Frank Langella searches for a connection with his UGC-60L home care robot in Robot & Frank. Photo supplied.
Robot & Frank offers Frank Langella "a
remarkable experience", writes Kenneth Turan, of the Los
In his more-than-distinguished career, Frank Langella has
become Richard Nixon, Clark Kent's editor Perry White and a
count named Dracula. So how did he end up playing a part
opposite a robot in a sweltering East Coast summer?
The answer is surprisingly simple: "Christopher Walken turned
Sitting in a comfortable corner of an Italian restaurant and
watching a near-blizzard develop outside, Langella added, "I
really do believe that all of life is happenstance, careers
"I was sitting with my new agent of 24 hours, Toni Howard,
and she got a text that said, 'Chris just passed on the
movie.' She answered, 'How about Langella? Same deal as
Chris.' They answered 'perfect'."
And perfect is what Langella is as a retired cat burglar
named Frank who is having increasing difficulty taking care
of himself, so much so that, this being the near future, his
two grown children are considering putting him in a nursing
home, that is until his son gets him a UGC-60L home care
Frank initially resists ("I'm talking to an appliance," he
complains), but then finds the 'droid actually suits him in
deliciously unexpected ways.
Given how beautifully Langella acts with the UGC-60L, it is
surprising to find out that (a) he never heard Peter
Sarsgaard do the voice of the machine until he saw the
finished film, and (b) the robot he acted with was a sometime
thing on the set.
"Filming was a hardship case, it was 110 degrees (43degC), no
air conditioning in that steaming house, no dressing rooms,
no place to wait," he said of the shoot.
"We had a young girl from a circus. She was a little under
five feet tall, in the robot suit, but because of the heat it
was extremely difficult for her and when she spoke I often
didn't hear her. Sometimes my nephew would read the robot's
lines off camera. Sometimes there would be a robot head on a
None of this affected the actor.
"In a very strange way, it was a remarkable experience. I had
a very personal relationship with the robot in my head. It
was very real to me, and nothing else mattered."
That relationship began when Langella read the screenplay by
first-time writer Christopher Ford.
"Every part I choose is me in some form. I trust what happens
to me when I open a script and start reading. Some scripts
are so vulgar and stupid, I stop after five or 10 pages."
More than the script, Langella connected to under-30 director
Jake Schreier, a man who he feels is a kindred spirit to
Andrew Wagner, the director of Starting Out in the
"Both men are ferocious, single-minded," Langella said.
"I don't like the word 'vision', it has an air of
self-importance, but they have a determination to make their
film their way. These two guys are in love with cinema. And
they have a purity of heart."
A sense of the vicissitudes of age, as it turned out, played
a part as well in Langella's decision to take on the role in
Robot & Frank.
"Often I understand afterwards why I chose a movie. In this
one, I realised that I was profoundly affected in my own life
by the ephemeral-ness of things, how I'm changing in my own
body. I'm fine now, but I know it's coming. No matter what I
do, I can't prepare for the day when the doctor rings me up
and says 'Frank, we found something'."
In March, Langella completed a book with the intriguing title
Dropped Names: Famous Men and Women as I Knew Them. In
it, he relates his experiences with 66 people he has met who
are no more, from a glimpse of Marilyn Monroe when he was 15
to meeting Elizabeth Taylor when he was 60. It's the kind of
experience few can boast.
Despite all that has come before, Langella is surprised by
his work when he sees it on screen, and that was very much
the case with Robot & Frank.
"I had no expectation. While we were making it I thought,
'Oh, dear,' but you never know what's going to jell,"
"I liked it very much, but I can't tell you why. This movie
created something you can't put into words."