Frank Langella on ‘Trial of the Chicago 7,’ Being Skeletor and His Legacy

Jenelle Riley
·4-min read

Frank Langella has won four Tony Awards, portrayed everyone from Richard Nixon to Dracula, and starred in beloved hits from “Dave” to his recent turn on FX’s “The Americans.” And yet, many people want to talk to him about his work in the 1987 children’s fantasy flick “Masters of the Universe,” where he portrayed the faceless villain Skeletor.

Langella doesn’t mind one bit. “A lot of people talk to me about Skeletor, which is one of my favorite parts,” Langella says. “They always say, ‘Did you feel like you were slumming?’ And I say, absolutely not. My son was four years old. And I wanted him to see his father as Skeletor. And I loved playing it. It’s really one of my favorite parts, still.”

Of course, when he took his son to the screening, he fell asleep. Still, Langella has no regrets.

In this week’s Awards Circuit Podcast, the 82-year-old veteran of stage and screen talks about his new role as Judge Julius Hoffman in Aaron Sorkin’s “The Trial of Chicago 7.” And, as in the rest of the discussion, he doesn’t mince words. “He’s a son of a bitch,” Langella states clearly. Listen below!

In real life, Judge Hoffman presided over the trial of seven defendants accused of actions related to the rioting outside the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. While many actors will say they have to find humanity in the person they’re portraying, Langella says he didn’t feel the need with this film.

“He was, with all of my research, an absolute bigoted, corrupt in the hands of politicians, determined man to convict them all. He had no gray area on the bench,” he says. “Had he been a character you saw in life, you know, going home to his wife and doing other things, I might have found something. But I didn’t for a moment ever believe I should comment on this man in terms of, ‘I’m really a nice guy.’ Because he wasn’t.”

Langella met with Sorkin for the role and the writer-director started the conversation by telling Langella that when he was seven years old, he fell in love with the actor as Dracula. “You tell that to an actor, and he’s yours for life,” Langella quips. He had a great time working on the set, and has high praise for costars like Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Strong and Yahya Abdul-Matteen II, even though he was playing their adversary.

In the wide-ranging conversation, Langella details how he got into acting and his early stage work – he won a Tony Award for his Broadway debut in 1975’s “Seascape” and would go on to be the only actor to win four Tony Awards for lead actor in a play. He discusses how he got his first film role – in Mel Brooks’ “The Twelve Chairs” – happened by accident, when the two friends were hanging out and Brooks had lost his original actors. Langella discusses the last time he auditioned (for Ivan Reitman’s “Dave”) noting: “Most of the time now, you either like my flavor or you don’t.”

Reflecting upon his impressive legacy and asked about the secret to longevity, Langella says, “I could never imagine myself anywhere but a stage and if there is a secret, it’s that in between what have been extraordinary highlights in my career. I have learned how to wait. A lot of actors get terrified and scared and they take crap to keep working. They take terrible TV series or third rate movies. I wish I’d said Yes, a bit more. But I pay too high a price for it. And I’ve been lucky enough to every twice a decade, have something that clicked so I keep getting asked. I would say that I my ability to wait is probably what’s responsible for my longevity.”

Also in this week’s episode: Ṣọpẹ Dìrísù and Wunmi Mosaku discuss their new Netflix film “His House,” in which they play Sudanese refugees who try to start a new life in England, where they are put in a literally haunted house. The pair discuss the twisty new thriller and how the horror genre is a perfect conduit for conveying social messages. Plus, Variety’s awards quartet discuss the week’s hot topics.

“Variety’s Awards Circuit Podcast,” hosted by Clayton Davis, Jenelle Riley, Jazz Tangcay and Michael Schneider (who produces), is your one-stop listen for lively conversations about the best in film and television. Each week “Awards Circuit” features interviews with top film and TV talent and creatives; discussions and debates about awards races and industry headlines; and much, much more. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post every Thursday.

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