Six years ago, then known primarily as the man who’d once been Dracula, Frank Langella was weighing three offers—two TV shows and a tiny new play with an eight-week run at a not-for-profit London theater. His girlfriend begged him to head to the screen, but he was smitten with playing a malevolent politician.
So he ditched the girlfriend (“Her agenda was to be on the arm of somebody at the Emmys,” Langella says), Frost/Nixon got raves, moved to the West End, then to Broadway, won Langella a Tony, and finally became a hit movie, which earned him an Oscar nomination.
Langella, 73, couldn’t have chosen differently. As he explains over orange juice, he’s totally, deliriously happy playing liars and cheaters. “Someone once asked me what are the most important qualities you look for in an artist, and I said mystery and danger,” Langella says. “There are animals in the jungle you watch and animals that you go right by. I watch the animal that could kill me.”
That’s an apt description of his latest role, in Man and Boy, the Broadway revival of Terence Rattigan’s 1963 play about a Madoff-like schemer (Langella) whose business and reputation collapse during the Great Depression. As the press and the police descend, the man’s son attempts to save him and discovers a person who has no idea how to give or receive his love.
“If you’re a man who’s lived his whole life without a conscience and some young boy says, ‘I’m your son no matter what,’ you have two choices,” Langella says. “You can fall down at his feet and say, ‘Thank you,’ or you can push him away.”
Another thing attracted Langella to Man and Boy—it’s a period piece, which he thinks is good because “I’m not of this century. I’m not jiggy with it. I don’t feel part of this culture at all.” He’s appalled by reality shows and horrified by modern politics.
Recently, Langella’s been paying tribute to the past by writing a memoir for HarperCollins. It won’t be a weepy confessional about the death of his parents or his relationships with his children, he says. Instead, it remembers famous friends and acquaintances who’ve died: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Elizabeth Taylor, and George C. Scott. Some of his subjects were real “monsters,” to quote Langella; all were “larger than life,” not the “Lilliputians we’re all looking at today.”
The book began about a year ago when a “much younger” woman he was dating told him that an actress she wasn’t familiar with had died. “I asked who, and she said, ‘Jill Clayburgh.’ That started me off. I began writing.”
As for the girlfriend, Langella broke up with her too. He’s now involved with someone more “age-appropriate.”