Nathan Lane Reflects on Working with Robin Williams in ‘The Birdcage’ (Exclusive)

Nathan Lane has fond memories of acting opposite Robin Williams.

As Lane, 68, stepped out at the 2024 Drama Desk Awards on Monday, the actor reminisced on his time filming the 1996 comedy classic The Birdcage with Williams, who died at 63 in 2014.

“It was an extremely happy experience,” Lane says. “When [director] Mike Nichols asked me to do it, I remember him saying, ‘Nathan, I want only nice people on this movie.’ And I said, ‘Okay, I’m sure there are some nice people in show business who would be willing to do this.’ And he did.”

“He put together an extremely nice group of people who were also very, very talented and led by Robin, who was the dearest and sweetest guy in the world, and so talented,” the actor adds of Williams. “He was incredibly generous to me.”

Lane received a Golden Globe nomination in 1997 for his performance in The Birdcage, in which he and Williams memorably portrayed a gay couple who pose as straight in order to endear themselves to their son’s future in-laws. The movie marked a transitional moment in Lane’s career, and he has previously commended Williams for supporting him on the film’s press tour.

Nathan Lane and Robin Williams.

Dominik Bindl/Getty; Ben Gabbe/Getty

During a March 2023 appearance on Sunday TODAY on NBC, Lane recalled that Williams helped Lane avoid questions from Oprah Winfrey regarding his sexuality when they appeared together on The Oprah Winfrey Show. At that time, Lane had not yet publicly come out as gay, and he told host Willie Geist at the time that he was “not prepared at all” to share that information.

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Robin Williams and Nathan Lane in ‘The Birdcage’.

Lorey Sebastian/United Artists/Kobal/Shutterstock 

“I don’t think Oprah was trying to out me, but I said to Robin beforehand: ‘I’m not prepared. I’m so scared of going out there and talking to Oprah. I’m not prepared to discuss that I’m gay on national television, I’m not ready,’ ” Lane said at the time. “And he said, ‘Oh, it’s alright, don’t worry about it, we don’t have to talk about it, we won’t talk about it.’ ”

Video from the pair’s appearance on the show available on YouTube shows that Williams did interject to allow Lane time to form an answer when Winfrey asked him about his sexuality.

Robin Williams and Nathan Lane shooting The Birdcage.

United Artists / Getty Images

Lane appeared at the Drama Desk Awards to receive the Harold S. Prince award for lifetime achievement in the theater. He has been performing on Broadway since 1982, with roles in as many as 38 productions, according to Playbill.

“It’s just where I started and it will just always be home, and it’s the place where you, I think, have the most freedom as an actor,” Lane tells PEOPLE of his love for acting for the stage.

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