An up and coming young director with an eye for comedy, Peter Segal is currently in great demand. After graduating from USC School of Cinema and Television, he joined the big boys with a string of successful comedies, including The Naked Gun 33 1/3, Tommy Boy, My Fellow Americans, and The Nutty Professor II: The Klumps. After keeping his temper while looking after Jack Nicholson and Adam Sandler in Anger Management and helping Drew Barrymore with her memory problems in 50 First Dates, he's currently working with Sandler again, in a remake of the Burt Reynolds football prison flick The Longest Yard.
Why did you become a director?
It was purely by accident. When I was working in television I kept trying to tell stories but couldn't find anyone who would tell them the way I wanted to. So I just accidentally fell into that role.
If you weren't a filmmaker, what what you be?
I think I'd run a hay and grain company for livestock. I used to live on a farm and I thought that I would probably stay in a 4-H Club capacity and be in the horse business. Somehow or other, things changed. Possibly for the better. I'm not sure yet!
What other director would you like to see at work?
I would love to see Steven Spielberg working. I just think he's the greatest living director. I've always wanted to be a part of that group that gets a call from Warren Beatty and is taken from lunch, or gets a call from Spielberg and is invited to the set as I occasionally read about other people. But I'm not that guy, so if he reads this...
What was the last movie that you paid to see?
Gosh, you're catching me here... Yikes. See, we've just come through the Oscar season so I've gotten away with seeing so many screeners. The last one I paid to see was Seabiscuit. I loved it. I came from a horse background and my father-in-law was actually at the Santa Anita Handicap Race where Seabiscuit won it. He told me that it was a slightly different ending than the movie had portrayed. Because of the popularity of the horse, the opposing jockey held up his horse and let Seabiscuit win. The crowd booed. It's been written about lately that that was in fact the case, but my father-in-law said that he liked the way the current movie portrayed it. He said it was a fitting end to the tale.
What was the last movie you walked out of?
I have never walked out of a movie. I feel too much guilt about that. Even before I got into the film business I felt so bad for the filmmaker that I thought: It's gotta get better, it's gotta get better. As a matter of fact, I kind of liken it to the Heidi Principle. There's a very famous story: in 1968, the New York Jets were playing a match with the Oakland Raiders. They were so behind that the TV network announced that they were going to cut off the game because we know who's going to win this. They went to Heidi the movie. But it turned out that the Jets came from behind in one of the most dramatic comebacks in history! There were lots of angry letters about it. The moral of that story was: it ain't over till it's over. I never put down a bad script and I never walk out of a bad movie because I'm always hopeful things will change.
Do you believe in God?
I do. I'm very spiritual and I'm Jewish by faith. I'm not a practising Jew, I'm more of a recreational Jew. I celebrate the holidays and I try to inform my kids about their heritage because I think we all at some point have to defend our heritage and if they get picked on I want them to know why.
Who's the most famous person in your contacts book?
I have to say, it's very obvious now, it's Jack Nicholson. I've kept his number on my speed dial just so I can show it to friends. I could call him up out of the blue, but I'm worried he might say "Pete who?"
What's your favourite movie quote?
"We're gonna need a bigger boat!" From Jaws.
Which filmmaker do you consider the most underrated?
Blake Edwards. He's recently on my mind from the Oscars. Reading his filmography he's one of the most prolific directors and like Billy Wilder - who's much more heralded and recognised - he made a lot of dramatic films as well as some of the great comedies of our generation. I don't think he gets the recognition he deserves. I'd love to be that prolific myself. As a matter of fact, I think it's almost a lost art today. Films are so expensive and the business is at such a critical mass that filmmakers are a lot more intimidated about making commitments to films. In the old days you just kept making movie after movie, year after year. I think people are afraid to keep going. In the past I've been paralysed over choosing a project and just making a decision, but in the last few years - when I've had the chance to work with Adam [Sandler] - I've just gone from film to film. You can learn as much from your mistakes as from your successes in the film. Ultimately, you can only learn by making films and getting better.
Which filmmaker do you consider the most overrated?
Oh gosh. So basically, you're saying who do I want to hate me? I'm not ready for my Julia Phillips [author of You'll Never Eat Lunch In This Town Again] book yet! I have heard about certain directors' work habits from cinematographers and editors, and I'm always surprised to hear the true stories from the set about who's prepared and knows what they want, and who is simply 'fortunate' enough to work with great actors and writers and great cinematographers who will walk them through a movie with baby steps. Some people are like cats - if they're dropped upside down, they land on their feet. I get a little irritated about stories like that.
Who's the biggest pain in the arse you've ever worked with?
Er, oh gosh. I don't know if I want to answer this either. There's an older gentleman that I've worked with, but I don't wanna resort to his level. This actor criticised me for being young and impatient and coming from a television background that was all about speed - faster, funnier. Then, when he saw the movie at a premiere, he had a guilty look on his face and I didn't know why until the article came out a week later. So when I saw it I called him and asked "Why did you slam me and the movie before you'd even seen it?" and he apologised. But he was such a pain in the ass on set. I don't want to resort to his level, but he knows who I'm talking about and he's an asshole.
What's the dumbest question you've ever been asked?
"How did you get that hole in your chin?" I have this dimple in my chin and someone asked me how I got it. It was in Los Angeles, so you can be happy that it was a stupid American interviewer.
Do you believe in test screenings?
Absolutely! I learned from the Marx Brothers, who used to take their material out on the road and perfect it in front of audiences before they put it on film. I think a lot of film executives now realise that it was a tremendously cost effective way of economising and making sure that you're committing the best material to film so that you don't have to reshoot. At our test screenings, not only do we record them with microphones but we also take an infrared camera and turn it back on the crowd. I'll take credit for this because I've never heard of anyone else doing it. It's really fascinating to see their faces, since I usually sit in the back of the theatre and only get to see the back of their heads. If ever there's an argument about whether or not a joke gets a laugh, we can go back to the tape and see a picture of their faces.
The ironic story about this is that on Anger Management we accidentally caught video piracy on camera. It was a prolific pirate who's now on the lam - he escaped from prison. That piece of footage is the only physical evidence in existence of a video pirate and it's become the number one piece of evidence used by the FBI.
How seriously do you take reviews?
I'd like to say I don't take them seriously, but I do read some reviews. I've learned to scan through them like Cliff Notes. If there's a first good paragraph I'll continue reading, but if I glean that it's negative, I'll throw 'em in the trash.
There are five minutes left till the end of the world - what do you do?
Is my wife still alive?! Well as George Kennedy said in The Naked Gun 33 1/3, "If I'm going out, I'm going out happy."
What's your biggest regret?
I have a lot of regrets because that's part of my personality. But my biggest regret isn't in film. It was back when I played football at college. I thought I was good enough to be in the team and I didn't fight hard enough for it.
What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
"Stay at the table, the race is long, keep playing."
And the worst?
"Take that movie, I'm sure you can fix it." It was a remake of The Out-of-Towners (1970), and I quit it.
Which performer would you love to work with?
Tom Hanks. He has great comic roots and he's one of the great actors of today. We get along great and I think he's one of the most intelligent filmmakers around.
What film makes you want to spit?
In a good way or a bad way? In a good way would be Blazing Saddles, because that's like Old West spitting. A bad way... Natural Born Killers.
What are your three favourite films and why?
What do you think of Norman Wisdom?
Who? I'm sad to say I've not heard of him, but he has a great name.