Langella, Frank

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Langella, Frank

Career
Sidelights
Sources

Actor

B orn January 1, 1940, in Bayonne, NJ; son ofFrank Langella (a business owner); married Ruth Weil, June 14, 1977 (divorced, 1996); children: one son, one daughter. Education: Syracuse University, B.S., 1959; studied acting with Elia Kazan at the Lincoln Center Repertory Company.

Addresses: Agent—Special Artists Agency, 9465 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 890, Beverly Hills, CA 90212-2607.

Career

A ctor on stage, including appearances with YaleRepertory Theatre, 1971-72; McCarter Theatre, Princeton, NJ, 1972; Guthrie Theater Company, Minneapolis, MN, 1972-73. Stage appearances include: The Immoralist, New York City, 1963; The Old Glory, New York City, 1964-65; Good Day, New York City, 1965-66; The White Devil, New York City, 1965-66; Yerma, Broadway production, 1966-67; The Devils, Los Angeles, 1967; A Cry of Players, Broadway production, 1968-69; Cyrano de Bergerac, 1971; Seascape, Broadway production, 1974-75; Dracula, Broadway production, 1977-80; Passion, Broadway production, 1983; Designing for Living, Broadway production, 1984-85; Hurlyburly, Broadway production, 1985; Sherlock’s Last Case, Washington, D.C. then Broadway production, 1987; The Tempest, New York City, 1989; Scenes from an Execution, Los Angeles, CA, 1993; The Father, Broadway production, 1996; Present Laughter, Broadway production, 1996-97; Fortune’s Fool, Broadway production, 2002; Match, Broadway production, 2004; Frost/Nixon, Broadway production, 2006-07. Film appearances include: Diary of a Mad Housewife, 1970; The Twelve Chairs, 1970; The Deadly Trap, 1971; The Wrath of God, 1972; Dracula, 1979; Those Lips Those Eyes, 1980; Sphinx, 1981; The Men’s Club, 1986; Masters of the Universe, 1987; And God Created Women, 1988; True Identity, 1991; 1492: Conquest of Paradise, 1992; Dave, 1993; Brainscan, 1994; Junior, 1994; Bad Company, 1995; Cutthroat Island, 1995; Eddie, 1996; Lolita, 1997; Small Soldiers, 1998; The Ninth Gate, 1999; Stardom, 2000; Sweet November, 2001; House of D, 2004; Breaking the Fifth, 2005; How You Look to Me, 2005; Return to Rajapur, 2006; Good Night and Good Luck, 2005; Superman Returns, 2006; Starting Out in the Evening, 2007; Frost/ Nixon, 2008. Television movie appearances include: Benito Cereno, 1967; The Mark of Zorro, 1974; The Seagull, 1975; The American Woman: Portraits of Courage, 1976; Eccentricities of a Nightingale, 1976; Sherlock Holmes, 1981; I, Leonardo: A Journey of the Mind, 1983; Liberty, 1986; The Doomsday Gun, 1994; Moses, 1996; Kilroy, 1999; Jason and the Argonauts, 2000; Cry Baby Lane, 2000; 111 Gramercy Park, 2003; Now You See It , 2005; The Water Is Wide, 2006; 10.5: Apocalypse, 2006. Productions as stage director include: John and Abigail, Stockbridge, MA, 1969; Passione, Broadway production, 1980; Cyrano de Bergerac, New York City, 1997-98. Productions as a stage producer include: After the Fall, New York City, 1984; Sherlock’s Last Case, Washington, D.C. then Broadway production, 1987.

Member: Actors’ Equity Association; Screen Actors Guild.

Awards: OBIE Award for best performance, Village Voice, for The Old Glory, 1965; OBIE Award for distinguished performance, Village Voice, for Good Day, 1966; OBIE Award for distinguished performance, Village Voice, for The White Devil, 1966; Drama Desk Award for outstanding performance, for A Cry of Players, 1968; National Board of Review Award for best supporting actor, for Diary of a Mad Housewife, 1970; Tony Award for best featured actor in a play, American Theatre Wing, for Seascape, 1975; Drama DeskAward for outstanding featured actor in a play, for Seascape, 1975; Drama League Award for Dracula, 1978; Drama Desk Award for outstanding actor in a play, for The Father, 1996; Tony Award for best featured actor in a play, American Theatre Wing, for Fortune’s Fool, 2002; Drama Desk Award for outstanding actor in a play, for Frost/Nixon, 2007; Outer Critics Circle Award for outstanding actor in a play, for Frost/Nixon, 2007; Tony Award for best actor in a play, American Theatre Wing, for Frost/Nixon, 2007.

Sidelights

A fter making a splash on the New York stageand silver screen in the 1960s and 1970s, actor Frank Langella experienced a career renaissance in 2006 and 2007 for his lauded performances in the stage production Frost/Nixon and the indie film Starting Out in the Evening. The actor won several awards for his work over the years, including three Tonys, and was often praised by critics for his ability to inhabit the characters he played. Langella recognized that his career had ups and downs, telling the New York Times’ Michiko Kakutani, “I think I’ve always been a success. But some things get noticed and some things don’t. My career has been a strangely unpredictable one: I keep being rediscov-ered and counted out, then rediscovered again. But I accept that.”

Born on January 1, 1940, in Bayonne, New Jersey, Langella was named after his father. His father was the owner of a steel drum reconditioning business, and Langella and his two siblings were raised in an atmosphere of privilege. From an early age, Lan-gella knew he wanted to be an actor, although, for a time in his youth, he hoped he could make a living horseback riding. Acting and the theater were attractive to the young Langella, who often felt overlooked in his family and among his peers. He told the Washington Post’s Dave Richards, “If you tend to be a loner, there is a place you can go and be tremendously involved, and that’s in the bright lights of the theater. You feel very much loved and embraced and part of the world. I was the weakest link in an overpowering family. In the theater, I could be someone else. Or myself in disguse.”

To pursue his acting goals, he attended Syracuse University. There, Langella studied drama with Sawyer Falk, but received his B.S. in speech pathology. Langella then moved to New York City to pursue an acting career, where he struggled for a time though his family financially supported him. He appeared in summer stock productions and toured Long Island-based 4-H Clubs. In 1963, he was a member of the first training program at the Lincoln Center Repertory Company.

That year, Langella made his New York debut in the Off-Broadway production of The Immoralist as Michel. Langella impressed audiences, and, in the mid1960s, had three OBIE award-winning roles: in 1965’s The Old Glory, 1966’s Good Day, and 1966’s The White Devil. He was on his way to being recognized as one of the best young stage actors in the United States.

After another award-winning turn as a young William Shakespeare in A Cry of Players in 1968, Lan-gella was typecast for a time into young men on a search or quest in his life. This typecasting shifted in 1970 after his role in the film, Diary of a Mad Housewife. Langella was praised for his portrayal of George, the caddish lover with a cruel steak in the critically acclaimed film. When Diary of a Mad Housewife was released, the actor was regularly offered similarly mean-spirited roles. Langella was also lauded for his work in the Mel Brooks-directed film The Twelve Chairs, released in 1970.

Because of the success of these two films as well as his stage work, Langella was seen as a sex symbol, widely interviewed in magazines and regularly featured in gossip columns. He was expected to be a breakout film star, but his next few films were essentially failures. Langella came to be seen as a soon-to-be has-been. His stage work even took him away from New York for several years, as he appeared regionally in various productions with prestigious companies such as Yale Repertory, the Mc-Carter Theatre, and the Guthrie Theater Company.

A more humbled Langella returned to New York City by the mid1970s. He told New York Times’ Kukutani, “I know it all rests with me. I’ve learned by making mistakes, just about every mistake you could make—the wrong choices, the wrong goals, going down the wrong road. I know it sounds like a cliché, but I don’t regret any of them.” In 1975, Langella had his breakthrough role as a talking lizard named Leslie in his Broadway debut, the hit play Seascape. Winning both a Tony and a Drama Desk award for his performance, Langella was again a highly regarded actor. In the late 1970s, Langella also received critical kudos for his work in the title role in Edward Gorey’s revisionist Dracula on Broadway. While he again became something of sex symbol, he also was typecast for a time for his work in the role. He also appeared in the title role of the 1979 film based on the Broadway play.

Langella’s film career continued to be strong in the early 1980s by his taking on more challenging roles. For example, he starred as Harry Crystal in the film Those Lips, Those Eyes in 1980. Drawing on his own experiences as a stage actor who sometimes struggled to survive, Langella’s Crystal is a mediocre song-and-dance actor who has had limited success in middling shows and summer stock productions. Critics appreciated Langella’s work, noting, as Kakutani of the New York Times reported, “only a first-class actor could portray such a second-rate performer with such panache.”

In 1980, Langella also directed his first play in New York City, the poorly reviewed Passione. Throughout the 1980s, Langella moved back and forth between stage and screen, while continuing to expand his horizons by directing and producing on occasion. In 1985, he optioned a script about the famous fictional sleuth Sherlock Holmes, which proved to be a major project for him. The following year, Langella was both the producer and star of a new version of Arthur Miller’s After the Fall.

Langella was both the producer and star of Sherlock’s Last Case when it was finally produced in the late 1980s. The play was a hit in runs in Washington, D.C., and on Broadway. While working out his characterization of Sherlock in rehearsals, Langella also had to manage the $1.2 million production. He was able to do so successfully because of his own maturity. As he put together the Washington production before its opening, Langella told Richards of the Washington Post, “I just think about the list of things that have to be done today and take it as it comes. Sometime in the last three or four years, I stopped needing to control everything. It was the beginning of liberation for me. Lately, I’ve begun to realize the less you try to manipulate others, the more life comes to you.You’re not squeezing it tight. You’re letting it happen.”

Sherlock’s Last Case received generally positive reviews. Louise Sweeney in the Christian Science Monitor wrote of Langella’s work in the Washington production, “Langella’s Holmes is also silkily charming, elegantly tailored, and the first Sherlock to bring a subtle sexiness to the role.” While the Associated Press’ Michael Kuchwara was less impressed with the production overall, he raved about Langella’s work. Kuchwara wrote, “Langella was born to wear that deerstalker, smoke that pipe and play that violin. He has a commanding stage presence and has got the correct Holmes attitude down just right. The actor, who has the best glare on Broadway, is egocentric without being alienating, a difficult trick to accomplish.”

With the success of the play, Langella’s film career again underwent a brief revival. He appeared as the villain Skeletor in 1987’s Masters of the Universe, based on the popular Mattel toys, then appeared as a politician in a re-make of And God Created Women in 1988. Langella returned to the New York stage in 1989 to perform in an Off-Broadway production of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

In the 1990s, Langella appeared in a number of films, primarily in small roles. His first film role of the decade came in 1991 with True Identity, based on a Saturday Night Live sketch. Langella’s film career was really ignited for a time by his work as the malicious Chief of Staff Bob Alexander in the presidential comedy Dave, released in 1993. He went to appear in such comedies as 1994’s Junior and 1996’s Eddie. Langella also put in noteworthy performances in the pirate film Cutthroat Island and a new version of the controversial novel, Lolita. In 1999, he appeared in the failed supernatural thriller The Ninth Gate, directed by Roman Polanski. Langella took on television roles as well, including playing weapon-building Gerald Bull in the 1994 HBO original movie Doomsday Gun, based on real events in the 1980s.

In 1996 Langella starred in the Broadway revival of August Strindberg’s The Father, a psychological drama about a paranoid father. Playing the title role, the actor received some of the best reviews of his career, though the production as a whole was not as well-received. Langella then moved into another hailed role on Broadway, playing the world-weary Garry Essendine in a revival of Noel Coward’s Present Laughter in late 1996 and early 1997.

As Langella entered his sixties in 2000, his acting career continued to thrive. In 2002, he co-starred in a Broadway revival of the Ivan Turgenev play, Fortune’s Fool. Langella played the charming, but snakelike fop, nobleman Tropatochov, opposite Alan Bates, who played the nicer Kuzovkin. Lan- gella garnered a Tony Award for his performance. Two years later, Langella was similarly lauded for his work in the new comedy Match. Writing in the New York Times, Ben Brantley commented of his work: “A convincingly contradictory mix of small-town American folksiness and aesthetic worldliness, Mr. Langella makes you feel, as only a fine actor can, that his character is both deeply familiar and original. You’re ready to follow this manic, hopeful, charming, and pathetic creature wherever he wants to take you.”

Langella found even greater acclaim—and earned his third Tony Award—playing Richard Nixon in the stage play Frost/Nixon. It was based on a series of interviews the famous British journalist David Frost did with Nixon after he resigned from the presidency. Reviewing the production in New York Magazine, Jeremy Carter wrote “When Langella lopes onstage, he at first seems [a] broad a caricature. But as the performance deepens, what really strikes you—especially coming from Langella, one of the world’s greatest scenery-chewers—is his subtlety, his coiled restraint.” Langella reprised Nixon in the film version of the play, released in 2008 and directed by Ron Howard.

Langella’s work was well-received in the independent film Starting Out in the Evening. Filmed in less than three weeks and released in 2007, there was talk of an Academy Award nomination for his work as the once-famous novelist Leonard Schiller. Langella’s Schiller is nearing the end of his life, trying to finish his last novel, and must deal with family drama and life change when a comely graduate student enters his life. Langella believed he understood why audiences embraced his performance as Schiller, telling Sam Allis of the Boston Globe, “The movie has for some reason touched people. It has something to do with the universality of trying in all of us. I find it beautiful that at 74 Leonard said, ‘Oh, I’ve learned something. I think I’ll put this book away and I’ll start again.’”

As Langella lined up more film roles, including the The Box, he remained thoughtful about the cyclicism of his career. He told Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune, “You act to try to lessen the noise. And eventually you discover, if you’re lucky, that acting is a skill and a craft, and not just a way of barfing up your neuroses. The demons that used to really taunt me and rule my life don’t anymore. And new ones come along: mortality, death, the questions. Looking back I’m proud I wasn’t afraid of embracing change. I think my work is more complicated now than it’s ever been. And maybe that’s because I didn’t ever decide: ‘This is what people want to see me do.’”

Sources

Books

Contemporary Theatre, Film, and Television, vol. 60, Thomson Gale, 2005.

Marquis Who’s Who, vol. 160, Marquis Who’s Who, 2008.

Who’s Who in the Theatre, 17th ed., Gale Research, 1981.

Periodicals

Associated Press, August 21, 1987; November 15, 1989.

Associated Press Worldstream, April 4, 2002.

Boston Globe, March 10, 2000, p. D5; December 9, 2007, p. N9.

Chicago Tribune, December 28, 2007.

Christian Science Monitor, October 6, 1980, p. 23; August 18, 1987, p. 20.

Daily News of Los Angeles, November 23, 2007, p. L9.

Houston Chronicle, May 25, 1993, p. 3.

Los Angeles Times, November 23, 2007, p. E2.

New York Magazine, May 7, 2007.

New York Post, November 16, 2007, p. 40.

New York Times, September 4, 1980, p. C15; February 11, 1996, sec. 2, p. 5; December 2, 1996, p. C11; March 31, 2002, sec. 2, p. 7; April 9, 2004, p. E1.

Post-Standard (Syracuse, NY), January 22, 1996, p. B3.

Toronto Star, December 22, 1995, p. D8.

USA Today, August 23, 1991, p. 4D.

Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, VA), July 23, 1994, p. 1.

Washington Post, June 21, 1987, p. G1.

—A. Petruso