Nathan Lane is a three-time Tony and Emmy Award-winning American actor on the stage, television, and screen. He is known for his stage roles as Max Bialystock in The Producers, Mendy in The Lisbon Traviata, Nathan Detroit in Guys and Dolls, and his voice work in The Lion King and Stuart Little. He is the guy who knows how to make an entrance onstage and off-stage. In 2010, he was described by The New York Times as “the greatest stage entertainer of the decade.”
Lane has been nominated for a Tony Award six times and won three. He also won six Drama Desk Awards, six Outer Critics Circle awards, two Obies, an Olivier Award, and a Lucille Lortel Award for his work in Broadway and theater.
Nathan Lane (February 3, 1956) was born as Joseph Lane in Jersey City, New Jersey. Like many actors, Lane had a difficult childhood. His father, Daniel, was an aspiring tenor and truck driver who died from alcoholism when he was eleven. His mother, Nora, worked as a secretary and became a housewife. She suffered from bipolar disorder, constantly suffering a mental breakdown, and died in 2000. He had two older brothers, Daniel Jr. and Robert. When Lane was 21, he came out as gay to his mother, who replied, “I would rather you were dead.”
Since his parents are both Catholics and his uncle, whom he was named after, was a Jesuit priest, Lane attended Catholic schools in Jersey City. He attended a Jesuit-run prep school, where he was voted as Best Actor in 1974.
Lane went to college at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia on a drama scholarship. But when he discovered that the scholarship wasn’t enough to cover his expenses, he decided to leave college and work for a year to earn some money.
Lane discovered his talent for musical comedy when he appeared in a high school production of No, No, Nanette. Among his early theatre productions was a dinner-theatre staging of Guys and Dolls, where he played Nathan Detroit. So, when he was about to join Actors’ Equity and found that there’s already a Joseph Lane registered as a member, he took that character’s first name.
He moved to New York City in the late 70s to become an actor. He struggled for a long time, taking odd jobs to support himself before his career began to take off. He put on together a comedy act with another actor, Patrick Stark, and became known as Stark and Lane. They spent more than two years performing in nightclubs.
Theatre and Broadway Career
Nathan Lane made his Broadway debut in a 1982 revival of Present Laughter and got nominated as an outstanding featured actor in a play at the Drama Desk Awards. Before going to Broadway, he performed in off-Broadway productions at the Roundabout Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Club, and Second Stage Theatre.
His next Broadway appearance was in the 1983 musical Merlin, where he co-starred with Chita Rivera. He also appeared in Wind in the Willows (1985) as Mr. Toad, and in the national tour of Broadway Bound (1987) as Stanley.
He appeared in numerous off-Broadway productions as well, but one of the most notable was his appearance in The Lisbon Traviata (1989), where he won Outstanding Actor in a Play at the Drama Desk Awards. He also began with the workshop of Assassins in 1989 through his association with Stephen Sondheim.
In 1991, Lane appeared in a Broadway revival of Paul Osborne’s On Borrowed Time at the Circle in the Square Theatre. The next year, he starred as Nathan Detroit – the character where he got his stage name – in the hit revival of Guys and Dolls. He won a Drama Desk Award and earned his first Tony Award nomination for his performance.
In the early 1990s, he starred in a series of successful Broadway shows. He portrayed Max Prince in Laughter on the 23rd Floor (1993), and in Love! Valour! Compassion! (1994), where he won a Drama Desk Award. He also starred in the hit revival of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1996), for which he won the Tony, Outer Critics Circle, and Drama Desk Awards.
In 1995, he starred in The Wizard of Oz in Concert at Lincoln Center, and in 1999, he appeared in the concert revival of Do Re Mi at City Center.
Lane starred in The Man Who Came to Dinner (2000) as Sheridan Whiteside. The year after, he starred as Max Bialystock in the blockbuster musical version of The Producers. This role brought him his second Tony Award, as well as a Drama Desk and an Outer Critics Circle Award. When he appeared in the West End production of The Producers, he won the Olivier Award as best actor in a musical.
Lane’s collaboration with Sondheim continued as Lane revised the book for The Frogs (2004), and starred in its Broadway debut. His subsequent Broadway work included the Odd Couple (2005), Butley (2006), November (2008), Waiting for Godot (2009). His performance on the musical The Addams Family (2010) got him nominated for a Drama Desk Award.
In 2013, Lace appeared in The Nance to play a closeted gay man in the 1930s. It got him nominated for a Tony and a Drama Desk Award. The next year, Lane appeared in Terrence McNally’s It’s Only a Play (2014), exploring the dynamics of a Broadway production. Lane next starred in the revival of The Front Page (2016). He was then cast as lawyer Roy Cohn in Angels in America, a drama that centers on the AIDS epidemic. Lane performed the role in West End in 2017 before reprising the role in Broadway in 2018. In 2019, he appeared in the Broadway production of Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus.
Film and Television Career
Lane made his debut on the big screen in Ironweed (1987). He starred in a few more films after, before landing a significant role in Disney. In 1994, he voiced Timon the meerkat in Disney’s hit animated film The Lion King (1994) and reprised the role in its sequels and in Timon&Pumbaa (1995). In 1999, he voiced the role of Snowbell in the movie Stuart Little.
As he collaborated with Sondheim, Lane appeared in the film The Birdcage (1996), performing Sondheim’s song “Little Dream.” He received his first Golden Globe nomination for his performance. This was followed by playing the role of Ernie Smuntz Mouse Hunt (1997) by DreamWorks Studios.
When Lane appeared in the film version of The Producers (2005), he earned his second Golden Globe nomination. Lane’s additional hit film credits include The Nutcracker in 3D (2010), which was based on Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet, and Mirror Mirror (2012), a live comedic version of the Snow White Fairy tale.
In television, he starred in TV movies and appeared in single episodes of shows like Miami Vice (1985), Frasier (1995), Mad About You (1998), Sex and the City (2002), Curb Your Enthusiasm (2004), 30 Rock (2007), Maya and Marty (2016), and The Blacklist (2018), among others. He also enjoyed recurring roles in sitcoms such as One of the Boys (1982), Modern Family (2010-2019), and in the drama series The Good Wife (2012-2014). He starred in the television serial drama The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story (2016), and in the horror series Penny Dreadful: City of Angels (2020).
Nathan Lane is an exceptional Broadway actor, and his theatre accolades include:
- Outstanding Actor in a Play, Drama Desk Award (1990) – The Lisbon Traviata
- Outstanding Actor in a Musical, Drama Desk Award (1992) – Guys and Dolls
- Sustained Excellence of Performance, Obie Award (1992)
- Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play, Drama Desk Award (1995) – Love! Valour! Compassion!
- Outstanding Actor in a Musical, Drama Desk Award (1996) – A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
- Best Actor in a Musical, Tony Award (1996) – A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
- Outstanding Actor in a Musical, Drama Desk Award (2001) – The Producers
- Best Actor in a Musical, Tony Award (2001) – The Producers
- Best Actor in a Musical, Laurence Olivier Award (2005) – The Producers
- Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play, Drama Desk Award (2018) – Angels in America
- Best Featured Actor in a Play, Tony Award (2018) – Angels in America