Frank Langella Interview – STARTING OUT IN THE EVENING

     November 23, 2007

Opening today, in very limited release, is “Starting Out in the Evening.” The movie is about an aging novelist named Leonard Schiller (Frank Langella), who is trying to finish the novel he has been laboring on for almost ten years. With his four earlier books out of print, he has learned to starve himself of the desire for the success he was once so close to, though beneath this practice lives a pull for his work to be rediscovered. His solitary writer’s life is shaken by the arrival of Heather (Lauren Ambrose), an ambitious graduate student who persuades him that she can use her thesis to spur a rediscovery of his work. But as her inquiry proceeds, Heather displays a profound personal interest in Leonard, which unsettles him and stirs up his long-dormant need for intimacy. Meanwhile, Leonard’s daughter Ariel (Lili Taylor) reconnects with her ex-boyfriend Casey (Adrian Lester), a man Leonard firmly disapproves of. Leonard’s encounters with Heather lead him down an unfamiliar path that threatens his writing, his health, and his relationship to his daughter. But in living out in the open, in the evening of his life Schiller puts into practice the core theme of his novels — life is not designed for our comfort but for our struggle, for in struggle there is growth.

The film stars Lauren Ambrose, Frank Langella, Lill Taylor, Karl Bury, Anitha Gandhi, Sean T. Krishnan, Jessica Hecht and Adrian Lester. “Starting Out in the Evening” was was directed by Andrew Wagner.

A few weeks ago I was able to participate in a roundtable interview with Frank Langella and we got to speak about not only this film, but all the other great projects he’s involved with – including the new Richard Kelly film “The Box.” He’s tells a great story about meeting Rich. Of course we covered what’s sure to be a big film next year… “Frost/Nixon.”

As always, you can either read the transcript below or listen to the roundtable interview as an MP3 by clicking here. Finally, if you missed the movie clips I posted you can watch them here.

Question: It’s so good to see you looking so well and alive and (laughter).

Frank Langella: You mean not falling over from a stroke?

Q: I’ve got to say you brought me to tears watching the movie.

Frank Langella: Oh, good. That was my ambition.

Even before the stroke in the film, Leonard looks like he’s barely holding on in every scene. How did you work up to that presence?

Frank Langella: It wasn’t hard really. As a matter of fact it was kind of sort of liberating because I’m Italian and I’m rather gregarious and I’m healthy and Leonard was quiet, imploded, terribly contained, very proper and it was good for me to just sit and be, you know, which is the aim of life anyway and most of us never get to it. Leonard was just a man who sat very quietly and didn’t express himself wildly and lived in his head. So those were interesting things for me to do and to work on. They weren’t difficult—I mean they weren’t painful—difficult but not painful.

Can I ask how you came to the project? What attracted you? Was it the script?

Frank Langella: Andrew—first the script. It’s always the script with me. Always the words and they were glorious words. I kept reading it, turning the pages and thinking this can’t be true. This cannot be true. Then of course they had no money and no production planned and no actors and they had nothing, but then I got a copy of Andrew Wagner’s his first movie—his only movie is called “The Talent Given Us” which is a wonderful documentary about his family. We met here at Orso’s and its famous now amongst the little band of us but he didn’t say to me “I would like it if you would consider doing my movie”, he sat down and said “Now, you’re going to do this movie.” And I said “Don’t be so sure, don’t be so cocky.” And we got up 3 hours later and I was crazy about him. Then we had many, many, many hours before I committed, many hours of going through it page by page and making sure because I said to him “We only have 18 days. We better know each other and we better know the character and we better know what we’re aiming for because we’re not going to be able to stop the shoot and go sit in a corner and debate anything. There won’t be any time”. So the preparation was actually more work than the actual shoot, but once we got through it we were able to really concentrate on putting Leonard on film.

Your dynamic with Lili Taylor is precious.

Frank Langella: She’s the best.

It’s precious.

Frank Langella: She’s the best thing that ever walked this earth except my own daughter.

Like yourself, she’s very alive and exuberates in all of her roles.

Frank Langella: She is and she’s a heavenly actress to be around and to work with. We’ve become very good friends. My own daughter is only 24, and I love her—Lili—just about as much. Some women exude a kind of compassionate graciousness and Lili has it in spades. I enjoyed her very much.

My question is in 2 parts. Over the years you’ve played many different kinds of characters and I wondered if they really affect you in life and if you kind of take a part of them with you?

Frank Langella: You take a part of every one of them with you. I’ve been lucky in playing great roles in the theatre and sometimes when the play closes shards of everybody I’ve ever played lived with me. They don’t live with me to any crippling effect and I really can’t stand it when I read an actress says “It took me a year to get over Hamlet”. Well then you did it wrong. You should be over it by the time you hit Orso’s. But certain characters—I gain from every character I play—I never loose anything.

What do you take from Leonard?

Frank Langella: It’s such a cliché but what I did take from Leonard was a sharper understanding of the time I waste, of the time I don’t use creatively or intelligently or emotionally or romantically. The hours and hours we all waste in contemplativeness or fear or passivity, he reminded me of just a step up because I’m not as old as him but I’m close and playing him reminded me of how foolish it is to live in the past or for the future but just to live now which is the big catch word these days, you know, the book of now and now in the moment, but properly applied it is absolutely true. There is only this moment and if you do look at it that way and say anything in comparison to now is ridiculous. You can’t say that was better, this is going to be better; this is going to be worse. The now is where you should be, so he kind of reminded me of that and I took stock of it.

So now that you’re wrapping on Frost/Nixon, what are you taking away from that experience?

Frank Langella: Well, I’ve gained a great deal from him and I’ll only answer 1 question about this movie because this movie doesn’t need any help. A year from now believe me the machine will take over on Universal, “Starting Out the Evening” needs all the help it can get. Richard Nixon has taught me—and I just finished with him 2 days ago—he’s also taught me to be as un-judgmental as possible, to look at every person as a person and not look at somebody as a wicked President or an evil President or a drunk or crook. But to realize everybody gets up everyday with a whole host of monsters in their head. Some people are defeated by those monsters; some people are destroyed by them. He was one who was destroyed. So he also taught me to tell my monsters to go away.

Did you and Lauren get tired of eating all that bread and jam?

Frank Langella: I didn’t eat that much. When you have a movie as tightly budgeted as this in time, there’s only so much toast in the toaster, you know, I don’t think they had enough budget for more than 1 loaf of bread and when that was gone we had to move on.

The language is fantastic in this movie. Are you able to find that in some of the bigger projects you get to do also?

Frank Langella: Well, certainly Frost/Nixon is brilliantly written and that was a lucky break. The movie I’m starting on Monday for Rich Kelly called “The Box” is equally brilliant. I’m having an extraordinary year. Great role and a great cast and I’m thrilled with what I have to say in that film.

Kelly can be pretty out there.

Frank Langella: Yeah, I can’t wait.

Any weird, challenging things that are hard to get your lips around?

Frank Langella: Well, in language no, not at all. There certainly will be physically in how I’m going to appear physically because that’s what Rich specializes in, but it’s so different than “Starting Out” and so different than “Frost/Nixon”. I’m jumping into a whole other genre certainly with a much younger cast, a younger—Cameron Diaz and James Marsden are the hot young actors and it puts me in a new world. I met Rich Kelly and his producing partner Sean McKittrick the other day having had long conversations on the phone, and I didn’t know they were the director and producer. I thought there were like AD assistants. I met a much older woman who was doing the clothes and these 2 young guys kept talking and interrupting her and I finally said “What do you do in the movie?” and he said “I’m the director.” I said “Oh, okay. You’re my boss!”

I was going to ask you what was it about that project that got you? Was it the quality of the script–?

Frank Langella: Oh, the script is wonderful. It’s just wonderful. You know, this is a movie that starts out with Cameron and Jimmy in the morning waking up and the doorbell rings after Jimmy goes away to work and a mysterious man in a suit and a top coat and a hat is carrying a box and she says to him “Are you a salesman?”. He says I’m offering you something. There’s a key there in an envelope. You have to talk to your husband if you break the seal of the key; you put it in the box. The box will open and there will be a button in it. You are free to press that button. If you press the button you’ll be given—its 1970—you’ll be given $400,000 in cash tax free and no questions asked. However someone you don’t know—have never met, will never know—will die the moment you press the button. Make up your mind. And of course the movie then goes from there. It’s wonderful. Based on a Richard Matheson “Twilight Zone” episode called “Button, Button”.

And can I ask what character you play in the film?

Frank Langella: I play the man who brings the box of course. Arlington Stewart is his name.

Is that a long shoot for you?

Frank Langella: Yeah, 7 weeks starting in a couple of weeks.

So you don’t just leave them alone after you deliver the package?

Frank Langella: Oh no. Believe I’m there for the duration. I’m there and it’s a remarkable script. Every actor I know says to me “How did you get that part!” I’m thrilled.

Now you will be forever romanticized by women all over the world—

Frank Langella: I hope so.

–for your Dracula performance.

Frank Langella: Thanks.

But you’ve also had so many other indelible roles such as in “Dave” or “Eddie”—comedic, hysterical. Do you ever get recognized for any of those parts?

Frank Langella: Yes, constantly. Constantly. The older I get the more recognized I get particularly in New York—lately. I’ve had some great successes in New York in the last 2 or 3 years and then also all the films I’ve done—all the successful films I’ve done—appear on television constantly so that re-…

We were talking about that earlier with Dave the past 2 years…

Frank Langella: Dave has been on a lot. Dracula has been on although I don’t look anything like that anymore, but certainly Lolita has been shown a great deal more than it was when we first made it. I did to television series for George Clooney called Unscripted. That got enormous young audience for me and Good Night and Good Luck, the same thing.

And you were phenomenal as Paley in that.

Frank Langella: Thank you. It’s been a great run.

I was going to ask you were you looking forward to playing Perry White again?

Frank Langella: Yes. I don’t think that will happen until 2009 because they don’t have quite a script yet. They’re not going to get one before the strike but I have 2 more of those to do and I love Brian Singer. I just love him.

Have you already thought about what you’ll be doing after Richard Kelly’s “The Box”?

Frank Langella: That wraps the middle of January and if I don’t have a job it will be lucky for me the first time in over 2-1/2 years, so I will probably do something exotic like I’ve never done. I’ll go to Africa or my daughter’s here and she wants to go on a safari and I’ve always wanted to do that too.

Speaking of Dracula with Halloween coming up I can ask you what’s your favorite Halloween costume.

Frank Langella: Oh, it’s probably my birthday suit with somebody I really like. And the last words spoken before the candle gets blown out areTrick or Treat.

Do you have any plans to return to Broadway in the near future? Any projects under consideration?

Frank Langella: No because I’ve been on the stage now so much in the last few years that to be liberated from that routine–Frost/Nixon I did 360 some odd times from London to New York—and the joy of just going on the film set every day and not knowing I had to do that enormous role night after night was great. And once you click into that schedule I’m fine with it. I’m very disciplined. But once you’re out of it, you realize my God it’s like waiting for the second hand to go at quarter to three when you’re a kid at school and the bell rings. Free. Now I feel free and I don’t want to go back to it unless it’s something I just can’t live without so I think I’ll stay away from the stage for maybe another year or two. I’m lucky—I don’t know why—but at this particular time in my career my film catalogue is getting better and better.

Continued on page 2 ———>


That’s because people are starved for good talent.

Frank Langella: Oh, thanks. Thanks.

Do you have any anticdotes or little stories about what happened on the set? Anything interesting or noteworthy?

Frank Langella: Starting Out In the Evening was a very interesting set because we were confined, you know, that little apartment I had was a real little west-side apartment. There was a room off camera literally 2 feet away where Lauren and Lili and Adrian and I changed. There was a little curtain hung up and Adrian and I were on one side of that curtain and we’d run in and make our changes and Lili and Lauren and someone else who came into that set were on the other. Then we would have to get in—one morning the producer called me and said the A.D.’s car broke down on the highway and I’ll be picking you up and she arrived with a sandwich in her hand, this old jalopy and I jumped in and we drove downtown to the village to shoot a scene in a restaurant–the scene where I come in very ill and Adrian takes me to the bathroom. I had to change clothes in that bathroom because there was no place else to change clothes. The night before—one day I became violently ill. I ate something I shouldn’t have eaten in a restaurant and I literally couldn’t get up off the floor of the bathroom. I was lying on the floor and I called Andrew and I said “I’m really, really sick”. And Andrew said “You have to…we only have the set today! I’ll come up and I’ll carry you there.” So somebody came up—one of the assistants came up with Adrian Lester and they literally came into my apartment. You know that nausea you have where you don’t want to move? I took some anti-nausea things and I laid in the back of this van and I got down there and we shot the scene.

Now, given the low budget and Leonard’s rather frugal wardrobe, did you have what one suit and one shirt for the whole–?

Frank Langella: I had a cardigan sweater, a jacket, a couple of shirts and a couple of ties and that was—my own shoes I think– I don’t remember and that hat which was a lucky find. It was in a box with a bunch of hats and I went that’s it. And the glasses, you know, a lady brought me over 4 or 5 pairs of glasses, and I picked one and he was nice to create that way, you know? I knew his clothes weren’t going to be terribly important to him fashion wise. They had to be comfortable and that was nice not having to concern myself with that costume style and all that stuff.

Now, when you were typing, were you actually typing or where you just typing mumbo-jumbo?

Frank Langella: No, I was typing. I was typing words I wanted to say, but they weren’t on paper. They were just for me typing. I love the way the film begins and ends. I think it’s very poignant.

So, I have to ask. Do you think Leonard finished the book?

Frank Langella: You know, you’re only the 2nd person today who asked me that and actually it doesn’t matter. What only matters is that he got up and he started again. That’s the point of the movie. Whether he finishes it, whether it’s well received, whether or not –he could start out as at the end of the picture he’s there typing and 5 minutes later he could have a stroke. An hour later his daughter could be hit by a car. That’s the whole point I think of what life is like when you get into these years is the result doesn’t really matter. The outcome isn’t as important as the process. And the point of the film is to say get up. Just get up and do whatever it is, just do it and don’t worry about the outcome of it bad or good.

What is it like to hit a woman?

Frank Langella: It’s great.

I was really hoping you would hit her much earlier in the film.

Frank Langella: Yeah, you would? The smack is …oh I guess we shouldn’t give that away I guess but it doesn’t matter.

Do you enjoy playing a good guy more or a bad guy?

Frank Langella: Well, he was good. Good, good, good to his toes and I loved playing him and I adored playing Richard Nixon. I just like to act. I really love to create people and it doesn’t much matter because you know, they’re all good to me. When you are a villain, you don’t think you’re a villain. Other people do but you don’t. You think everything you’re doing is right and correct and why don’t people see it your way—bang, bang. So I like it all.

Do you know people in real life as articulate as Leonard, Heather and Ariel?

Frank Langella: Yes. I live in the upper west side of New York and it’s sort of on enclave for artists and writers and painters and actors and there’s always somebody who wants to talk profoundly about something in a coffee shop. It’s a great city to live in for that particular thing.

It’s funny because when I was watching you in the performance a few weeks ago I interviewed an older writer and it was absolutely him. Impeccable.

Frank Langella: Really?

Impeccable. I don’t know if you know the author Rabbi Harold Kushner? He wrote When Bad Things Happen to Good People. And also a gentlemen and the way you carried yourself and the old school kind of… was absolutely him. I was going to ask you if you modeled it after someone you knew?

Frank Langella: No just as I said earlier those men all over my neighborhood. They’re just everywhere and they’re so polite. So unfailingly polite even to the point where I’ll be coming along Central Park West off my bike or a run or just walking, and I’ll get to the door of my building and one of these older gentlemen—and they’re older than I am and I’m old—and they’ll get to the door and he’ll go like that and not in any phony way. I have all the time in the world you go in first and I’m very touched by that and it’s around more than we think it is. It just is. We don’t see them because they’re not all over television and they’re not pushing themselves on us in the media but they’re all there; that generation of really old world, old fashioned people who observe a Seder in my building. Just lovely on the holidays. Just wonderful.

Can I ask you what it’s been like working with Michael Sheen this whole time?

Frank Langella: Well, Michael and I have worked together now for 18 months—at least 18 months—and 2 days ago he came out to me on the set and I said “well, I’ll see you” and he said “I’ll see you”. We’re going to see a lot of each other next year as well. We both burrowed into our characters profoundly. He’s a very strong savvy stage actor and you have to have that. You have to have a partner if you’re going be in a hit on stage for a year and a half who feels the same way you do about maintaining the level of the performance and Michael felt that way very strongly and so did I.

I just interviewed him and he said he’s really going to miss the character.

Frank Langella: Oh, I bet. I’ll miss Nixon a lot. A lot.

Now had you read this particular Brian Morton’s book before?

Frank Langella: No, and I asked Andrew Wagner if I could read the book and I said I won’t read it if you tell me not to and he said “please don’t because the Leonard I want to create with you is not really quite the Leonard in the book. I don’t want you to be confused.” I said “but I can just pick things from it that work.” He said “no don’t”. I said “you’re underestimating me”.

Have you read it since or do you plan to?

Frank Langella: It’s sitting on the table in the room they got for me and I don’t think I will. First of all I have to tell you and I’m not being disingenuous, I didn’t expect any of this from this movie. I expected—I had a wonderful time doing it—but when I saw it I was stunned by how beautifully he sewed it together. I’m just going to keep the memory of the movie. Thank you folks.

So did you always want to be in a Superman movie?

Frank Langella: No. I didn’t but I’m very happy now I was.

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