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Frank Langella: “I couldn’t look a girl in the eye”

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Frank Langella
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Short Profile

Name: Frank A. Langella, Jr.
DOB: 1 January 1938
Place of Birth: Bayonne, New Jersey, USA
Occupation: Actor

Mr. Langella, do you like being the center of attention?

Well, I’m an actor. I think that answers your question. Every actor wants to be the center of attention. It’s just a question of how you finally come to deal with that narcissistic, self-loving, desperate need for validation that is very much part of an actor’s psyche.

And how do you deal with it?

About a decade ago something went click in my head and I thought, “If I have twenty or something years left, I’m going to live them as real as I can.” Because when I was young I was very much about artifice. I was a very good-looking man and I had a lot of hair, but those things go away. And I think I’m a little more likeable now than I was when I was younger. A lot of people didn’t like me at all. And that is fine by me. The worst thing you can lust after is popularity. The worst thing in the world is to want to be popular. I can’t give you a recipe for success, but I can give you a recipe for failure: try to please everybody.

Sometimes it’s easier said than done.

You should live your life as you wish. Particularly in these years I have a much more “live and let live” attitude about life than I had when I was younger. I let people be who they want to be and I will be who I am. I am less judgmental.

How come?

I think you get to a certain point where you don’t try to figure life out anymore. There is no more, “What does is mean? Where do I go?” You just figure out that you have a finite period of time and you might as well use it in the best way you can, given whatever demons came to me throughout my childhood and my life.

Is that what made you want to write a memoir?

What made me want to write a book was the memory of so many extraordinary people in my life that younger people had never heard of. I’ve been very lucky to meet such extraordinary people in my life and I wanted to preserve my memory of fascinating individuals.

Was the glamour and the high life as good as you thought it would be?

When it’s glamorous and it’s high: yes. But you are absolutely and totally deserving of it because the majority is acutely painful and not glamorous at all. If you’re sitting in a tiny trailer for seven hours to do one scene because they have problems with the weather, you’re earning their money – and it is a lot – but that is because it’s a difficult life. But then a job comes along where you’re in Nice with lovely actors and a great director and you come out to look at the sea and you think, “This is a good one.”

The New York Times wrote that, judging by your memoir, “Frank Langella has slept with, been propositioned by, or at least swapped dirty jokes with a breathtaking swath of stars.” Were you always such a Casanova?

I was very uncomfortable when I was a teenager. I couldn’t look a girl in the eye. I couldn't do it. I was shy in class, I was not a good sportsman and I was not one of the guys. But the minute I discovered that I could act, I became awake.

Have you ever stopped thinking about women?

Yes I have. There was a season and that season is over. The thing is: it’s inappropriate at my age to still be acting that way. I look at older men who still think that they are hot. You have to know when it’s right. And at my age, it’s not. I am very happy. I have what I want. I don’t have to swagger around like a young man. It just isn’t attractive. These days if someone is interested they practically have to sit on me, because I would ask, “Are you sure?”

The names in your book are prodigious – Elizabeth Taylor, Laurence Olivier, Jackie Kennedy. Who are you star-struck by?

I’m not a star-struck person. When people come through the door, I don’t care how famous they are or how powerful they are, I look into their eyes and I see if that’s a person I can communicate with.

I suppose that’s why you were able to write so candidly…

Yeah, there is a certain healthy and respectful “I don’t give a shit” attitude that starts to come over you as you get older. I tried not to be damaging, or rude, or ridiculously unkind, but I did say what I thought about each person. Good and bad. I make a good deal of fun of myself in the book, too. I thought, “If I dish it out I better be able to take it.”

Do you ever regret anything?

Everyday.

Really?

Oh sure. I made so many mistakes. And I am not against self-pity. I don’t think you should disallow yourself those feelings. If you want to feel sorry for yourself, roll up in a ball, lie over there, and feel sorry. Then get up and go on, but do allow yourself those feeling. Yesterday I was walking around in London and I thought, “Oh, I really regret that I didn’t take more time when I was here for a year doing Frost/Nixon.” Then I thought, “I can still do it.” And I forgave myself.

I saw you play Richard Nixon on stage in Frost/Nixon. What was it like playing him?

I draw all the characters I am playing from my own experiences and my own feelings. I try to find how many qualities in that person are in me, then I try to exploit them. I am the character I am playing. Nixon was much more uncomfortable in his skin than I am. He maintained his sad discomfort in life until the day he died. I am relatively able to call on the worst and the best of myself when I act – I can be pretty nasty and I can be pretty vulnerable – and the older I’ve gotten the easier it is.

Are you going to continue your career in acting?

Until the day I die.