Why mystery-comedy ‘Only Murders’ had Nathan Lane go dark

Nathan Lane

“I actually made that decision about 12 years ago and collectively strived to take on roles that would be more challenging for both myself and the audience,” says Nathan Lane, here at the LongHouse Reserve Sculpture Gardens in East Hampton , NY, the actor was nominated for his darker role in Only Murders in the Building.

(Clark Hodgin / For the Times)

When Nathan Lane was first nominated for an Emmy for Guest Actor in a Comedy, he played a thief who steals Frasier Crane’s briefcase and identity in 1995’s Frasier. “Modern Family” (three times) and “The Good Wife”. When he received his seventh Emmy nomination this year – this time for his role in Hulu’s mystery comedy Only Murders in the Building – he became the most-nominated guest actor in television history. The versatile performer, who has also won three Tonys for his roles in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, The Producers and Angels in America, spoke to The Envelope about his career on a hot summer’s day his home in East Hampton, NY

First of all, congratulations on being a Mr. Emmy Record-Breaker! How does it feel to be nominated again and what do you remember from the first time you received a notification like this on Frasier?

[Laughing] It’s wonderful and I feel old. As you know, for some reason they give the guest actor award at the Creative Arts Emmys, right in the middle of the technical categories, and it’s a very long night. This year they split it up into two nights because there are just so many awards. That’s why people advise you against it because it’s best to see if you win first. Then a week later you’ll be invited to the Primetime Emmys with the big boys! Since this was my first nomination, I wanted to be there. I don’t know why nobody talked me out of it because I was dealing with the likes of Sid Caesar (“Love & War”) and Carl Reiner (“Mad About You”). There was no way I would win. And of course I lost [to Reiner].

In Only Murders in the Building you play Teddy Dimas, one of the suspects from season one who has a deaf son. They are longtime friends with the show’s leads Steve Martin and Martin Short. How did you come to the show?

yes we are all friends I knew they were doing a show for Hulu and they offered me this wonderful role and it sounded like great fun. I thought it was just going to be a comedic comedy. Of course, it’s a much more complicated show. It’s a crime and a comedy and also an exploration of loneliness and life in the big city and what it means to grow older. Teddy Dimas turned out to be much more complicated and darker than I had imagined.

Nathan Lane

Nathan Lane.

(Clark Hodgin / For the Times)

You have some heartbreaking scenes where you play a father who can’t accept that his son is deaf. How did you prepare for this?

They explained to me earlier the details of my role and that I would have to learn my scenes in American Sign Language. It became a really big challenge because I only had six weeks until we had to shoot those scenes. I had a brilliant interpreter and trainer named Doug Ridloff. I also owe a lot to James Caverly who played my son. He was wonderful and gracious to me in all our scenes together. The character I played was ashamed that his son was deaf, so he put off learning ASL for a while, which happens quite often. Somehow these parents think they will change their children. That’s why Teddy isn’t very good at it because he learned it later in life.

In your earlier film and television career you were best known for your comedic roles such as Albert in The Birdcage and Timon the Meerkat in The Lion King. But in recent years we’ve seen her in darker, more dramatic roles. How did this change come about?

I actually made that decision about 12 years ago and made an intense effort to take on roles that would be more challenging for both myself and the audience. Back then I was doing The Iceman Cometh at the Goodman Theater in Chicago with my late, great friend Brian Dennehy. Playing Eugene O’Neill and playing one of the most difficult roles was a life changing experience. Then I did a few seasons of The Good Wife and The People v. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story” was added. I also did the revival of Angels in America in London and on Broadway. All of that other work got me into playing Roy Cohn on stage. I was able to do this almost impossible thing, which changed people’s perception of me a bit. So it’s not such a big shock that I’m playing more serious roles.

They also seem to be having a lot of fun playing Ward McAllister in HBO’s period drama The Gilded Age this year.

Yes, he’s a very colorful character who was a real historical figure. The joy is not only in being on these sets and wearing these costumes, but also in being part of what appears to be a great New York repertory group. You work with people who are either old friends or whose work you loved from afar. It’s also a lot of fun playing Ward on a show where everyone seems a bit downtrodden! Much has been written about him and I have also read his book Society As I Found It. It reminded me of what happened with Truman Capote because people were offended by some of the stories he told and he was shunned by the very people he adored. He was a fascinating and strange little man!

https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/awards/story/2022-08-16/nathan-lane-only-murders-in-the-building Why mystery-comedy ‘Only Murders’ had Nathan Lane go dark

Sarah Ridley

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