Zoolander 2, the much-anticipated sequel to the 2001 comedy Zoolander, premiered Tuesday, February 9 at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall. On the morning of the star-studded event, We caught up with Nathan Lee Graham, who plays Mugatu’s latte-soaked assistant Todd, to chat about the film, foamy lattes, and the anti-trans controversy surrounding the release.
Out: How did you come to be involved with Zoolander?
Nathan Lee Graham: The original Zoolander happened in a rather sort of Shirley MacLaine, star struck way. [Laughs] Ben Stiller came to see me in a Broadway musical called The Wild Party. I was acting in it with Toni Collette, Mandy Patinkin, Eartha Kitt, and several of my very wonderful Broadway friends. He caught the last matinee on June 7, 2000, and the very next day Paramount called me—ostensibly Ben Stiller called me—and I came into his office. My agents said it was for some sort of fashion kind of movie, and I didn't know what it was. I didn't have an idea about the script or anything like that. I walk in, and Ben says, "Listen, I'm doing this crazy movie called Zoolander, and it's based upon a character I did on VH1. I have a character named Todd, and I want to know if you want to do it. I think you would be great." I said, "Well, my show just closed yesterday, so sure. " [Laughs]
Zoolander is so special to so many people, and many clamored for a sequel. Why do you think that is?
The whole experience has just been overwhelming. You think that maybe in two years—four years tops—you'll do a sequel, if it's even possible. And, there was already rumors of us doing that, four years after the original because Zoolander became this sort of cult classic. Unbeknownst to any of us, mind you. None of us thought this would be anything beyond a really fun movie, particularly since it came out shortly after September 11. So, it was a crazy, awful, weird time. So, for it to become a cult classic was completely fantastical, wonderful, weird, and crazy.
What was a favorite moment filming Zoolander 2?
The best part of the movie—the absolute best part—is that we're even doing it at all. To see everybody after all of this time is phenomenal. I must admit, the foamy latte scene has become a thing unto itself. I had no idea about this until one day, I was taking the subway, and my head is in my hands, just sort of contemplating. Two guys get on the train, and they stand above me, with their arms holding on to the bars. And, they're doing the foamy latte scene between Will Ferrell and me—or between Mugatu and Todd—word for word, motion for motion, sound for sound. Then, they start laughing hilariously and say, "Man, that's the best scene ever." All of this is happening while I am sitting right below them, and they have no idea that I am sitting there. Because it was so special, because it was such a moment that I could not believe myself, I didn't want to ruin it for them by popping my head up. I just kept it to myself. It was beyond, beyond.
I remember doing the first latte scene with fourteen takes of cold coffee being poured in my face and Will Ferrell apologizing after every single take because he is such a nice person. He's just the greatest person in the world, and he hated doing it. I think there were no less than six takes in this current one, but that has to be my favorite moment because it's just classic.
Why do you think gay audiences should see Zoolander 2?
Well, first of all, Nathan Lee Graham. Hello! [Laughs] They should come and support their fellow gay. Also, it's about living your life out loud. It's about being colorful. It's about fashion. It's about totally embracing your inner and outer self.
Do you have any opinions about the anti-trans controversy surrounding the film?
I do, actually. First of all, it is a comedy. So, let's start there. We all have to laugh at ourselves. But, I also think that people should really see something first before they judge it. And, look at the people who are doing the film. There is no way in the world that Benedict Cumberbatch would even feign to do anything that was offensive to the LGBT community. He just wouldn't do it, and I certainly wouldn't be a part of anything like that. And, I definitely know Ben would not promote anything like that. We have wonderful producers, like Scott Rudin, who would never allow anything like that. We're a part of this community, and no one would do anything along those lines, first and foremost.
[Benedict] is not playing a character that has transitioned at all. He's playing a character that is above all genders. He's no gender. He's more of a close encounter of the third kind than anything else. So, I don't want the transgendered community to feel in any way, shape, or form like they are being bastardized, talked about, put upon, or being made fun of. That is simply not the case and never the intention.
Zoolander 2 hits theaters nationwide today, Friday, February 12.