Tribute: My Dinner With Martin Landau


Martin Landau, the versatile film, TV ad stage actor who starred in TV's Mission: Impossible TV series and earned an Oscar playing Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood, has died. He was 89.

I had a dinner interview with him in 2003 for The Hartford Courant when he was starring in the world premiere of Eliam Kraiem's ``Sixteen Wounded,'' at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven.

Here is that interview:


Martin Landau couldn't resist slipping into character.

The Oscar-winning actor just doesn't tell a story; he inhabits the tale and takes on the part of all the players, complete with accents -- whether it's Lee Strasberg giving him the big chill as a young actor, Alfred Hitchcock directing him minimalistically in ``North by Northwest'' or the Italian producer on ``Cleopatra'' who hinted at the epic film's future box-office disaster.

In so doing, the 71-year-old actor gives a mini-course on acting and demonstrates the versatility that has characterized his 52-year career in film, TV and theater.

After a string of notable film roles, including his Oscar-nominated turns in Francis Ford Coppola's ``Tucker: The Man and His Dream'' in 1988, Woody Allen's ``Crimes and Misdemeanors'' in 1989 and Tim Burton's ``Ed Wood'' in 1995 (for which he finally copped the gold prize), Landau is returning to the stage, where he began his career. What has drawn him back is a new contemporary play, now in previews at New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre. In Eliam Kraiem's ``Sixteen Wounded,'' Landau plays a Jewish baker living in Holland who befriends a young Palestinian (Omar Metwally) and makes him his apprentice, not knowing he is a terrorist.

``I read a lot of plays over the years, and I didn't want to do any of them,'' says a dapper Landau over dinner in a downtown New Haven restaurant. (His last Connecticut stage gig was in a tour of ``Dracula,'' which played the Shubert Theater in New Haven in the mid-'80s.)

``But I read this one, and it moved me,'' he says. ``It was also about something that was happening in the world now. And there isn't anything like this being written, which is ridiculous.'' But he cautions that the work is not agitprop theater. ``The play is very fair. It doesn't proselytize, and everything comes out of the realities of these characters. These are about human issues.''

He says the theater has essentially abdicated its traditional role as the art form that immediately grabs hold of issues of the day for dramatic interpretation. Now television and independent films play the role of social conscience. He sighs.

``You have to be crazy to do theater,'' he says.