Through the widespread dissemination of his two televisions series — the improbably plotted but madly popular "Knight Rider" (crimefighter fights evil with help of super-intelligent talking car) and "Baywatch" (life guard fights riptides with help of very attractive humans) — and his unlikely parallel career as a best-selling recording artist in Germany, Hasselhoff has achieved a notoriety that, in its way, eclipses the celebrity of Hollywood's leading lights. There's a better chance that a random citizen of Earth will know Hasselhoff's name than that of any of this year's Oscar nominees. It's not surprising, then, that the man should be sought out by theatrical producers, or that one of the most persuasive, Mel Brooks, should finally get him. What is surprising is the role he was tapped to play in the Las Vegas mounting of The Producers. Not Max or Leo, but the swishy, dress-wearing director Roger DeBris. As Hasselhoff tell Playbill.com, Roger was his preference, just as theatre was always the actor's first career choice.
Playbill.com: The announcement that you were going to play Roger DeBris in The Producers in Las Vegas caught a lot of us in the theatre by surprise.
David Hasselhoff: [Long laughter.] That's a very funny statement. The job came about with a phone call to my agents, and they didn't tell me about it. They said, "We don't think he's going to want to play Roger DeBris because of the dress." And they said, "How about the role of the Nazi?" They called me up and said, "You got a call from Mel Brooks and Susan Stroman's representative to star in The Producers." I said, "Where?" They said, "Vegas." I said, "Oh, wow! That's great. What role?" They said, "The Nazi." I said "The Nazi? I don't want to play the Nazi. I want to play the guy in the dress." I think it's the funniest role in the show. And, nobody would expect me to do it; and with the running joke of "David Hasselhoff is famous in Germany" — which I kind of play into anyway — I said no [to the Nazi]. They said, "Well, [DeBris] is the role Mel and Susan want you to do." My next statement was, "Are you sure they've got the right guy. Does Mel Brooks really know who I am?" I was as surprised as you were.
Playbill.com: Was the fact that it was in Las Vegas a plus for you?
DH: A big plus. I was supposed to do Chicago on Broadway, and I was in the middle of my divorce. My heart said, Chicago will always be there, your children won't. I turned down Broadway to make sure I was there to initiate this personal situation and be there for my children. When Vegas came along, the first thing I did was run it by my kids. They said, "Dad, do it! Do it! You're going to have a billboard. Your name will be up in lights. Oh, God, Dad, do it!" And they know that theatre is my passion and really where I've wanted to be since I was eight years old. They had seen me in Chicago in the West End, and they had hung out with me backstage for six weeks.
Playbill.com: Do you get theatre offers all the time?
DH: I get a lot of different offers. A lot of road shows. It's great. I was kind of thrown into Jekyll and Hyde [on Broadway], which was a very intense role, and I was just getting my feet wet when the show went down. Whether I took the rap or a hit for that, I'll never know. I just know I did the best that I could with what I had, and I had a terrific relationship with [Jekyll creators] Leslie Bricusse and Frank Wildhorn. You know, [when I was younger] I never thought I would be talking to a car, or running in slow motion, or having a huge career in Germany. I really wanted to go to Broadway. That's all I ever wanted to do.
Playbill.com: Have Stroman and Brooks been at rehearsals?
DH: Susan has. I haven't seen Mel yet. Playbill.com: What kind of notes has she been giving you?
DH: Very polishing notes. The assistant director and dance captain have laid a great foundation. There's only three of us [in the cast] who are new [to the show]—a swing, one dancer and me. The rest have done 1,100 shows. In a way, that's been great for me. But also, my goal was to create my own Roger because Gary Beach is so good, so funny. You just want to go back and look at the film and play Gary Beach. I've taken a couple of diamonds from Gary and otherwise made it my own. It's very easy to get campy when you put on that dress. You know—how far do I go with the camp, and how much do I make this guy real? As soon as I put the dress on, I removed all the mirrors from my dressing room. [Laughs.] It's very bizarre.
Playbill.com: And in the second act you get to dress up like Hitler.
DH: I know! It's such an over-the-top role. It's funny, it's a campy role, so I know I'm going to get the gay audience, and I know that the ladies will come because of my following for many years as the "Baywatch" guy. But I want to get the straight guys! I walk through the casinos, and all the straight guys are going, "Hoff! Hoff!" And they all think I'm playing Bialystock or Bloom. I going, "Oh my God! All these guys are going to come in and see me in the dress!" [Laughs.] I'm telling everybody that I'm going to superimpose the "KITT" voice [from "Knight Rider"] in the dress. [Doing a William Daniels imitation:] "Michael, it's me. I'm in the dress. I'm definitely undercover now."
Playbill.com: Do you have to shave your legs for the part?
DH: No! Mel always said, "You're a man in a dress! Don't forget that! You're a man in a dress!" But it's all about legs and lungs right now. I've got my legs and lungs. They finally came, after about 15 days of rehearsal, I got over the hump. Before, I couldn't sing, and I was frustrated, and I couldn’t get step-shuffle-ball-change! Oh, my God! Why are you doing this to me? I've got money in the bank and I'm happy! Then the billboards went up and I went, "Ohhhhh. OK."
Playbill.com: Has anyone ever talked to you about Baywatch: The Musical?
DH: Absolutely. I tried to buy the rights, because I knew it would be a smash. But someone came in and bought everything. I think that's down the line. I'm sure, before I get into a walker I'll probably be in Baywatch: The Musical. Why not?