If we were to just list even half of Martin Landau’s acting credits it would take up too much space — and there would be no room to run this recent interview with the master thespian, which would be a crime.
Mr. Landau, now 88, has enjoyed a Hollywood career that includes “North by Northwest,” “Mission Impossible,” “Space 1999,” “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” “Ed Wood” (for which he won the best supporting actor Oscar) and even “Entourage.”
The New York native with nearly 200 films and shows to his credit shows no sign of slowing down, with two new films scheduled for 2017. I sat down with the living legend at a recent Hollywood Show in Los Angeles to discuss his six-decade-plus career.
Question: How do you enjoy doing shows like this?
Answer: I live in Los Angeles, and I haven’t talked to the fans in a while. I always find that it’s very nice meeting them, which always ressurects my feelings about other people. It’s nice to see these people.
Q:Have you slowed down at all?
A: No. I’m still working a lot. I was in New York for nine weeks with Christopher Plummer. I was in Boston for six or seven weeks on a picture with Paul Sorvino called “The Last Poker Game.” It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.
I did a picture in Toronto called “The Red Maple Leaf.” Those pictures aren’t released yet.
Q: What keeps you motivated to keep making movies?
A: Well, my mantra is “stay perpendicular.” Horizontal is not as good. Half the people that came along and up with with me are either gone to another dimension or don’t remember what they had for lunch. I’m fortunate. I don’t know why. I just want to have a good time.
Q: When you’re not acting, where might people find you?
A: I run the “Actors Studio” on the West Cost. I’m artistic director of that. The one in New York is run by Al Pacino, Harvey Keitel and Ellen Burstyn.
Q: Were there any roles you turned down over the years and regretted?
A: No. I’ve turned down a lot of roles. Some of them made stars out of the people. I have no regrets. Sergio Leone came to see me when I was doing “Mission Impossible.” He wanted me to do “A Fistful of Dollars.” I turned him down. I didn’t want to get stuck as a stoic Western movie star.
My career has been wonderful.
Q: Is diversity the key to a long career?
A: I started in the theater. I started as an actor. I’m still an actor. I love Clint [Eastwood], but I probably wouldn’t go to see his “Hamlet.”
Q: Do you have any favorites among the roles you played?
A: All of them!
Q: Any that are less than favorites?
A: Well, usually it’s because of how they were handled and directed.
If it bothers me on the page, I don’t do it. If it attracts me on the page and moves me, makes me think a bit, makes me laugh, makes me cry, I’m interested in it. If it’s there on the page, it means it’s there and up to me to bring it out.
I have done some films along the way that have been screwed up and not as good as they read. Some films that are not that good on the page turn into good movies. So I’m fallible is what I’m saying.
It’s OK to be wrong. You learn from your wrongs. You don’t learn from being right. If you’re right, you already know it. If you’re wrong, it’s because you don’t know about it, and you made a mistake.
Q: What advice do you give to young actors today?
A: Work hard and trust yourself.
The human being, if you read Shakespeare, doesn’t know what he’s gonna do next half the time. Most actors today who are “method actors” have objectives or actions. Sandy Meisner called them one thing; Stella Adler called them something else.
Doubt is a very important trait. Out of doubt comes thinking, decisions, choices. We learn stuff. We learn to make mistakes. Or not to.
Most acting today on television is like a locomotive on a track. Everybody knows what they are doing. The problem of writing today is everyone sounds the same. We speak differently. We think differently. People are different. And that’s the beauty of it.
Q: Are there a lot of good actors thee days?
A: What I’m saying not a lot of people say: What is considered good acting today isn’t necessarily good acting, because everybody knows what they are doing. Doubt is an important part of the human being. Trust has to be attained.
If you don’t trust yourself, you won’t trust others. You make a choice and see where it goes. There aren’t a lot of actors that interest me. But I’m not gonna tell you who because not a lot of my friends are on that list. Anyway, you asked me a bunch of simple questions, and I complicated the answers.