Originally named Joseph Lane, he changed his name because he heard of another actor named Joseph Lane. He chose the name Nathan after the character of Nathan Detroit from the Broadway musical "Guys and Dolls". Coincidentally, he later played that role in the hugely successful 1992 revival of "Guys and Dolls" on Broadway.
Starred on Broadway as Max Bialystock in "The Producers" and Pseudolus in "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum". Zero Mostel played both characters in the earlier film versions. Lane won Tony Awards for both roles. When he accepted his second Tony Award, he looked up and thanked Mostel's spirit for inhabiting him somehow.
Attended St. Peter's Preparatory High School in Jersey City, New Jersey, class of 1974, where he was voted Best Actor.
His father was a New Jersey police officer.
His second Broadway show was "Merlin", one of the most notoriously expensive flops in Broadway history. The show was conceived as a vehicle for the magic of Doug Henning, with Henning in the title role; other stars of the production included Chita Rivera and a young Christian Slater.
Won two Tony Awards as best actor in a musical: in 1996 for playing Pseudolus in the revival of "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum", and in 2001 for playing Max Bialystock in "The Producers". He was also nominated in the same category in 1992 for playing Nathan Detroit in the revival of "Guys and Dolls".
(January 9, 2006) Received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6801 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California.
He was nominated for a 2013 New Jersey Hall of Fame for Arts and Entertainment.
Theatre Royal Drury Lane in London's West End: flew in at three days' notice to replace Richard Dreyfuss as "Max Bialystock" in the London production of "The Producers", initially until Jan 8 2005. He stars opposite his fellow Mousehunt (1997) star, British comedian Lee Evans. [October 2004]
Chicago, IL: Playing Theodore "Hickey" Hickman in the Goodman Theatre production of "The Iceman Cometh" [April 2012]
Starring in the revival of "The Odd Couple" on Broadway with fellow former star of "The Producers", Matthew Broderick through April 2, 2006. [October 2005]
Opened in a Broadway revival of Simon Gray's "Butley". His portrayal of the primarily dramatic title role is a change of pace from his usual comic and/or musical performances. [October 2006]
Currently on Broadway in New York. [March 2008]
Will continue starring in extension of "Odd Couple" revival until June 4, 2006 [April 2006]
After replacing Richard Dreyfuss in the London production of "The Producers", a back injury forced him to leave the show 2 weeks before the end of his contract. [December 2004]
Appeared in a reading of Arthur Miller's newest play (and first comedy), "Resurrection Blues", in New York City. [August 2004]
Starring in the Addams Family on Broadway. [March 2010]
He was nominated for the 2015 New Jersey Hall of Fame in the Performance Arts Category.
Personal Quotes (13)
I don't know what goes on in their heads out in Hollywood.
I fell in love with the whole ritual. The lights going down, the curtain going up, telling a story to a large group of people in the dark. It was one of those moments where you think, 'I can do that.' You're in control on stage. And I love telling the whole story in one fell swoop. With movies, you never think, 'I nailed it.' In theater you get to go back and do it again, which to me is much more satisfying.
There's not a day in my life I'm not proud of being gay but I just wasn't ready for that attention to be placed on it. I remember being on Oprah. Well, not on Oprah. Near Oprah. She started saying, 'Now, Nathan, you got all those girlie moves going down in The Birdcage, where's all that coming from? You're so good at all that girlie stuff!'
[About working in the Broadway flop "Merlin"] "Doug Henning's greatest magic trick was making the audience disappear".
"You have to be loud...it's the theater." - asked by a reporter about his "loud" persona on stage.
[on being gay] "From the time I told my mother, I've been living openly. But really, I was born in 1956. I'm one of those old-fashioned homosexuals, not one of the newfangled ones who are born joining parades. My family referred to them as "fags", and that was it."
[Coming "Out" following the death of Matthew Shepard] "It was like somebody slapped me awake. At this point it's selfish not to do whatever you can....If I do this story and say I'm a gay person, it might make it easier for somebody else."
"I told my mother I was gay, and she s...and she...and then her face went white, and then she said, 'I would rather you were dead'. And I said, 'I knew you'd understand'. And then once I got her head out of the oven, everything was fine. She came from a generation where, yes, of course, she would have preferred if I was straight and had gotten married, but she, uh, you know, she was very accepting. What she enjoyed most is when I was in a musical. She would always say, um, 'I'm not saying this because I'm your mother; I'm saying it because it's true: you were the best one'" [To James Lipton on Inside the Actors Studio (1994)].
[on William Duell] The audience adored him. The first time around he'd get a huge laugh. The second time he'd get a huge laugh. The third time, he'd just hold up his fingers - and it brought the house down.
[on accepting his first Tony Award] This means a lot to me because, as you know, I'm an enormously unstable, desperately needy little man.
[on Robin Williams] I feel I have to say something more than just 'heartbreaking and shocking' which everyone has said and I feel as well, but something a little more personal. Thus the following: One day in 1995 while riffing in the character of a snobby French toy store owner, Robin made me laugh so hard and so long that I cried. It seemed to please him no end. Yesterday I cried again at the thought that he was gone. What I will always remember about Robin, perhaps even more than his comic genius, extraordinary talent, and astounding intellect, was his huge heart - his tremendous kindness, generosity, and compassion as an acting partner, colleague, and fellow traveler in a difficult world.
The thing that everyone remembers about 'Bambi' is that moment. 'The Lion King,' took it to quite an extreme, because it was an action sequence, his father was killed in a wildebeest stampede - I related, because mine was too. It's an ugly story, I won't go into it now. And the guilt, the evil uncle laying some guilt on him. But the minimal version, and maybe the more upsetting and terrifying is just hearing the gunshot, and hearing Bambi's voice saying 'Mother? Mother?' That's even, maybe worse.
[on 'The Lion King'] I just thought that it was amazing that they've gone this far, because it was so dark, I mean it was again, the death of a parent. But then the most twisted thing was Jeremy Irons coming out of nowhere and saying to him 'Simba, what have you done?' I'll always remember that thinking 'Wow, they're also going to lay in guilt,' and sending him off, banishing him, and trying to kill him but he gets away. But I thought 'that's really something,' that's the darkest they've been since Bambi that I can recall. Because the film at that point had gotten so heavy, when Ernie and I came on, there was such relief when I saw it with an audience. People laughed twice as hard because they were so glad to see two upbeat characters. And it was great fun to do, and Ernie and I just had a blast.