1965 as well as today.
A: Exactly! Buck Henry and I thought if we could just get some hip thinking, maybe a borscht belt comic. They didn't want a back story for Agent 86, but I provided one. I said he works the Buffalo Lodge. And he's a drummer in the band. And he also does the line, "Good evening ladies and gentlemen, I met a girl who was so skinny, the waiter said 'Check your umbrella.' " They never used that back story. In my mind, I had a more protean, rich background guy. Rather than the Harvard-educated guy. Someone with street smarts.
And that's the problem today with organizations like the CIA and the FBI.
Q: How do you feel that 40-some years later, the situation hasn't improved as far as the CIA being out of touch?
A: It's true. They're still out of touch. In a strange way, they're still kind of supermen, kind of SS troops: We're blond and the best and everyone else should be incinerated. They argue about waterboarding! Is it right to shove water up a person's nostrils? Or maybe we shouldn't do it as much. Or maybe we should do half as much water up his nostrils. They just simply don't see the picture. They don't know right from wrong. That's what makes a satire of these government bureaus really funny.
Q: Does "Get Smart" have a fan following in the spy community?