Born Jan. 1, 1938 in Bayonne, New Jersey, Frank Langella pursued acting from an early age. After college he moved to New York City. In 1963, he had his off-Broadway stage debut in The Immoralist. He played a variety of Broadway roles over the decades, but portraying Richard Nixon in 2007's Frost/Nixon changed his career. He won a Tony Award for the project, with Ron Howard directing him in the 2008 film version, for which Langella received an Oscar nod as well. The actor later received the fourth Tony of his career for his role in 2016's The Father.
Actor, director and producer Frank Langella was born on January 1, 1938, in Bayonne, New Jersey. (Some sources give 1940 as his birth year.) From an early age, Langella had an interest in becoming an actor. He studied acting at Syracuse University, then moved to New York City. While in New York, Langella joined the Lincoln Center Repertory Company where he studied his craft with the likes of Elia Kazan. He made his stage debut in an off-Broadway production of The Immoralist in 1963. Langella soon appeared in a string of productions, earning a 1966 OBIE Award for his performances in Good Day and The White Devil.
On Broadway, Langella had a role in William Gibson's A Cry of Players, which netted him the 1969 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Performance. As his star continued to rise, Langella got his first taste of film success with 1970’s Diary of a Mad Housewife. Carrie Snodgress starred as the title character—playing a woman bullied by both her husband and her demanding daughters—who finds escape in her affair with a writer (played by Langella). Langella received critical praise for his performance in the drama. Trying his hand at lighter fare, Langella next starred in the Mel Brooks comedy The Twelve Chairs (1970) as a Russian con man.
Returning to Broadway in 1975, Langella received accolades for his work in Edward Albee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Seascape. The play explores the interaction between two couples—a mature human couple and a pair of lizards. As Leslie the lizard, Langella won his first Tony Award and his second Drama Desk Award. Langella next pursued another unusual stage role, playing the title character in Dracula. This 1977 production featured set and costume design by famed illustrator Edward Gorey. Two years later, Langella starred in the film adaptation, which helped make him a popular sex symbol. The cast also included Laurence Olivier, Donald Pleasence and Kate Nelligan.
On the Big Screen
Langella earned favorable reviews for his next film effort, Those Lips, Those Eyes (1980), in which he played a mediocre veteran stage actor. Critic Roger Ebert described him as “appealingly vulnerable and egotistical as the theater’s star performer, always scanning the audience for Broadway talent scouts.” He then appeared in Sphinx (1981), an adaptation of the popular Robin Cook novel by the same name. Unfortunately the film proved to be a critical and commercial disappointment.
Focusing mostly on theatrical work, Langella played a broad range of characters in the 1980s. One of his most notable roles was as one of the most famous fictional sleuths of all time. Serving as a producer, Langella helped bring 1987’s Sherlock’s Last Case to the stage. He starred as the legendary detective Sherlock Holmes with Donal Donnelly playing his faithful friend Doctor Watson.
On the big screen, Langella experienced a series of missteps. He played a villain in the critically maligned Masters of the Universe (1987) and a politician in Robert Vadim's 1988 remake of his own film And God Created Woman, which failed to attract much of an audience.
Continued Stage Success
Langella’s film career received a boost from his scheming supporting role in the presidential comedy Dave (1993). In the movie, he played a White House chief of staff who tries to seize power after the president (Kevin Kline) has a stroke. Langella’s character brings in a presidential lookalike to pretend to be the commander in chief. This political satire enjoyed both critical and commercial success. He took on another supporting role in the popular comedy Junior (1994), which starred Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito.
Back on Broadway, Langella earned raves for his performance in the 1996 revival of August Strindberg’s The Father. He starred in another revival later that year—this time tackling the popular Noel Coward comedy Present Laughter. While his theatrical career thrived, Langella’s film work varied during this period, with him often playing dark and sinister characters.
In 2002, Langella starred opposite Alan Bates in a revival of Ivan Turgenev’s Fortune’s Fool on Broadway. Both actors took home Tony Awards for their work on the production. Langella also attracted favorable reviews for 2004’s Match, which co-starred Ray Liotta and Jane Adams.
Back on the big screen, Langella impressed audiences and critics alike with his portrayal of CBS president William Paley in Good Night and Good Luck (2005). George Clooney directed this drama, which explored television journalist Edward R. Murrow’s battle against Senator Joseph McCarthy. The following year Langella played a famous fictional journalist—Perry White, editor of the Daily Planet—in the summer blockbuster Superman Returns (2006). That same year, Langella went to London to star in the West End production Frost/Nixon—a career changing move.
Frost/Nixon is based on the 1977 interviews done by journalist David Frost with former president Richard M. Nixon. Langella threw himself into researching the role of Nixon, watching footage of the former president and visiting his childhood home. When it came time for Langella to take the stage, he said “I sort of put all the factual information away and allowed the visceral to take over,” he told The New York Times. He won raves for his nuanced and convincing performance as the disgraced commander in chief, which netted him his third Tony Award after the production debuted on Broadway in 2007. Michael Sheen played journalist David Frost in both productions.
First Oscar Nod and Fourth Tony
That same year, Langella earned high marks for his work on the independent film Starting Out in the Evening (2007). He played an aging author whose life starts to change when he encounters a young female graduate student. To play writer Leonard Schiller, Langella drew, in part, from personal experience. “I knew Saul Bellow, John Updike. I was close to Styron, Tennessee Williams. Gotten to know Gay Talese. Writers are my heroes,” he explained to the Washington Post.
Reprising the role for Nixon for the big screen, Langella starred opposite Michael Sheen in director Ron Howard’s 2008 film adaptation. A review in Rolling Stone magazine called his performance “magnificent and “bone-deep,” adding that “what Langella does is less imitation than total immersion. He gets the man’s cunning, paranoia, failed charm and inescapable sadness.”
In the fall of 2008, Langella returned to Broadway in A Man for All Seasons. His portrayal of Sir Thomas More was well received. A few months later, in January of 2009, Langella scored his first Academy Award nomination of his career: He was nominated as best actor for his work in Frost/Nixon. Over the ensuing years Langella has continued to handle a variety of screen work, including Draft Day, Grace of Monaco (both in 2014) and the TV series The Americans. He's also maintained his place on Broadway with lead roles in Man and Boy (2011) and The Father (2016), earning the fourth Tony Award of his career for the latter. Langella thus made history, tying with fellow thespian Boyd Gaines for the most Tonys received by a male actor.
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