Frank Langella on Acting Against a Robot: “It wasn’t difficult… I have acted opposite actors, who, no matter what you do, do not change a flicker of their performance”
Frank Langella is one of those veteran actors who I would love to share a few drinks with (I’d even pay the tab!) He seems to be so full of great stories about his long career in theater and film. He also stars in one of my favorite films of 2012, Robot & Frank, which he talks about Reuters. He opens up about the importance of working from a good script, acting against a robot, and whether or not the Hollywood of his youth has changed.
On Robot & Frank Langella was working with first-time director Jake Schreier. However, Langella wasn’t bothered about working with an inexperienced director because he really enjoyed Schreier’s script. He explains, “I agree to do a film first on what’s on the page. There is an old expression – and I started out in the theater and go back to the theater every year if I can – the expression is, ‘If it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage.’ I once did a play in England, and the venerable old actress Joan Plowright walked into my dressing room with a very strange look on her face and I knew the evening didn’t work and she said, ‘I know what you are thinking, dear, you were thinking, I will fix it in rehearsal. But you can’t. If it’s not there, you can’t. You need the words.’”
When asked if Langella had difficultly acting against the robot, he humorously replies, “It wasn’t difficult in the least, and I have acted opposite human robots a number of times. I have acted opposite actors, who, no matter what you do, do not change a flicker of their performance. They are in no way affected by you. Or I could have been a robot with some of them. I had very strong feelings about what I would be like if a robot was put into my life or if I were left alone with one.”
Langella also recently released a memoir, Dropped Names: Famous Men and Women as I Knew Them, in which he wasn’t afraid to sling a little mud. While he revealed some rather embarrassing stories about famous celebrities he had met, he admits little has changed in today’s Hollywood. He says, “It hasn’t changed, except for ambition is still the same, insecurity is still the same, it’s still a provincial town and it is still a cesspool of very, very frightening and terrifying circumstances for young people who get off buses and come there. It is full of so much treachery and so much duplicity and so much lying. And yet at the same time, as you said, it is an extraordinary, exciting place to be when you do succeed. More days now actors are aspiring to star in a television series. We didn’t do that when we were young. We were very grand about it, we wanted to be theater stars. And everything else was secondary to that. But the theater now I don’t think is any longer a major ambition of most actors … so imagine the attrition rate in my profession. Staggering. Two percent, they say, two percent of the people who try, succeed.”