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Transcript: Our chat with 'Good Night' star Frank Langella

December 30, 2005 |  8:08 am


"I would have crawled over broken glass to be in it," Frank Langella tells us about "Good Night, and Good Luck," the Golden Globe nominee for best drama picture in which he portrays crusty CBS czar Bill Paley. Langella's role is the moral pivot of the plot. As Edward R. Murrow (David Strathairn) goes after Commie-hunter Sen. Joe McCarthy, Paley must decide whether his network should stand up for its convictions or buckle under pressure from advertisers. "The message of the film to me is very simple," he tells The Envelope, "that the most American thing you can do is speak your mind."

Below is the transcript of Frank Langella's recent chatroom discussion with our forum posters:

Ol' Blue Eyes: Hello, Mr. Langella.
AndreaWeaver: Hi Frank
Frank Langella: Thanks. Great to be here.
Tom O'Neil: Frank, let's start by you telling us how you researched the role of Bill Paley in "Good Night, and Good Luck."
Frank Langella: When George Clooney sent the script to me, I immediately said 'yes.' Then GC sent me a book called "In All His Glory" by Sally Bedell Smith, a biography on Paley.
Frank Langella: I then found a copy of Paley's autobiography called "As It Happened." Those were my chief research.
Tom O'Neil: Did you ever meet Paley?
Frank Langella: No. I was 14 or 15 of the time of the actual event. I did interview as many people as I could who had met Paley before — like Mike Wallace.
isidro: How was the experience working with George Clooney ?
Frank Langella: Working with GC was about as close to a perfect experience an actor can have with a director. GC #1 is an actor, #2 he has an egalitarian nature. The input of all on set is important to the success of the film. He listened to everyone, curious to know all input ,but he always made the final decision. GC would let us know early on how much he trusted us as actors.
BTN: Were the scenes straight out of history or were there dramatic embellishments for the Paley scenes?
Frank Langella: The scenes in the film were not taken from transcripts, biographies or historical docs. The lines were written by Grant Heslov and GC. In all of the research, however, it was clear that it was accurate.
Frank Langella: The scene where Paley tells Murrow the show was moving from Tuesday night to Sunday afternoon was absolutely accurate. Paley was very much about CBS and news not being slanted or created by reporters. Paley believed that impartiality, the simple act of reporting, was all that was needed from a major TV network. He didn't want editorializing.
Frank Langella: Just imagine what the impact was in 1950s. Paley, Sarnoff. It certainly wasn't as it is today. That's why the film works so well.

Photo: Film critics called Langella's portrayal of CBS titan Bill Paley "majesterial."
(Warner Independent)

Jessestlr: what message would you like people to get from this film?
Frank Langella: The message of the film to me is very simple, that the most American thing you can do is speak your mind.
Frank Langella: Shining a light on something you feel is either unfair or damaging to someone is the right and healthy thing to do. A good reminder in these times. It can appear to be dangerous to speak out. This movie is a great reminder of how healthy it is.
Tom O'Neil: Paley didn't believe that. He didn't want CBS to make news, just report it. So you personally are at odds with the opinion of your character in this film?
Frank Langella: Whatever character I play, I'm always on the character's side, you have to be. As I played Paley, I believed and still believe he was in a position to keep CBS happy, and his audiences. Balance all of these things for the network. From Paley's point of view, he had made Murrow a star. Paley felt that Murrow had the luxury of standing on a soap box. Paley wanted light entertainment instead. He wasn't a huge supporter of the news division. I was sympathetic to what he needed to do.
Tom O'Neil: You looked like so much like Paley. Did you use much plastic and makeup?
Frank Langella: No makeup of any kind was used in GNGL. One of the things about the film that I hoped people notices was the DP's work. He is amazing and it's fascinating to see how the black and white film process chissels out faces and brings depth and dimension to everyone's look. Very compelling, much of this film's impact is the work of the DP.
Tom O'Neil: Did George Clooney pull any practical jokes on the set?
Tom O'Neil: On you?
Jessestlr: I'm dying to hear this
Frank Langella: GC hasn't pulled a practial joke yet, but I'm told he takes a long time to lay out his practical jokes, so I'm looking forward to it. He's probably plotting it out now.
sarah_brooke: I must say that you were robbed of a Golden Globe nomination. The HFPA must be insane to have left you off the list!
Blue eyed baby: I agree.
NathanFrailing: No offense, but an actor of Langella's caliber doesn't need a golden globe nor an academy award to be an incredible actor.
AndreaWeaver: I agree
AndreaWeaver: lol
Frank Langella: I wish you were all members of the Hollywood Foreign Press! And thank you!
Blue eyed baby: If we were, a lot more well deserved actors and actresses would be nominated
AndreaWeaver: amen
Philip: like idina menzel lol
V: Mr. Langella, will you be attending the Globes?
Frank Langella: No, I will not be attending the Golden Globes. I only go to parties where I'm invited.
sarah_brooke: How do you feel about the modern media? With today's news being more like "newsertainment" (for lack of a better term), do you wish that there were more Edward R. Murrows and Fred Friendlys in the world?
Carlos Solis: When you first started working on the film, did you feel there was a certain urgency about it? Was there a sense that a statement needed to be made in regards to today's media?
Jessestlr: Would you agree that the current state of the news media is much more about entertainment and not providing the electorate what it has a right to know?
Frank Langella: Modern news broadcast has come a very long way, and, like everything else, has been miniaturized and sensationalized. By that I mean we seem to have lost the ability as a nation for reflection, irony, philosophy, for the time it takes to absorb an event, come to an educated opinion and then come back and present the other side.
Frank Langella: An atmosphere of what I call "I think journalism."
Frank Langella: Murrow was one large head staring into the camera and he's looking at you, talking to you as if you are the most intelligent person on the planet. He talks in measured tone. No image of him being reduced to a tiny box.
Frank Langella: I really believe that allows the viewer to draw their own conclusions. But today an event happens and there will be 5 maybe 6 people sitting around talking and discussing with each other, not to us. That, to me, is a decline in the way news is presented. People are afraid of the singular connection, the one-to-one connection and it's not just the media, everywhere in our society. We have many ways to avoid one on one. Puts more distance between us.
AndreaWeaver: Mr. Langella, what was it like working with co-star David Strathairn? Your scenes together were very intense and amazing to watch.
Frank Langella: Working with David Strathairn, he is a complete and utter professional.
AndreaWeaver: I've heard nothing but good things about Strathairn, so that doesn't surprise me :) I have a website about him:
Frank Langella: He is always prepared. He's an honorable, an extremely kind man and he has an absolutely wicked sense of humor.
Tom O'Neil: You MUST give us an example of that.
AndreaWeaver: lol!
Jessestlr: ha
Carlos Solis: Strathairn, you're on notice!
Andy: How did you become involved working on this script?
Frank Langella: I became involved because I was working with GC on an HBO project called "Unscripted." One afternoon we were talking about what was next for him and he said he was thinking about doing GNGL next year. And that I might have a good time playing Paley. That's really all there was to it, I had forgotten about the conversation until I got the book.
Frank Langella: Got on a train to DC, was reading it and was only halfway through and called him to say "What time and where? Of course, I'll do this." I would have crawled over broken glass to be in it.
Ol' Blue Eyes: Really?;)
Blue eyed baby: LOL!
Frank Langella: We talked about the character for awhile, 2 or 3 months went by and we got the cast together, all had read it.
Frank Langella: Altogether, it was about one year from the first time he mentioned the project to the time I walked on the set.
Ol' Blue Eyes: Do you change your style of acting on the screen as opposed to on the stage?
Frank Langella: Stage vs film, it's much different now that I'm older. As a young actor, I would have said I prefer stage. You're tested, it's strength and energy. You need to tackle great roles on stage. Now, when I do something on film, I tend not look at it as long as possible.
Frank Langella: There are about a half a dozen films I've done that I've not yet seen.
Frank Langella: I leave it up to the director. For GNGL, everyone would look in the monitor. Not me.
Ol' Blue Eyes: Is it hard to make the transition from stage to screen?
Frank Langella: I came from a theater background, worked close to 10 years before I got my first movie in 1970. Took me awhile, took 4 or 5 films to feel as comfortable as I had in front of an audience on stage
Ol' Blue Eyes: Did you alter your film performance of “Dracula” a lot from your stage interpretation of it? I heard that you had to play the role of "Dracula" more conventional on film.
Frank Langella: Dracula. It was same role, only difference was volume!
Ol' Blue Eyes: Do you prefer the “Laurence Olivier” or the “Stanislavsky” style of acting?
Frank Langella: I have one criteria, if an actor is truthful, truthful in the moment, truthful in theatrical acting. If anything rings false, I can't watch them
Frank Langella: I can watch anybody who makes me believe
AndreaWeaver: Such as?
Ol' Blue Eyes: Can you give examples of actors you thinl are "truthful"?
Blue eyed baby: yes, what other actors do you admire?
Frank Langella: Truthful actors, Johnny Depp. I have admiration for Jamie Foxx, he's an exciting actor to watch.
Frank Langella: Johnny Depp stands heads and shoulders above others. We worked on a Polanski film together
Ol' Blue Eyes: It was "The ninth Gate" wasn't it?
Jessestlr: the polanski film? yes
Tom O'Neil: What films of yours do you think didn't receive the attention it deserved?
Frank Langella: I recommend revisiting "Lolita," "Ninth Gate," "I'm Losing You." Also "Those Lips Those Eyes."
MB: I heard that you are going to be in the Superman movie
Blue eyed baby: I am very curious about that as well, I am a long time Superman fan.
Athony: What can you tell us about the filming of Superman Returns??
Frank Langella: Superman Returns. I went from the last shot in GNGL at 9 or 10 PM at night, then I jumped out of the car and jumped into a waiting car, changed, hugged GC and raced to airport and JUST got on the plane in time to go to Aus, 24 hours later, I was standing on the set of Superman.
Athony: oh WOW
Andy: ha ha
Frank Langella: I landed in Sydney and dropped my suitcases, went straight to the set for costume fitting, it was wonderful and , but stressful.
Carlos Solis: That's a pretty exciting schedule.
Athony: What was it like to work with Kate Bosworth? And does Brandon Routh have what it takes to be the Man of Steel?
Frank Langella: I found the kids in Superman to be a wonderful unspoiled bunch of talented young actors
Frank Langella: They started out by calling me "Mr. Langella," then by end of first week we were all friends.
Frank Langella: 3.5 months of shooting
Athony: Haha, thats so cool!
AndreaWeaver: wow!
AndreaWeaver: that's a long shooting schedule
Blue eyed baby: do you think that people will be comparing Brandon to former Supermen like Christopher Reeve?
Athony: its inevitable
Frank Langella: Bryan Singer is like a child in a candy store. He would often take me around to other sets for the film and show me the toys, gadgets, many miniaturized sets. He adores that world and it was fun to be a part of it, be in a film like that.
Frank Langella: It was like recess at school.
Tom O'Neil: Do you feel that films like "Superman" get gypped at awards? That they don't get taken seriously as great movies when, in fact, they are?
Blue eyed baby: I don't think sci-fi and fantasy films get enough credit, sometimes.
Frank Langella: Some films get cheated during awards, quality is quality. You can make a quality film for $7.5 million or on a Peter Jackson budget. You can also make a lousy film on a small budget or big budget. It's not about the budget, but about the intent. If the director has the reins and courage to follow what he wants to do, then it can be truly great.
sarah_brooke: They certainly don't, but I hope that LOTR changed that for good.
Frank Langella: I'm about to start rehearsal for a film with a budget of only $500,000. It's a young filmmaker and I'm sure at times I'll be changing in a bus, but it's a wonderful small script, extraordinarily well written and full of integrity.
Booms: COOL!
Frank Langella: What's exciting today about independent films is that there are so many possibilities, there are great opportunities for actors if you're willing to take the time and read through lots of scripts.
Blue eyed baby: I wish there were more high budget films with that kind of script as well.
Frank Langella: As part of this answer, GNGL is the most important film I've ever been a part of. I hope it will be considered in 10 years a classic in it's time.
Tom O'Neil: I know that you have to go now. Thanks for joining us, Frank!
sarah_brooke: Thank you, Mr. Langella!
Athony: Thanks Frank! :) :)
Carlos Solis: That was a wonderful statement to end with
Blue eyed baby: yes thank you for being with us Frank
CIA: Thank you Frank!
Andy: good luck with everything to come...
motherwasaslut: Congrats, Mr. Langella
Blue eyed baby: It was a tremendous pleasure
Carlos Solis: Good luck in the next couple of months!
Frank Langella: Happy New Year!!
Blue eyed baby: I hope to have the opportunity to chat with you again, this was fascinating.
Booms: Oh my gosh that was the coolest thing that ever happened to me. I have never talked to a celebrity!!! HOW NEAT