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Leslie Nielsen on comedy, whoopee cushions, and Oklahoma

by Matthew Price Modified: April 22, 2013 at 4:15 pm •  Published: November 29, 2010
Leslie Nielsen with Nicollette Sheridan, promoting "Spy Hard" in 1996.
Leslie Nielsen with Nicollette Sheridan, promoting "Spy Hard" in 1996.

Former Oklahoman entertainment reporter Sandi Davis called me to tell me about meeting Leslie Nielsen in 1996, when the actor was promoting the film “Spy Hard.”   She said he was very funny, and had a soft spot for Oklahoma.   Sandi encouraged me to share the story, originally printed on May 24, 1996, in The Oklahoman, with current NewsOK readers.   Nielsen died Sunday in Florida.  Check out the story below.

- Matt Price

Comedy Irresistible Lure for Dramatic Actor
By Sandi Davis

LOS ANGELES – Leslie Nielsen quit playing it straight years ago.

Once a respected dramatic actor, Nielsen walked away from that to become one of today’s best loved buffoons, starring in send-ups of disaster movies, police dramas and now action thrillers.

His latest incarnation is as Dick Steele, Agent WD-40, in Hollywood Pictures’ “Spy Hard,” which starts today in Oklahoma City.

The Walt Disney Co. paid for reporters to come to Los Angeles to see the movie and interview the stars.

The movie, a daffy spoof of movies like “Cliffhanger,” “True Lies,” “In the Line of Fire” and all things James Bond, is full of slapstick, low humor and bad puns – and is good for some real belly laughs.

Nielsen good-humoredly went through his interviews squeezing a hand-size “whoopee cushion” at inappropriate times.

“I’m going for laughs and fun,” he said. “I’m through making serious decisions.”

The actor has a formula for his characters like Steele.

“They always must look credible, no matter how stupid,” he said. “Frank Dreben (from the ‘Naked Gun’ series) didn’t ever react because he didn’t see any of it happen. Steele is that way.”

Nielsen admits that the intoxicating sound of laughter was what lured him away from straight drama.

“I’ve found people with a great sense of humor don’t take themselves too seriously, but the switch to comedy from drama still took some courage,” he said.

Another actor, Andy Griffith, makes the leap in “Spy Hard,” playing the villain, the armless General Rancor. Rancor’s arms were blown off in an explosion caused by Agent WD-40. He’s come back to exact his revenge on the agent and all involved.

It’s strange to see Mayberry’s sheriff play a wicked man, but he pulls it off with a great sense of fun.

“I originally met Andy Griffith in 1960, but we hadn’t worked together,” Nielsen said. “You know he just finished a gospel album.”

Nielsen is no stranger to Oklahoma. His close friend, Jack “Duffy” Martin, has designed several golf courses in the metro area. Most recently, Martin opened Cimarron Trails in Guthrie. The actor comes to Oklahoma to play golf with his friend and enjoys the time he has spent here.

“I miss Oklahoma,” he said. “I’m looking forward to coming back and playing at Cedar Valley and Cimarron Trails and seeing the Martin family.”

He’ll probably bring his little noisemaker. Be prepared.

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by Matthew Price
Features Editor
Features Editor Matthew Price has worked for The Oklahoman since 2000. He’s a University of Oklahoma graduate who has also worked at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and was a Dow Jones Newspaper Fund intern for the Dallas Morning News. He’s...
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