Nathan Lane (born Joseph Lane; February 3, 1956) is an American actor and writer. In a career spanning 45 years he has been seen on stage and screen in many roles including Albert in The Birdcage, Max Bialystock in the musical The Producers, Ernie Smuntz in Mouse Hunt, Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls, Pseudolus in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and in many plays by Terrence McNally, including The Lisbon Traviata, Lips Together, Teeth Apart, and Love! Valour! Compassion!. His voice work includes The Lion King as Timon and Stuart Little as Snowbell. He has played recurring roles on television in Modern Family, The Good Wife, The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story as F. Lee Bailey, and was a regular on Penny Dreadful: City of Angels as Detective Lewis Michener.
Lane has received six Tony Award nominations and won three for his performances in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1996), The Producers (2001) and Angels in America (2018). Lane has also won six Drama Desk Awards, six Outer Critics Circle awards, two Obies, the Lucille Lortel Award and the Olivier Award. He has also received two Golden Globe nominations, six Primetime Emmy nominations, a Screen Actors Guild Award, two Daytime Emmy Awards, and a People's Choice Award. In 2006, Lane received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and in 2008, he was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame. In 2010, The New York Times described Lane as "the greatest stage entertainer of the decade".
Nathan Lane was born Joseph Lane in Jersey City, New Jersey, on February 3, 1956. His father, Daniel, was a truck driver and an aspiring tenor who died in 1967 from alcoholism when Lane was eleven. His mother, Nora, was a housewife and secretary who suffered from bipolar disorder and died in 2000. He has two older brothers, Daniel Jr. and Robert. Lane's parents were Catholics of Irish descent. He was named after his uncle, a Jesuit priest. Lane attended Catholic schools in Jersey City, including Jesuit-run St. Peter's Preparatory School, where he was voted Best Actor in 1974, and years later received the 2011 Prep Hall of Fame Professional Achievement Award.
Film and theatre career
Accepted to Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia on a drama scholarship, he was accompanied on what was supposed to be his first day there by his older brother Dan. Discovering that the scholarship would not cover enough of his expenses, he decided to leave, and work for a year to earn some money. "I remember him saying to me, 'College is for people who don't know what they want to do,'" his brother said. Because there already was a Joseph Lane registered with Actors' Equity, he changed his name to Nathan after the character Nathan Detroit from the musical Guys and Dolls. He moved to New York City where, after a long struggle, his career began to take off, first with some brief success in the world of stand-up comedy with partner Patrick Stack, and later with Off-Broadway productions at Second Stage Theatre, the Roundabout Theatre, and the Manhattan Theatre Club. He made his Broadway debut in a 1982 revival of Noël Coward's Present Laughter as Roland Maule (Drama Desk nomination) with George C. Scott, Kate Burton, Dana Ivey, Bette Henritze, Elizabeth Hubbard, Jim Piddock, and Christine Lahti.
His second Broadway appearance was in the 1983 musical Merlin, starring Chita Rivera and magician Doug Henning. This was followed by Wind in the Willows as Mr. Toad, Some Americans Abroad at Lincoln Center, and the national tour of Neil Simon's Broadway Bound.
Off-Broadway productions included Love (the musical version of Murray Schisgal's Luv), Measure for Measure directed by Joseph Papp in Central Park, for which he received the St. Clair Bayfield Award, The Common Pursuit, The Film Society, In a Pig's Valise, She Stoops to Conquer, The Merry Wives of Windsor and A Midsummer Night's Dream. He also appeared at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in The School for Scandal and John Guare's Moon Over Miami.
In 1991, Lane appeared with George C. Scott again in a revival of Paul Osborne's On Borrowed Time at the Circle in the Square Theatre on Broadway. In 1992, he starred in the hit revival of Guys and Dolls, playing Nathan Detroit, the character who lent him his name, opposite Peter Gallagher and Faith Prince. For this performance, he received his first Tony nomination, as well as Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards. In 1992, he won an Obie Award for Sustained Excellence of Performance.
His professional association with his close friend the playwright Terrence McNally, whom he met in 1987, includes roles in The Lisbon Traviata (Drama Desk and Lucille Lortel Awards, and Outer Critics Circle nomination), Bad Habits, Lips Together, Teeth Apart, Love! Valour! Compassion! (Obie, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle Awards), Dedication or the Stuff of Dreams, which opened in 2005 (Drama Desk nomination), The Last Mile on PBS Great Performances, and the film version of Frankie and Johnny.
The early 1990s began a stretch of successful Broadway shows for Lane. In 1993, he portrayed Sid Caesar-like Max Prince in Neil Simon's Laughter on the 23rd Floor, inspired by Simon's early career writing sketches for Your Show of Shows. In 1996, he starred in the hit revival of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, for which he won the Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards. In 1998, he appeared Off-Broadway in Jon Robin Baitz's revised 1984 comedy, Mizlansky/Zilinsky or 'Schmucks'.
His association with Stephen Sondheim began with the workshop of Assassins. in 1989. In 1999, he appeared with Victor Garber in the workshop of Wise Guys (later retitled Road Show). His collaboration with Sondheim continued when Lane revised the original book for and starred in the Broadway debut of the composer's The Frogs at Lincoln Center in 2004. The Sondheim song, "Little Dream," in the film The Birdcage, for which Lane received his first Golden Globe nomination, was supposedly written especially for him. The film, an American remake of the classic French farce La Cage aux Folles, was directed by Mike Nichols with a screenplay by Elaine May, and starred Robin Williams, Lane, and Gene Hackman, and went on to be a big success. This was followed by the dark comedy Mouse Hunt, one of the first films to come out of the newly formed DreamWorks Studios, in which he co-starred with British comedian Lee Evans and Christopher Walken. It was also the feature film debut of Gore Verbinski, who later went on to direct Pirates of the Caribbean.
In 1994, Lane voiced Timon, the meerkat, in Disney's blockbuster animated film The Lion King and reprised the role in its sequels. In 1995, Lane voiced the meerkat in the early episodes of Timon & Pumbaa. In 1995, he played the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz in Concert at Lincoln Center to benefit the Children's Defense Fund. The performance was originally broadcast on Turner Network Television (TNT). In 1999, he appeared in the Encores! concert revival of Do Re Mi at City Center. That same year he also voiced the role of Snowbell in the family film Stuart Little, opposite his Life With Mikey co-star Michael J. Fox.
In 2001, he starred as Max Bialystock in the blockbuster musical version of Mel Brooks's The Producers, a role that earned him his second Tony as well as Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards. The following year he would go on to reprise his role as Snowbell in Stuart Little 2. He then appeared as Vincent Crummles in a film adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby, for which the cast received the Ensemble Acting award from the National Board of Review. In 2004, he replaced Richard Dreyfuss in The Producers in the West End. Dreyfuss was let go just a week before the show's first preview at London's Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Lane went on to win the Olivier Award as Best Actor in a Musical. His performance in the film version, opposite Broadway co-star, Matthew Broderick as Leo Bloom, earned him his second Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy. In 2003 he starred Off-Broadway in Trumbo: Red, White, and Blacklisted.
In 2005, Lane rejoined Broderick for a successful limited run of The Odd Couple. In 2006, he took on a primarily dramatic role in a revival of Simon Gray's Butley, having played the role to great success at The Huntington Theater in Boston in 2003. He and Broderick received adjacent stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in a joint ceremony on January 9, 2006, and were immortalized in wax as Max and Leo at Madame Tussauds Museum in New York City on January 16, 2009. In 2008, he played the President of the United States in the David Mamet political satire, November, directed by Joe Mantello. This was followed by the critically acclaimed 2009 revival of Waiting for Godot (Outer Critics Circle nomination) in which he played Estragon opposite Bill Irwin's Vladimir. He was a 2008 American Theatre Hall of Fame inductee.
In 2010, Lane starred in the musical version of The Addams Family as Gomez (Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle nominations). That year he also received a Drama League Award for Distinguished Achievement in Musical Theater. Committed to starring in a revival of the Eugene O'Neill play The Iceman Cometh at Chicago's Goodman Theatre in 2012, Lane assumed the role of Hickey, with Brian Dennehy playing the role of Larry Slade in a production directed by the Goodman's Artistic Director, Robert Falls. Receiving rave reviews, it won six Jeff Awards, including Best Ensemble, Director, and Production, and is the most successful show to date in the theater's history. In the spring of 2013, Lane returned to Broadway in The Nance, a Lincoln Center production of a new play by Douglas Carter Beane that was directed by Jack O'Brien. For this performance, he received Tony and Drama Desk Award nominations and won the Outer Critics Circle Award and the 2013 Drama League Award for Distinguished Performance. The play aired on PBS Live From Lincoln Center in 2014.
In autumn 2014, he appeared in an all-star ensemble of Terrence McNally's revised and updated It's Only a Play, with F. Murray Abraham, Matthew Broderick, Stockard Channing, Rupert Grint, Megan Mullally, and Micah Stock. The show became one of the biggest hits of the season. In February 2015 he reprised the role of Hickey in the Robert Falls production of The Iceman Cometh to great acclaim at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. He later returned to the Broadway run of It's Only a Play. In 2015, he received the Eugene O' Neill Theater Center Monte Cristo Award for his body of work. In March 2016, he opened the play White Rabbit, Red Rabbit Off-Broadway. In fall of 2016, he returned to Broadway to rave reviews in an all-star revival of Hecht and MacArthur's The Front Page, directed by Jack O'Brien and produced by Scott Rudin. He played the ruthless editor Walter Burns opposite John Slattery as Hildy Johnson and John Goodman as Sheriff Hartman, for which he received Tony, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle award nominations. Following that he played Roy Cohn with Andrew Garfield as Prior Walter in the revival of Angels in America, directed by Marianne Elliott at the Lyttlelton Theatre of the National Theatre of Great Britain. Lane reprised his acclaimed portrayal on Broadway at the Neil Simon Theatre, and won the Tony, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle Awards for Best Featured Actor in a Play.
In March 2019, Lane starred in Taylor Mac's absurdist black comedy Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus at the Booth Theatre directed by George C. Wolfe, which received seven Tony Award nominations including Best Play.
He is known for his voice work in two Disney animated series, Teacher's Pet and Timon & Pumbaa, as well as George and Martha on HBO. He received Daytime Emmy Awards for Teacher's Pet and Timon and Pumbaa and a nomination for George and Martha.
He has received six Emmy Award nominations for his guest appearances on Frasier, Mad About You, Modern Family, and The Good Wife. He has also made appearances on Miami Vice, The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd, Sex and the City, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Absolutely Fabulous, 30 Rock, Difficult People and The Blacklist.
He played F. Lee Bailey in The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story, the first season of American Crime Story, which premiered on the FX channel in February 2016. It received 22 Emmy nominations and went on to win the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Limited Series. He recently played the role of Lewis Michener on Showtime's Penny Dreadful: City Of Angels which premiered April 26, 2020. He has recurring roles in the upcoming Hulu series, Only Murders in the Building, starring Steve Martin and Martin Short, and the upcoming HBO series, The Gilded Age, written by Julian Fellowes.
He has hosted Saturday Night Live and The Tony Awards (once as host for the 50th anniversary telecast, and three times as co-host, with Glenn Close and Gregory Hines; Rosie O'Donnell; and Matthew Broderick respectively).
Lane claims when he told his mother at age 21 that he was gay, she said, "I'd rather you were dead", to which he replied, "I knew you'd understand". He then joked that "Once I got her head out of the oven, everything went fine".
Lane came out publicly in 1999, after the death of Matthew Shepard, and has been a long-time board member of and fundraiser for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. He was honored with the Human Rights Campaign Equality Award, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation Vito Russo Award, The Trevor Project Hero Award, and the Matthew Shepard Foundation Making A Difference Award for his work in the LGBT community in 2015. Lane resides in Manhattan. On November 17, 2015, he married his long-time partner, theater producer and writer Devlin Elliott.
- Presented Mike Birbiglia's (2008) Off-Broadway show Sleepwalk With Me.
- Lane provided the voice of Tom Morrow, the Audio-Animatronic host of Disneyland's Innoventions attraction.
- Children's book Naughty Mabel, written with husband Devlin Elliott, published by Simon and Schuster, released in October 2015. A second book, Naughty Mabel Sees It All was released in October 2016.
- Wrote the introduction to Neil Simon's Memoirs, published by Simon and Schuster.
Awards and nominations
- 1987 - St. Clair Bayfield Award Actors' Equity Association
- 1997 - GQ Man of the Year Award for Theater
- 2001 - GQ Man of the Year Award for Theater
- 2002 - GLAAD Media Award, Vito Russo Award (2002)
- 2003 - Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame inductee
- 2006 - Star on the Walk of Fame - Motion Picture 6801 Hollywood, Blvd.
- 2006 - American Theater Wing Honor American Theater Wing
- 2006 - Project Angel Food Angel Award
- 2007 - Trevor Project Hero Award
- 2007 - Human Rights Campaign Equality Award
- 2008 - American Theater Hall of Fame Inductee
- 2009 - Sustained Excellence in Theater from The Barrow Group
- 2010 - National Corporate Theater Fund Theater Artist Award
- 2010 - Distinguished Achievement in Musical Theater The Drama League
- 2012 - COAF Humanitarian Award Children of Armenia Fund
- 2012 - Tribute Award from the League of Chicago Theaters
- 2012 - The Drama League Distinguished Performance Award for The Nance
- 2013 - Guild Hall of East Hampton Lifetime Achievement Award
- 2013 - The Joan Cullman Award for Extraordinary Creativity Lincoln Center
- 2014 - Sir Peter Ustinov Comedy Award Banff World Media Festival
- 2015 - Eugene O'Neill Theater Center Monte Cristo Award
- 2015 - Matthew Shepard "Making A Difference" Award
- 2019 - New Dramatists Distinguished Achievement Award
- 2019 - John Willis Award for Lifetime Achievement Theater World Awards