Wednesday, August 23, 2006

From Perry White to Richard Nixon

If you're old enough to remember the original telecasts of David Frost's interviews with Richard Nixon in 1977, you're old enough to remember that, during roughly the same period, Frank Langella was the toast of Broadway for his sexy and stylish performance as the sanguine Transylvanian in an acclaimed revival of Dracula. Despite his memorable work in a handful of films during the '70s and early '80s -- including Frank Perry's Diary of a Mad Housewife, Mel Brooks' The Twelve Chairs, Michael Pressman's criminally under-rated Those Lips, Those Eyes and, yes, John Badham's Dracula -- Langella never quite made the transition to full-scale movie stardom. Still, he has remained constantly active on New York and regional stages -- I was fortunate enough to see his Tony Award-winning performance in Edward Albee's Seascape back in 1975, and his splendid portrayal of Henry Higgins in a 1991 Houston Grand Opera production of My Fair Lady -- and he seldom goes too long between attention-grabbing gigs as a character actor in movies and TV. (To see him at his heart-wrenching best, as a TV producer who remains witty and randy even while losing a battle against cancer, check out Bruce Wagner's flawed but fascinating I'm Losing You.) Right now, you can see him on the London stage in Peter Morgan's Nixon/Frost, a drama based on the fateful face-off between the disgraced U.S. president and the career-stalled Brit TV talk-show host. Critics have hailed the play as "a gripping study of the politics of the media," and singled out Langella's portrayal of Nixon as "a masterful study in growling, bear-like charisma, a wily dodger." (Michael Sheen has claimed his own share of kudos as Frost.) Playwright Morgan is about to get a great deal of attention for scripting The Queen, Stephen Frears' upcoming movie about Elizabeth II (Helen Miren). If the much-buzzed-about film is a hit, maybe Morgan will get a chance to bring his new play -- with its original cast -- to the big screen?

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