David Letterman’s Horrible “Airplane!” Audition
Reliving an Unforgettable Moment in “Surely You Can’t Be Serious: The True History of Airplane!”
David Letterman, the former late-night talk show host, tried his hand at acting when he auditioned for the lead role of Ted Striker in the classic comedy film “Airplane!” in the 1980s. His audition is still talked about in the entertainment industry today. An excerpt from the upcoming oral history book, “Surely You Can’t Be Serious: The True History of Airplane!”, was published by Entertainment Weekly, providing new insights into the audition process and Letterman’s experience.
According to co-director Jeff Zucker, Letterman, who was not an actor, had an excellent and natural onscreen presence, with leading-man good looks. However, he was uncomfortable with the idea of acting, finding it too artificial. Zucker explained that Letterman believed acting was “phony,” and he felt like he was “bullshitting.” Despite this, the “Airplane!” team encouraged him to audition, appreciating his sense of humor and likability.
In his own words, Letterman admitted that he warned the producers that he had no acting experience, but they still asked him to give it a go. He recalled the audition scene, where they had set up a cockpit with chairs, and he was asked to act out the part of Ted Striker. The scene was filmed three times, and despite his repeated protests that he couldn’t act, the producers told him he was right, and he couldn’t act. However, the whole experience was good-natured, and Letterman laughed it off and left the audition feeling happy that he had been honest from the start.
Years later, Zucker appeared as a guest on Letterman’s talk show and surprised him by playing a clip from his dreadful screen test. The clip showed Letterman struggling to act out the scene, which he had found challenging. Letterman was a good sport about it and looked suitably embarrassed, playing it to big laughs. Zucker said that, in a way, Letterman’s reaction showed that he was acting after all.
The new book, “Surely You Can’t Be Serious: The True History of Airplane!,” published by St. Martin’s Press, is an oral history of the making of the classic comedy film. It includes interviews with the cast and crew and other behind-the-scenes stories. The book is now available for pre-order and will be released on October 3.