Martin Landau was in Chicago for a special screening of the film “Ed Wood,” I interviewed him at the WGN Studios. He was so wonderful to meet and an absolute joy to interview. Landau talked about his friends Johnny Depp and Tim Burton, working with Alfred Hitchcock and his acting studio in West Hollywood. After the interview he complimented me on my enthusiasm and also commented that I had done my homework in regards to my interview questions.
Sarah Adamson: My guest on Hollywood 360 Radio Network is the Academy Award winning actor Martin Landau. Hello, and welcome to Hollywood 360, it’s such a pleasure to meet you!
Martin Landau: Thank you. That’s a lovely welcome.
SA: It’s such a pleasure to have you on the show.
ML: It’s my pleasure, really.
SA: First of all, I have to say that you have one of the best smiles in all of Hollywood!
ML: Well, it’s like a piano right? Lots of teeth (laughs).
SA: That’s great, though! And you’ve had such an amazing career. Acting seems to be your passion and love. What do you enjoy most about acting?
ML: The newness of it. All the audience ever wants to believe is that what’s going on is going on for the first time ever. That’s hard to do after you do it numbers and numbers of times on film. Sometimes, you have to do a scene 20 times. I run the west coast Actors Studio (West Hollywood, CA) with Mark Rydell. Harvey Keitel, Al Pacino and Ellen Burstyn run the New York Studio. It’s about acting and about performance.
SA: You’ve had such an amazing career. You look like you’re the hardest working man in Hollywood. And it’s still going!
ML: If I ever write a book I think that’s what it will be called, “I Enjoy It,” because I still enjoy it. The wonderful thing about what I do is that I started as a fairly young actor and I’ve aged over the years and the roles have changed. Whereas, if I was an opera singer or a dancer my career would have ended long before. The great thing about being an actor and becoming a character actor…I love to do dialects and the sounds of people are different. In this new movie, Frankenweenie, Tim [Burton] said, “I want him to be European, but I don’t want him to be German, or Russian or Hungarian, just European.” So, I do a generic European character. I do a lower voice using the base notes. (He’s speaks in low voice.)SA: This film pairs you with Tim Burton again. Your role in “Ed Wood” is one of my favorite acting scenes of all time. I saw you win your Academy Award live! Can you tell us about that?
ML: Again, Tim and Johnny Depp have become really good friends of mine over the years. We talked about the role to start with, I said, “We don’t have a movie if they can’t forget it’s me and they’ve got to believe it’s Bela Lugosi. Again, if I had done this 30 years ago I could have gotten away with a lot less but you can go into any video store and see a plethora of Bela Lugosi films. He was a lot more current when I did “Ed Wood.” It had to be Lugosi. I couldn’t get dialect tapes so I got Hungarian tapes and started playing with the language. They [Hungarians] have a difficult time with the ‘w.’
SA: Can you do a little of it for us for the radio?
ML: “Well, well, well…oh well.” (Speaking in a low, European/Hungarian voice).
SA: (Laughs) That’s wonderful. What is your favorite scene or line from the film – if you have one with you in it? I know you probably like a lot of the movie.
ML: Yes, I like a lot of the movie. The scene about [Boris] Karloff where he gets a little profane. He goes ballistic. In fact, I just wrote a little preface to an electronic book on Frankenweenie and when we were shooting it there was laughter on the set. Every time I sort of exploded, the sound men would say, “hold on, somebody is laughing!” We did it again and who was laughing? Tim! [Burton] He ruined like six takes in a row. Someone asked if I was annoyed and I said, “ No, actually it makes me aware that we are kindred spirits because I think this is funny, too.” That scene, I loved it. There were other things and, you know, I watched a lot of Lugosi movies and became a big fan of his.
SA: I read you were an admirer of him and his work.
ML: I watched a lot of his stuff, even the movie, “Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla,” which is probably one of the worst movies of all time. They said that Ed Wood movies were the worst but this one. It’s with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis look-a-likes running around an island in moo-moos and then there is this mad scientist injecting monkeys with a serum that turns them into a guy in a bad gorilla suit the next morning. With all of that, Lugosi was still carrying it off. My heart went out to him. He was in this mess of a movie and yet still working hard with a degree of dignity. That’s one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen (laughs).
SA: Must be pretty awful (laughs).
ML: It is awful. It’s really awful. It makes “Plan 9 from Outer Space” look like a classic.
SA: Let’s talk about Alfred Hitchcock for a moment. How did you get the part in “North By Northwest?” Your performance in that is so incredible.
ML: It’s written as a henchmen and it’s sort of played as a gay character because when I read it I realized he wanted to get rid of Eva Maria Saint with such a vengeance that it seemed logical. To the day he died, James Mason was asked over and over again if his character, Vandamm, was bisexual. He said, “No, no he wasn’t but Landau made a choice and there was nothing I could do about it!” The bottom line was, everyone told me not to do that because it was the 1950s and you didn’t do things like that. Most of the gay characters were flamboyant and everyone said, “People are going to think you’re gay.” I said, “Well, I’m not, but I don’t see any other reason to be in this movie.” I did it and Hitchcock loved it. It certainly wasn’t the last thing I did. In fact, it was one of the first things I ever did. I just felt it was a better choice playing him as a bland henchmen.
SA: Sure, and Hitchcock really ran with that. You wore all these really cool suits and you were dressed impeccably.
ML: He [Hitchcock] took me to Felico Quantino men’s suit store on Wilshire Boulevard, who made Cary Grant’s clothing…suits to Grant’s specifications. I hadn’t met Cary until we got to the South Street Station in Chicago. Hitchcock called me and said (in Hitchcock’s English accent), “Martin, a car is going to pick you up and bring you here. I’d like to see you in the suit and in the environment.” So I put the suit on. A dark blue suit. I had several suits. Grant only wears one suit throughout the movie. They made about 10 of them in various degrees of disrepair. When I got there, a fellow taps me on the shoulder and says, “Excuse me. Mr. Grant would like to know where you got that suit.”
SA: You’re kidding!
ML: I’m not kidding! He said, “Only two people in the world make a suit like that. One is in Beverly Hills and one is in Hong Kong.” I thought, “Wow, he picked out the suit and I must had been with a thousand people.” He didn’t know I was in the movie. He thought I was a Chicagoan and I was wearing one of his suits. I said very simply, “I think Mr. Grant should have this conversation with Mr. Hitchcock.” I didn’t want to get into this! He said, “Oh, are you in the film?” I said, “Yeah, I played Leonard.”
Anyway, years later, that fellow, Ray Austin became a stunt man and a director. When I was filming “Space 1999” in England, he and Charles Creighton used to alternate directing that show. So, things evolved and we’d cross each other. Every time, I’d put a new suit on he’d say, “Let me try that on!” I think he had something in his contract that he could keep his suits but I think he wound up keeping my suits as well!
SA: Well, you’re both very slim and tall. It seemed like it worked great.
ML: Well, I have a picture next to Cary and I’m actually better dressed than he is because it’s later in the film. As I said, they made one suit for him because he goes on this journey but each suit got more and more worn looking. But I had many different suits!
SA: You were dressed impeccably! I want to thank you so much for speaking with me on Hollywood 360.
ML: It’s been a pleasure!