Frank Langella talks about 'Robot & Frank'
Frank Langella has been acting in movies for more than 40 years, but career-wise things haven't been better. His poignant work as a lonely author in "Starting out in the Evening" (2007) earned him considerable acclaim and "Frost/Nixon" (2008) got him an Oscar nomination to go with the Tony he won for playing Richard Nixon on stage.
The hot streak continues with "Robot and Frank," a gentle futuristic comedy-drama that opens on Friday. Langella plays aging ex-con Frank, who plots a heist with the robot caretaker assigned to him by his children (James Marsden and Liv Tyler).
amNewYork spoke with Langella about the film from first-time director Jack Schreier.
When you get a script from a new writer and/or director, do you automatically read it? I do read a portion of everything I get. I get a synopsis first and I know pretty quickly if it's a story that interests me and excites me. I'm going to do it if the writing is really, really good and provides something I think I can do.
What do you do next when you're weighing a part? The next step after I read a script is, I won't do a movie unless I sit down with the director, if he's a new director. In this case, I loved the story when the story was just told to me. Then I really liked the script, the way it unfolded, and then I met the two young men, the writer [Christopher D. Ford] and director, and we talked a lot about what 70-year-olds feel and they said, "That's great, we'd love to include more of that."
The film treats its sci-fi universe in a very low-key, naturalistic fashion. What appealed to you about that approach? I liked it because it didn't force us into -- and I wouldn't have done it anyway -- it didn't force us into some silly archness or over-the-top comedy about, "Oh look, the phone has a funny face in it," or ... all that horrible comedy acting that comes out of these sort of wacky situations. There are so many films like that these days. I actually enjoyed "Ted" more than I thought it would, but it's 160 degrees different than our approach.
The movie was rapturously received by Sundance Film Festival audiences. Does applause still mean what it once did to you? Oh yeah absolutely and any actor who says it doesn't is lying, or he acts only for himself or his own enjoyment. I act because I want to and I love the profession, but if the audiences didn't like it, or enjoy it, or applaud it, then I would have failed in my opinion.
So the audience response is the ultimate measure of a work's success or failure, you'd say? I did a play this year that took five weeks of previews to find, and the applause [during] the initial five or six performances was polite but not enthusiastic. I knew how much work I had to do to bring those audiences up to really enjoying the night. I had to work much, much harder than I anticipated I would.
You've been through the awards circuit before. Any chance you'll be back on it next spring for this movie? I don't ever think about it in terms of choosing a role or playing a role. In this instance, I think it's extraordinarily far-fetched. It's a small, sweet, little film, but I don't think it has the kind of sex that you need for that kind of campaign. I would just like the film to be recognized within the industry as a unique and original debut for Jake and a wonderful part for me.