STAGE TO SCREENS: Tony Award Winner Frank Langella, Star of "Robot & Frank"

By Christopher Wallenberg
25 Aug 2012

Langella in "Robot & Frank."
photo by Ruby Katilius - Samuel Goldwyn Films - Stage 6 Films

Do you see that alienation from each other as inexorable?
Langella: Yes. I see it as inexorable in place of Armageddon. You know, if Armageddon comes, then everything will start at creation again and build up very slowly. But if we continue the way we have—and we don't end up destroying ourselves or another nation doesn't destroy us — yes I see it as inexorable. More and more gadgets and things attached to you on all parts of your body are going to determine emotions and feelings and everything. And maybe the human brain will change over the next centuries and decades. When fewer and fewer people are required to interact with each other, people will become born with less need for human contact.

My understanding is that there was an actor/performer wearing the robot suit. And of course the robot didn't have Peter Sarsgaard's voice until it was added in post-production. What was the challenge of that aspect of making the film — acting opposite a gymnast in the robot suit?
Langella: That really was the least of the challenges. I'm asked often about, "Was it difficult?" It wasn't. In a way, there was a certain liberation about it. I mean, the most challenging part of making this movie was the stifling heat of keeping my concentration in 100 degree weather. But the robot was not in any way a challenge, because Frank was very much who he was and wasn't about to let anybody in. So it wouldn't have mattered what the robot sounded like; I just acted opposite something I wished wasn't in my life. I just had a very particular feeling towards this robot.

Is there a critique about how we treat the elderly and the sick in this film and about the loneliness and isolation of aging?
Langella: I don't think it's a movie that proselytizes at all or says "This is how we treat the elderly." If anything, Jimmy Marsden's character [Hunter] really cares. It's Frank who doesn't care. And his daughter [Liv Tyler] cares in a different kind of way. Certainly the character he's interested in romantically, Jennifer [Susan Sarandon], cares about him in a way that we discover later. But I don't think the movies says that these people treat Frank badly. If anything, they treat him with great compassion. He's the persnickety one. He's the one you want to slap around. He just can't seem to feel for others.


Langella and Susan Sarandon in "Robot & Frank."
photo by Ruby Katilius - Samuel Goldwyn Films - Stage 6 Films

In what ways did you relate to Frank most personally? You said in an interview earlier this year that, as you've gotten older, you've been profoundly affected by the ephemeral nature of life. Was that one of the things you thought about in making the movie or after you made the film?
Langella: Well, I think about it all the time. But I don't think about it related to the number of years I've been around. I just think about it in terms of: I see more and more people in their 50s getting ill and actually dying. A friend of mine, who was 59 years old, died of a disease he only was diagnosed with 10 months ago. That you become more aware of it, of course, as you get older. But I don't think because I'm 74 it's going to happen to me any quicker than it might happen to you. It just happens to people. They wake up one day with a headache, or they stumble a little, or they get hit by a car and are crippled. All the things that you just don't even think about. They don't even cross your mind when you're growing up and making your way [in the world] and making children and forming families and making a fortune and all the things you feel you need to do. Which are all immensely distracting from the real reasons to be alive. But one day you look around and think, wow, someone I really love and care about got diagnosed with brain cancer 10 months ago, and now he's dead. It just happens so rapidly, and things changes so quickly. He was perfectly fine. We were working on a project, and two weeks later he looked enormous from steroids. That happens constantly — all the time now. I'm aware of how quickly life can change.