While filming the original The Producers in 1968, actor Andréas Voutsinas (aka Carmen Ghia) passed along this wisdom to Mel Brooks: "Or you got it or you ain't." Those mangled yet profound words have stuck with the 79-year-old comic legend, who definitely proved he's still "got it" when he made the decision to take The Producers to Broadway. Years after first hitting the boards, the Tony-winning hit continues to play around the world to sellout crowds. (He's now hard at work bringing Young Frankenstein to life on the Great White Way!) TVGuide.com spoke with Brooks about the film version of that stage-musical version of The Producers (out on DVD today), as well as get his take on the upcoming Get Smart movie and the possibility of more Spaceballs. It was a convivial little exchange, until the question of retirement came up....
TVGuide.com: You wrote The Producers in the late 1960s and we're still talking about it today. Do you ever feel like telling people to just let it go?
Mel Brooks: No! Let me ask you a question: Do you think Dostoyevsky would have said, "Hey, that Crime and Punishment stuff let it go"? No, he would have said, "Hey, you should buy it in paperback."
TVGuide.com: The new film's director and much of the cast are from the Broadway production. Was there ever any question about using the same people?
Brooks: No, the main thing driving us all was to get the production memorialized on film. We wanted to get Nathan Lane's performance as Bialystock and Matthew Broderick's Leo Bloom on film so we'd have it forever and ever. But we were also lucky to get Uma Thurman to play Ula. [The role was originated on stage by Cady Huffman.]
TVGuide: How did that come about?
Brooks: Uma's agent called and said, "I heard you're looking for a tall, beautiful, Swedish blonde. I think I got one." And Susan Stroman, the director, said, "All right, but can she sing and dance?" The agent said, "Not at the moment, but I think in a few days she could." So Stro got together with Uma and literally in 10 days she had her doing every step and belting out high notes. It was an amazing metamorphosis.
TVGuide.com: The other new addition to the cast was Will Ferrell as Franz Leibkind. What had you seen in his previous work that made you think he'd be right for the part?
Brooks: The minute I knew I was going to do a movie, I let him know and he said, "Yeah, deal me in." Mostly I knew him from Saturday Night Live, because my son [Max Brooks] was a writer there for two years. I'd come there every Saturday and just from that I knew Will was one of the funniest guys in the world. He goes for the throat. The guy's a maniac. He's very good in the movie and it's a good movie. I know I shouldn't say that because I wrote it, but the jokes work.
TVGuide.com: Speaking of the jokes, why is Hitler still comic gold?
Brooks: I haven't the foggiest. Maybe it's because of those arcane shows on The History Channel. It's a wacky channel.
TVGuide.com: A Get Smart movie starring Steve Carell is on the way. What was your input on that?
Brooks: I think they may be making a big error. They haven't called me, even though Buck Henry and I created the character [of Maxwell Smart]. I like Steve Carell he's very funny, and if they get a good script and a talented director, they may have a shot at it. But it would be wise of them to pass the script under my nose. I might have a random thought that could be helpful. I think they give Buck Henry and me creator credits, but that's just a sly way of using our names. Anyway, I wish them luck.
TVGuide.com: There is also a Spaceballs follow-up rumor that just won't die. Can you set the record straight on if there are any plans for a sequel?
Brooks: There is a shot at Spaceballs becoming a half-hour animated TV series. I wouldn't mind doing the voice for President Skroob or Yoghurt, if they wanted me to. So I'm hoping that will happen with Spaceballs.
TVGuide.com: In June you'll turn 80. Do you ever think of retiring, or is the allure of showbiz too tough to give up?
Brooks: I'm not giving anything up! I'm going to continue doing what I'm doing. Do you see me driving a forklift? Do you see me unloading a truck of flour? What the f--- have I got to do!? I can lift a pencil and write 50 or 60 pages on a legal pad. It ain't hard work. All you need is a little bit of inspiration.