INT: Martin Landau
Its not everyday that I have an opportunity to meet a legendary and prominent Oscar-winning actor whos worked throughout the evolution of Hollywood cinema. Although Martin Landau rich career is comprised of a long list of roles, he is best remembered for his part in the TV series Mission: Impossible, CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS and ED WOOD to name a few. Naturally, it was a momentous occasion for me when a group of us met Landau last year in Belfast, while he was working on the set of his soon to be released film CITY OF EMBER.
Landau creates the part of Sul, Doons pipe-working mentor, under the direction of Gil Kenan in the family adventure film. I was delighted to sit down with the classy, charming star whos clearly blessed with a warm and pleasant sense of humor. Hes also sharper and wittier than most people half his age. See what Landau had to say about acting, his take on Sul and the film during our chat last September, and check out the film when it hits theatres Friday, Oct. 10th.
What do you think of the CITY OF EMBER set?
Its amazing. Its quite an amazing set, extensive and tall and comfortable. I would say its quite remarkable. Its actually the way I envisioned it. I did CLEOPATRA a few thousand years ago in prehistoric times when there were real dinosaurs at the La Brea Tar Pits. We had massive sets, you know, and generally you dont get to see them.
Can you talk a little bit about your character?
My character? Well Im not going to tell you too much about him. Hes got narcolepsy and when he sits down he falls asleep. When hes up, hes up, and he has responsibilities and only certain responsibilities. There are other things he doesnt do and hes totally inept at, but what he does do, he does very well. Hes really Doons mentor. Hes teaching him the ropes of a specific kind of thing. Hes full of surprises. Hes actually a character that I liked. I liked him a lot. You have to like the guy I play, even if hes a heinous villain because villains that simply are villains. This guys not. Hes a good villain, but he has a limited perspective. Lots of people have.
What was it that appealed to you about City of Ember?
I think its a kind of movie thats not made anymore. And that always interests me. Its a terrific childrens book, and its not really a childrens book, its an adult book childrens book. Its a movie that every kid of any age can see. Its got all kinds of stuff in it thats intriguing on a lot of levels. Its a character-driven movie and yet it has action and adventure and all kinds of stuff. Thats a rarity.
There arent any fireballs or car chases and people climbing up the sides of buildings or sliding down the sides of buildings. All the characters are defined, direction, developed and in a lot of those films theyre not. I mean, theyre pretty transparent and pretty simplistic, pretty one-dimensional. So what you have here is an interesting movie in that youve got characters that are defined in a strange environment. Its about young people and old people, and its an unusual script as a result. I think its got some of the elements of a HARRY POTTER. Its got a lot of things going for it. I think its what attracted Bill Murray and attracted Tim [Robbins] as well.
Its a movie you can take your kids to and take your grandparents to, and it will be of interest to all of them. That doesnt happen a lot. I know a lot of people who havent been to the movies in a long time. They usually go in December when theres a couple of character-driven films up for Oscars, but thats about it. And this is, again, a film that I think has an appeal on a lot of different levels.
When you got the script, as a former theater guy did you create a history or a back-story of these characters?
Its hard to explain how I work on a role, but I do a lot of that in a certain way. There are actors who create an entire biography and then the character doesnt have any of that. But I generally do think about, you know, where he comes from, why hes there, what he does, why he does it, what his parents might be. A lot of things, yeah, and a sound, too. You know, Im sort of a stickler for certain things, too. I watch a lot of -- well not a lot, but some, -- theres a lot of Chicago cops playing New York cops on television. Drives me crazy. Specifics are important, I think, and theyre not paid a lot of attention to.
Did you have any trepidation at all about working with a director on his second film?
No. I talked to him on the telephone. I liked him immediately. Hes smart, hes bright, hes sensitive, hes kind, and imaginative. Outside of that, I cant say a damn good thing about him! (jokingly)
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