Frankenweenie, from director Tim Burton and screenwriter John August, is a charming, macabre and heartwarming tale, about Victor (voiced by Charlie Tahan), a young boy who, after unexpectedly losing his beloved dog Sparky, harnesses the power of science to bring his best friend back to life, but quickly faces unintended and sometimes monstrous consequences for his actions. The voice cast also includes Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, Martin Landau, Winona Ryder and Atticus Shaffer.
At the film’s press junket, actor Martin Landau spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about how happy he was to be a part of such a passion project, why he loved his character, how he determined the accent he would use, what he thought when he saw Mr. Rzykruski brought to life, why his collaboration with Burton works so well, and what compels him to advise other actors. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
MARTIN LANDAU: It’s a lovely film, it really is. I’m so happy Tim got to make it, finally. That half-hour live-action one was sort of a gift. They never really distributed it. They said it wasn’t suitable for children. It’s gotten out there, but it wasn’t really released. But, this has been fermenting in him, for all these years. This is the picture he wanted to make, and he finally made it. The one thing that’s added to it, that’s unusual really, is the 3D, which he doesn’t use the way a lot of people do. It lets you in. It’s subtley used, and it invites you to get into the movie. That’s great because it does have a sense of reality. It’s a character-driven film, and most live-action films today are not character-driven. They’re cardboard comic characters, climbing up the sides of buildings, throwing fireballs and having car chases, and they’re sort of interchangeable. Some of them are okay. Spider-Man was good. But, there’s a sameness, frankly. This is like an old-fashioned movie, in the best sense.
What did you think of your character, Mr. Rzykruski?
LANDAU: I loved my character. He’s a great teacher, who’s totally misunderstood. When I read it, I liked him, right away. I liked his lack of diplomacy, his honesty, his inability to fool around. He just has very fast brain-mouth coordination. What he thinks, he says. This is a guy who’s a great teacher who could inspire you and interest you, and raise the bar and challenge you. He probably only works at each school for a couple of months because you can’t call your students’ parents stupid and expect to stay there. He commits career suicide, but can’t help himself. What he says interested me. There’s a lot of profound thinking that goes into this guy. I have a feeling that he sees himself in Victor. He was that kid.
How did you determine the accent you wanted to use?
LANDAU: I made up an accent because Tim didn’t want it to be specific. The script literally listed all the places he wasn’t from. He’s European, but he’s not from Hungary, he’s not from Russia, he’s not from Spain, he’s not from Italy, he’s not from Portugal. He’s not from anywhere specific. So, I made up this Slavic accent. In Ed Wood, my character had to be Hungarian. This guy is from nowhere, but somewhere. Part of what I do always has to do with the behavior of the character. I don’t do a lot of voice-overs. How a character behaves is the result of a lot of stuff. It comes from the environment he grew up in, where he’s from geographically, the religion that was offered to him, and his physiology. All of those things make up the character that I play, in any movie. I’ve never met two people who were exactly alike, and that always interests me. It’s about, how do I fill this place to make this space work for the picture? I try to never repeat a character. I always try to find something new and fresh and interesting that inspires me. So, this guy interested me, and I had fun recording it.
LANDAU: Yes, Tim sent me pictures with the script. But, I then had to relinquish it to the animators who would create the behavior. I wasn’t in charge of that. There’s something about that, that I don’t like, yet when I saw it, I was like, “God, it’s exactly as I pictured it, if I were playing it on camera.” I saw this guy exactly as they made him. I was pleased. I was like, “Wow!” It felt so good. It was as if I had performed it, not just vocally, but every way. That has to do with Tim understanding me, in a certain way.
Why does your collaboration with Tim Burton work so well?
LANDAU: We don’t have to talk to each other. We talk, but when we’re not working. When we’re working, it’s almost kinesthetic. We don’t finish sentences. I know what he wants. Any good director creates a playground. That’s what they do. They hire the right actor, open the door and let them play because stuff will happen, right then and there. The audience wants to believe that what’s going on is happening for the first time, ever. That’s what acting is. That’s what good scene writing is. The actor has to have some degree of craft, along with the talent. No one tries to laugh except bad actors. No one tries to cry except bad actors. How a character hides his feelings tells us who he is. Most people don’t know that, and most actors don’t do that. Therefore, there are a lot of actors who put me to sleep, that are considered good actors, but they’re predictable and boring. I know how the scene is going to end before it ends. They’re busy playing at stuff, as opposed to being in the moment and the now. Tim appreciates that, and I appreciate that.
What compels you to advise other actors?
LANDAU: I still critique scenes at The Actor’s Studio. We strive for good acting. It’s fascinating and fun. When you’re working with a good actor, like when I did a movie with Ellen Burstyn a few years ago, you have the best time. It was fun. It was freezing cold, but fun. That’s what keeps me interested, at this age. I’m an old fart! I started as a young guy, and I’ve been fortunate to be able to continue.
Frankenweenie opens in theaters on October 5th.