Bringing TV properties to the big screen is a dicey proposition; for every success, there's a fistful of failures that didn't make the cut. (Hands up if you remember I Spy. ...) But gathered in Hollywood for a press conference, the stars and creative staff of Get Smart were relaxed and calm, fielding questions about everything from the tricky business of mocking intelligence in a post-9/11 world, what it takes to play a bad guy, and what it's like to make out with Steve Carell.
The cast was asked if they actually went back to the '60s TV show to get a sense of playing their parts; each of them had a different answer. Steve Carell explained "I didn't want to do an impersonation of Don Adams; I figured there was no way to improve upon what he had done, and I thought the more I watched of him, the more inclined I would be to do an impersonation, because he was so good, so definitive in the role; so no, I sort of backed off."
Alan Arkin was far more succinct about his process: "I made the choice 30 years ago of not watching the show. ..." Anne Hathaway, however, did go back to the original series and Barbra Feldon's oiteration of her character: "I actually grew up watching the show on Nick at Nite, and loved it, so it was really fun to revisit it; I wanted to revisit it, because I was one of the last people cast, so I unfortunately missed the collaboration, "This is the movie we're making," part of the process, and I wanted to make sure that I understood what tone we were trying to achieve. "
And the tone of the film owes a lot to Segal's high-end production team, which included such behind-the-scenes veterans as director of photography Dean Semler (The Road Warrior) and editor Richard Pearson (The Bourne Supremacy): I asked Segal if it was easy to blend high-end action and comedy, or if there were bumps along the way.
"Not at all; once Steve signed on, everything sort of fell into place. Everybody wanted to come and play, and because of the tone that we set out to make -- which Steve and I referred to as "a comedic Bourne Supremacy" -- we went after the people who would make those kinds of movies. And I'd worked with (director of photography) Dean Semler several times. And Deb Scott, our costume designer, won the Oscar for Titanic, because we knew the show had an iconic look; the fashion back then was so sharp, and the '60s permeates a lot of fashion throughout the decades, unlike, say, the '70s. And so we went after as primo a cast behind the scenes as we had in front of the cameras, because we knew what tone we were trying to set."
I also asked producer Charles Roven what specifically about Get Smart made him think the film could be a success when so many other TV-to-big-screen adaptations have failed. "Well, I think that the creative team really ... Get Smart had been in development at Warner Brothers for a number of years before I became involved, but when the creative team came together -- Pete (Segal) and Steve (Carell) and Matt (Ember) and Tom (J. Astle) -- and the vision for what this was to be ... we wanted to make an action-comedy and take inspiration from the '60s show, not be a slave to it. ..."
I also wondered if there was ever a concern on the part of the moviemakers that the idea of an incompetent secret agent, or an incompetent intelligence agency, might be less funny nowadays considering recent events. Screenwriter Matt Ember spoke to the film's deliberate take on crafting Maxwell Smart for a modern age:
"I don't think we set out to make (Maxwell Smart) incompetent; our goal was to take a very intelligent person and tell an origin story of how he becomes an agent, but we start with him as an analyst, in a very intelligent, skilled position. His mistakes don't come from incompetence, they come from maybe a lack of experience in the field. ..." And at this point, producer Roven adds " ... and some unbridled enthusiasm over the fact that he's finally getting his wish to be a field agent, because he couldn't become a field agent ... once he was physically capable of doing it, he was too good at his analyst job; he's anything but an idiot. "
And yet, the press conference wasn't all dramatic theory and pop-culture politics; when Masi Oka of Heroes noted he'd love to one day play a villain, Terence Stamp (who famously took on villain duties in Superman II) sneered, jokingly, "He's too young ..." with Nate Torrence leaping to his co-star's defense, countering "No, he's not! You can kneel before him!" Torrence then added, in a nod to co-star Stamp's iconic past, "I'm just trying to keep it steady right now; I got Zod beside me; he walks on water. ..." Stamp, mock-offended, added "Zod off, is all I can say. ..."
And as a finale, Anne Hathaway perfectly summed up the day's mix of admiration and mockery when she was asked if it's true she's a huge fan of The Office and, as a follow-up, what was like to make out with Steve Carell: "To say that I'm a fan of The Office is putting it mildly; when I haven't seen Steve for a few weeks, one of the first things I ask him is "What's coming up?" ... And making out with him is like ... the yummiest lollipop dipped in sunshine in a masculine wrapper; that's the only way I can put it. ..."