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Actor Martin Landau Of 'Mission: Impossible' Dies At 89

Jul 17, 2017
Originally published on July 17, 2017 10:30 pm
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And now a moment to remember Martin Landau, who also died this weekend at the age of 89. He was an Oscar-winning actor in his own right and guided younger stars. NPR's Andrew Limbong has more.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: Movie stars when Martin Landau was coming up were handsome and rugged. Think Rock Hudson. Martin Landau was not that. He told WHYY's FRESH AIR in 1990 that he was skinny, kind of weird looking.

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MARTIN LANDAU: I was intrinsically a character actor, but not easy to cast.

LIMBONG: One of his earliest roles was as a henchman in "North By Northwest." Landau, with his slicked-back hair and wide grin, is pretty spooky in it, forcing booze on Cary Grant.

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LANDAU: (As Leonard) It'll be easier if you take this yourself. Otherwise it'll be necessary for us to insist.

LIMBONG: Landau's filmography is littered with these types of roles - villains or thugs or, as he put it, mindless heavies in movies with titles like "Death Blow: A Cry For Justice" and "Sweet Revenge." Eventually the life of a character actor wore thin on Landau.

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LANDAU: I was somewhat frustrated. And my creativity was - I felt was being thwarted. But I kept my, you know, sanity in a sense and waited for a good role.

LIMBONG: He was 60 when he landed that role as Abe Karatz in the Francis Ford Coppola movie "Tucker: The Man And His Dream."

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LANDAU: (As Abe Karatz) I went into business with you for one reason - to make money. That's all. How was I to know that if I got too close I'd catch your dreams?

LIMBONG: He'd continue to play complex characters in Woody Allen's "Crimes And Misdemeanors" and in Tim Burton's "Ed Wood," where he turned those looks that had kept him from roles into an Oscar-winning performance.

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PATTI TIPPO: (As Nurse) Oh, my goodness, you gave me the willies. You look like that Dracula guy.

LANDAU: (As Bela Lugosi) My name is Bela Lugosi, and I wish to commit myself.

TIPPO: (As Nurse) For what reason?

LANDAU: (As Bela Lugosi) I have been a drug addict for 20 years. I need help.

LIMBONG: Martin Landau was versatile. He could ham it up in a B-movie, find a delicate note in a complex character, or, like in "Ed Wood," do both at the same time. Andrew Limbong, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.