Academy Award nominee Frank Langella (“Frost/Nixon”) sat down in a midtown Manhattan hotel with Examiner Dorri Olds to discuss robots, technology, aging, and his new comedy drama, “Robot and Frank.” This new movie is set in the near future when it will be commonplace to own a robot as a personal assistant. The character, Frank, is a cranky, aging, retired thief. His grown kids become concerned about Frank living alone so his son gives him a robot and Frank wants no part of it.
Would you like to own a robot?
Robots scare me a little. I feel resistant and would only want to have a robot for menial tasks—sweep the floor, do the garbage. I don’t have a wife anymore [laughs]. I couldn’t resist making a joke. Actually, I did all those things. That’s why I’m divorced. I took out the garbage and cooked. I even do laundry. To have a robot for stuff like that is wonderful. But I wouldn’t want to feel that a robot is a friend. I bet a lot of people will find themselves doing that.
Was it difficult to act with the robot?
No, I made the robot up in my head. My robot was my robot.
How did you relate to your character?
In every way I could. I put myself in that situation. My mind is fine at the moment but something is going to come. And I’m losing friends in their late fifties to cancer and losing friends in their forties to debilitating diseases. Don’t tell me it isn’t in the water I washed myself with this morning, or the dirt. Two members of my family who live on a street in New Jersey have breast cancer and 30 women in the same one-mile area have it too, so of course there is something in our environment. I don’t remember it ever being this bad before. I don’t think fear of old age is the problem. Now, we really should be afraid of our environment in our society and all the stuff this technology is doing to us.
You can’t tell this is an interview for a comedy.
[Laughs] Yes, let’s lighten it up.
Did you enjoy working with Susan Sarandon?
Oh I loved it. She’s just wonderful. She still looks like a woman.
Have you ever had a hard time coming out of role?
No, I’m out of it by the time I hit the trailer, or by the time I hit the restaurant after a show. I once had dinner with a very famous actor who’s always tormented and he said it took him two years to get over playing Hamlet. I said, “Well, you did it wrong.” It should take you from the time you get out of your costume. It’s a craft, a skill. As my teacher once said, “You should act in spite of your neurosis, not because of it.” No, I get over it very quickly. I can get over it on camera [laughs].
What about when you played Richard Nixon? You must have had to spend so much time researching and becoming immersed in that character.
That’s the past. Let’s talk about this movie.
Did you identify with the indignities of aging as shown in the film?
Well, nobody makes a pass at you. They don’t think it’s on your mind anymore and it is. When you’re becoming gray, you could walk down the street naked and no one would notice. That’s a minor indignity. Sometimes people talk too loudly at you, or get impatient when you ask a very reasonable question. It isn’t the fact that you’re older, it’s because the younger generation is now five times—maybe even ten times—the speed of what I grew up with. We were laconic kids in the ’40s, with lots of time to run around in the park, walk, swim, and ride our bikes, because we didn’t have all of this technology. Also, we didn’t have the stimulation of magazine covers on the way to school—half naked women to arouse you. It’s really immoral. It’s not that you shouldn’t be interested in that but the amount of it is too great for a growing mind. There’s a show now where little girls of five and six dress sexy and their parents let them. That should be outlawed. There’s only a finite period where you’re innocent and it goes very quickly. If I had little kids again I would do everything I could to let them be kids as long as possible.
Do you find yourself working less, as you get older?
With each decade, I work more. Chris Plummer and I just made a movie together and he said the same thing. He even gets parts that I want. He works constantly and he’s 84—which I never cease reminding him of.
Would you be in a Broadway version of “Robot and Frank”?
The trouble with a stage production is the innocence of the film would be destroyed. Producers would want to do a big extravaganza and I’d be standing onstage forever waiting for the mad, massive, technological things to happen, so, no, I wouldn’t do it.
“Robot and Frank” opens in NYC this Friday, August 17, 2012 at City Cinemas Paris Theatre, 4 West 58th Street. Rated PG. 90 minutes.