In the big-screen adaptation of the '60s TV show Get Smart, Alan Arkin takes on the role of The Chief, the spymaster originally portrayed by Edward Platt. Bold, resolute, and perpetually frustrated by the efforts and mistakes of the overly-enthusiastic Maxwell Smart (Steve Carell), The Chief is an ideal part for someone with Arkin's slow-burn comedy timing, and a chance for the Oscar-winning actor to stand out in one of the biggest-budget films of Arkin's career. Cinematical spoke with Arkin in Hollywood about how he came on board the film, his long professional history of mocking the American intelligence establishment, doing his own stunts and if he'd be back for a Get Smart sequel.
Cinematical: I was reading in the press notes, which I'm never inclined to trust ...
Alan Arkin: I deny it; I never said anything like that in my life. ...
Cinematical: I read how Mr. Carell was how you got involved in the film ...
AA: I'm hearing that today for the first time; I've heard it from three people, so maybe it's true ...
AA: I had no idea. All I know is that I got the script from my agent, they asked me if I wanted to do it, and I said 'Yes.'
Cinematical: Was knowing that Steve was involved a bonus for you?
AA: Absolutely. We had a wonderful time on Little Miss Sunshine, so I anticipated that there (was) no reason to assume otherwise for this.
Cinematical: You get this script from your agent and it's a big property, quote-unquote 'franchise,' quote-unquote 'brand' ... It's not the sort of thing you normally do.
AA: Well, If I got offered them, I'd do them; I like to have a decent paycheck for a change; I don't like to work for scale; I'm in my seventies. I'd like to be able to lie down for a little while, once in a while.
Cinematical: Which is an excellent thing; at the same time, was this is slightly larger production than you're used to?
AA: No; I've done a lot of big productions; The Russians Are Coming ... was a huge production, they didn't have all the special effects they do now. The Russians Are Coming ... was big; Catch-22 was gigantic; Freebie and the Bean was enormous; The Rocketeer was a huge production. There have been others, too; I can't remember what they were. I've been in a lot of big productions.
Cinematical: It was interesting, when you were going through your filmography; earlier in your career, you played a lot of anti-authority figures; now you're playing more authority figures. Is that a natural transition?
AA: I think it has to do with age. There are not a lot of parts for70-year-old beatniks.
Cinematical: The other thing I was thinking about, researching last night, is that you were in The In-Laws which was nearly 30 years ago; between The In-Laws and Get Smart, you've kind of been gently poking fun at U.S. intelligence for three decades. As an actor, is that a source of comfort that you have a steady paycheck, or as a taxpayer, is it depressing that the U.S. intelligence apparatus is such a reliable source of comedy?
AA: It's not just my movies; I think there's a lot of that that goes on. But it's hard to beat the comedy that's actually going on -- unless it's a tragedy, simultaneously. I enjoyed doing it a lot; I had a great time punching out the Vice-President in this movie.
Cinematical: You were doing a lot of action, a lot of stunts; was there any concern on your part. ...
AA: I hurt myself; I hurt myself pretty badly, doing something simple, something stupid; jumping over the desk, I bashed myself on the hip and I was black and blue and sore for about three weeks; I have to be careful with standing up these days; it can be dangerous.
Cinematical: Was there anything specific about the character that appealed to you, or was it just the chance to go "I'm going to be part of a big, fun ensemble film"?
AA: The second thing, very much so -- but as the drafts, as it got re-written, they put more comedic stuff in for me, which made me endlessly happy; so I got both things going on simultaneously.
Cinematical: This morning at the press conference, you mentioned that you only got to ad-lib one line. ...
AA: That's not true. The thing of my not being able to get the name (of supporting bad guy 'Ladislas Krstic') right, early on in the film, that we just played with; that was something we just did at the last minute. And then I asked, when Jimmy (James Caan) keep saying 'nucular' the way our august President says it, I said "For years, I've been wanting to just ... it's infuriated me." So I said "You gotta let me just say it the right way. ..." So they let me do it; my character blurts it out. ...
Cinematical: And thereby lives the dream of millions of Americans.
AA: I should hope so.
Cinematical: When you made The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming!, you actually had to build a prop sub back then; you couldn't just do a couple clicks here and a couple of clicks there and make it happen; do you find the technology of things had changed?
AA: Oh my god, yeah ... that was 40 years ago; it's changed dramatically., And yet, the cutting-edge science-fiction movie, to this day, remains 2001 ... which was made 40 years ago.
Cinematical: What was the biggest surprise you had in terms of working with your other cast members; you've worked with Mr. Carell before, but Ms. Hathaway or Mr. Johnson ...
AA: She was the biggest surprise to me; I had seen her work before, and it's really good, but I thought her take on this character was wonderful. Very specific, very strong and absolutely present; I was shocked. I usually feel like I can get a vague idea of how people are going to play something when I read the script, but she had a take on it that constantly surprised me.
Cinematical: Were you familiar with Mr. Johnson's work?
AA: No, I wasn't, but he's terrific; he's a lovely man, too, a really good guy.
Cinematical: One final question: If this film does fairly well, and Warner Brothers shareholders are happy, and the call goes out for a Get Smart 2 ...?
AA: You bet.
Cinematical: Get Smarter?
AA: Sign me up; you bet. Yeah. Immediately.