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INTERVIEW: Frank Langella and Susan Sarandon Face the Future in Robot & Frank

The award-winning stars share their insights about the making of their new film, their feelings about technology, and their hopes of returning to the stage. logo
Frank Langella in Robot and Frank
Robot & Frank, opening in limited release on August 17, is the first feature film from the writing/directing team of C.D. Ford and Jake Schreir, both of whom graduated from New York University in 2003. The two men agree they couldn't have made it happen, though, without the support of Broadway veterans Frank Langella and Susan Sarandon, a pair of stage and screen legends who have accumulated dozens of awards during their decades-long careers.

The winner of the prestigious Alfred P. Sloan Science Prize at the Sundance Film Festival this year, the film is set in the not-so-distant future where Frank, an isolated but fiercely independent elderly jewel thief (played by Langella), is forced to bond with the nameless caretaker robot (voiced by Peter Sarsgaard) as his only alternative to being placed in a nursing home by his kids (Liv Tyler and James Marsden).

Sarandon plays Jennifer, the town librarian who gently reminds Frank that he is her only client during his weekly visits to pick up reading material and indulge in some seemingly harmless flirtation. After this set-up, the film proceeds to up-end all the audience's expectations about life, love, romance, technology and family, in a charming and totally original way. TheaterMania had a chance recently to sit down with Langella and Sarandon to chat about their film, their feelings about modern technology, and their possible returns to the stage.

THEATERMANIA: What first drew each of you to the film?
FRANK LANGELLA: Well, I certainly wasn't attracted because the lead character was named Frank [chuckles]. It's important that smaller movies like this get made because nobody thinks they're going to make money. We all hope this one will.
SUSAN SARANDON: Frank was attached to it. I'd met him socially and I liked his work a lot, so he was definitely one of the draws of doing the film, along with a lovely script by Chris Ford.

TM: Was the short shooting schedule -- only 45 days-- a problem for either of you?
SS: The film was all done so quickly that we didn't have the luxury of even a few days for rehearsal, which is really when you get to know each other as characters and script changes happen. One scene was pretty tricky; I call it the revelation scene because so much happens and you learn things you didn't know about the characters. So we actually had to stop and take some time to talk together right during the filming.
FL: We were all together all the time, and it was so hot and Susan and I would wander down to the water at night to be cooler and chat and that helped us to develop our on-screen personas as well.

TM: How do you feel about the film's vision of a robot as company for the elderly in the near future?
FL: You know there's a really dangerous commercial that's come on in the last few weeks where Martin Scorsese, Samuel Jackson, and John Malkovich are talking on the iPhone to a female voice which calls each man by name, so it makes you feel like there's a real woman out there and all three react as if it's real. Personally, I like the idea of inviting 20 or 25 friends at my house and making food and watching a movie together on my giant television. The danger [with technology] is you can feel that you don't need to interact with real people the same way anymore. For example, there's caller ID so you can screen calls, and all of the ways that are supposed to make life better are just alienating us from each other.

TM: Are you into technology, Susan?
SS: Oh, I'm such a luddite. I only text in self-defense, because my kids just no longer answered the phone and they were really mean. They wouldn't explain anything to me about texting at first, but now I'm pretty good at it. And I could identify with Jennifer because I don't care much for these electronic readers; I like books you can touch. I buy them for myself and for my kids. I like to re-read them and I find things underlined with stars in the margin. I give a lot of books as presents and a Kindle just isn't the same. I also found out on Jay Leno's show there was someone on Facebook writing as me (and it wasn't). Maybe they're better at being me than I am. But except for an occasional tweet about the film, it's just not my thing.

TM: Are either of you planning a return to the stage?
FL: I do have a play in the works, but I can't give any details about it right now.
SS: Of course, I want to come back to the stage! I think some of Tennessee Williams' works would be an easy fit for me.

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