Leslie Nielsen is a Canadian comedian and actor. He has achieved his greatest film success in comedies such as Airplane, Scary Movie and The Naked Gun series. He is famous for the portrayal of serious characters seemingly oblivious of their absurd surroundings.
His off beat delivery as a doctor in the 1980’s comedy film Airplane marked a turning point in his career, one that would make him, in the words of film critic Roger Ebert, “the Olivier of spoofs.” He is probably best known for his roles as Frank Drebin in The Naked Gun, Dr. Rumack in Airplane!, and most recently, President Harris in the Scary Movie series. Leslie Nielsen has appeared in over 100 films and 1,500 television programs over the span of his career, portraying over 220 characters.
The actor’s comedic breakthrough came with a supporting role in 1980’s Airplane!, a parody of Zero Hour. He played a doctor aboard an airplane whose crew had sudenly been struck with food sickness. His deadpan comedic delivery contrasted with the absurdity surrounding him. In the film when asked “Surely you can’t be serious?”, he responds with a curt, “I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.” A comedic exchange that was featured on the American Film Institute’s list of Top 100 movie quotes as well as the the film was also included in thier list of the top ten comedy films of all time.
Six years after the cancellation of Police Squad!, the directors of the series decided to make a feature length version of it; Titled The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad. The movie allowed Nielsen to bring back his role as Frank Drebin.
The film involved a comical scheme of a hypnotized athelete’s attempt to assassinate the Queen and Drebin, just like the doctor in Airplane, never seemed aware of the absurdity even when unintentionally contributing toward it. The film spawned two sequels, The Naked Gun 2½ in 1991 and and Naked Gun 33? in 1994. Naked Gun 2½ made more money then the original
Nielsen attempted a variety of similar roles which never achieved the success of Frank Drebin. Many of the films emulated the style of The Naked Gun films, but with varying degrees of critical and commercial success. Many of the films were panned by critics and most performed poorly.
Nielsen’s first major slapstick success since The Naked Gun came in a supporting role in Scary Movie 3. His appearance as President Harris proved popular enough for a second appearance in its sequel, Scary Movie 4. This became the first time Nielsen reprised a character since his numerous appearances as Frank Drebin. In one scene in the film, Nielsen appeared almost fully nude, and one critic referred to the scene as putting “the ’scary’ in Scary Movie 4.”