Frank Langella has been talking all over the place lately to promote his new film, Robot & Frank, and he had perhaps his most extensive interview with NPR. In the interview he talks about how he got into acting and why he has had such a varied career acting in film, television, and on the stage.
Langella explains that he first wanted to be an actor “at about seven, maybe earlier than that.” He talks about his first on-stage performance, adding, “I got on a stage when I was about six or seven, in a school pageant called Lazy Town. I wrote about it in my book. I wrote that I didn’t know what a stage was the first time I walked onto it, and I didn’t know what the wings were the first time I stood in them, but I did know I was home. That is a blessing about as great as you could give a young kid, which is to have a calling, something that you think you’re right for and want to do. When I graduated college, I’ll never forget my graduation night sitting amongst all my buddies, fraternity brothers and guys in my classes and things, some of them in agony because they had no idea what they were going to do. And I already had a job in a little theater in Boston, and I had my car all packed up, and I drove away the next day and was in rehearsal that afternoon. And that was one of the things I was spared growing up, you know, all the agonies of being a kid, all the – you know, it’s going to – how can I ask a girl on a date, I don’t want to enter that room, I’m not as good a ballplayer as the other guy, what – all the things that all of us go through. One of them was spared me, which was what am I going to do with myself. I knew, and boy was that a – that was a blessing.”
After spending much of the mid-to-late 1970s guest starring in television roles, Langella spent most of the 1980s on stage with a few film roles (including playing Skeletor in 1987’s Masters of the Universe) only to devote himself mostly to film in the 1990s. Langella notes that his varied career, “has been really very much like a Chekhov play, which is, it just ebbs and flows and, you know, it’s not like exposition, and then the plot turns, and then there’s a great big climax and then a denouement. It’s been wildly up and down. And I’ve liked it that way – great, great periods of enormous success, and then even sometimes greater periods where I couldn’t get a job, at one point I couldn’t get an agent even, where you just feel like you’re somehow you’re not going to ever pull out of whatever the slump is that you’re in.”
One advantage that he points out that he has is that as a trained theater actor he always could go back to the stage when film and television work wasn’t coming. He says, “The thing I think I had in my back pocket that a lot of actors don’t have is that I was – I trained myself for the stage. So there was never a period in my life when I couldn’t do that. So I did. I didn’t run to bad television or do commercials or things like that, I went on the stage and I played great roles. And the movies would be dead to me for three, four, five years – nobody wanted me – and then suddenly, something would come along and start a whole new period. And as I left my juvenile period and then went into my leading man years, and then when my leading man years were fading along with my hair and waistline, suddenly I began to get offered very interesting character roles, which kind of started with Dave, the Ivan Reitman film I did, about the president. And that began what was what I think I am in now is my character years.”