When Leslie Nielsen died on Sunday, he left behind a legacy of work that entertained and amused generations of fans who knew his work from television dramas and hilarious movie spoofs. Nielsen, who was 84, had even more work waiting in the can, but one of those projects, an animated film titled The Waterman Movie, might never see the light of day. Creator Bryan Waterman tells EW he was a huge fan of Nielsen and he spent two years trying to recruit him for a feature-length film based on his online series of cartoons, The Waterman. After three years of work, the film remains incomplete, but Nielsen recorded all of his character’s lines, giving Waterman hope that he can still deliver one last dose of Nielsen’s famous deadpan.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you initially get in touch with Leslie for The Waterman Movie?
BRYAN WATERMAN: The movie is based on an animated series I did back in college called Waterman. I had created a new character that I modeled after Leslie Nielsen and the characters he had played throughout the years. Leslie was my childhood hero.
Surely, you can’t be serious.
[Laughs] So I thought about how amazing it would be to have him actually provide the voice for the character that I had based on him in the first place. I was able to get in touch with the people that represented him. I exchanged email after email, telling them all about my past work, the movie, how big of a fan I was of Leslie’s, and how much it would mean to me if I could get him to be in the film.
How old were you at this point?
22. I heard nothing from anyone for months and just as I had decided to scrap the movie altogether I received an email that read “Hi Bryan, Could you please email us with a phone number — or call me? Thanks, Leslie Nielsen.”
Very cool. Was he already familiar with what you wanted?
I called him the next day and I told him all about the premise of the movie and the series it was based on and he almost immediately came on board. He told me how much he loved and respected animation, and that he had wished he had done more with it.
What was the budget for the film?
The goal was $35,000, but it was not reached.
Was he always aware of the challenges of getting it off the ground?
He was, and he was always very encouraging. He would tell me stories of projects he had worked on in his career that struggled, but [ultimately] succeeded. He would also say that when then film was finished, he would do whatever he could to get people to see it. Which was beyond generous for someone who had done too much already.
Did he work pro bono?
He did. He did not want anything in return.
How long would the completed film be, and did Leslie voice all the lines you had for him?
Yes, all of his lines have been recorded. I believe that the film would clock in at around 90 minutes, maybe a bit longer.
At this point, how many minutes of finished film do you have?
The two minutes that were released [online] are the only minutes of finished film we have, though there are many test animations for various parts of the film that have been done.
Can you tell me a bit about his character?
Ready Espanosa is a world famous explorer that goes missing. If you were to take Frank Drebin and Lost‘s John Locke and put them together, it would be Ready Espanosa.
When did he record the character’s voice?
Over two days in May of 2007. We did it by phone. I’m in Boston and he was in a studio in Florida.
How does one direct Frank Drebin on his vocal prowess over the phone?
Exactly! I had no right directing him. He was an untouchable comedic God. But he was always very nice about it, asking questions, giving pointers and throwing ideas out there. He never made you feel like he was above you.
Did you keep in touch with Leslie after his recording sessions in 2007?
I talked to Leslie once or twice a month since 2007. Sometimes about the movie, sometimes about nothing.
How was he doing the last time you chatted with him?
I talked to him before Thanksgiving, and he was just as alive as ever. That’s why I was so shocked to get the news that he had passed. It made no sense.
His passing must make you more even more determined to finish the film and share it with fans. Have people reached out to you to help complete the project?
A few small donations have trickled in, but I have not heard from anyone with a serious interest. If I could fund the movie myself I would. I’ve tried. Believe me, no one wants to see this movie finished more than I do. It’s tricky because I don’t want to be perceived as that person that comes out of the woodwork when someone passes to try and make a profit. I am only interested in giving Leslie the opportunity to continue to make us laugh.