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The Monster Specialist

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Only once while we’re talking does Langella seem to close up even slightly, and that’s when I mention the previous bloodthirsty Romanian count he played. On Broadway in 1977 and onscreen two years later, Dracula was the sleek evil character that first made him famous, and he came uncomfortably close to getting stuck in that cape, rendered permanently undead the way Bela Lugosi was. “It was a great two years, but a long time ago,” he says matter-of-factly. “The thing about Frost/Nixon is, it will change the first sentence of my obituary. Who knows what’s to come, but if it hadn’t come along, it would’ve been ‘famous for Dracula.’ ” (This time, as then, he has smartly decided to soft-pedal the Mitteleuropean accent.)

Though he says he’s not one to look back, he’s got a memoir coming out next spring: a book of 85 short chapters, each a memory of a friend (Elizabeth Taylor, Laurence Olivier, Marilyn Monroe, many more). It’s called Dropped Names: Famous Men and Women As I Knew Them. All these stories, he says, have emotional resonance, and he’s deliberately shied away from fact-checking himself. “I believe in the memory—whatever distortions it’s going lead you to. Memories are supposed to be selective. They’re my memories, not yours.”

Later that day, I do a little fact-checking of my own and look up that Nobel Prize presentation. The quote turns out to have been from Joseph Brodsky, and Langella has it a little wrong. The poet wasn’t just talking about love; he was also talking about the altered selves we create to get through our lives and fears—same as Gregor Antonescu, same as Richard Nixon, and the same, maybe, as the actor who played them. “If there is any substitute for love,” Brodsky wrote, “it’s memory.”

Man and Boy
By Terence Rattigan.
American Airlines theatre.
In previews for an October 9 opening.


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