Martin Landau and Winona Ryder reunite with filmmaker Tim Burton for the 3-D stop-motion black & white family film, Frankenweenie. Landau previously worked with Burton on Sleepy Hollow (in a tiny role) and Ed Wood, while Ryder starred opposite frequent Burton collaborator Johnny Depp in Edward Scissorhands and with Michael Keaton in Beetlejuice. And Landau and Ryder were more than happy to tackle another Burton project, especially one so near and dear to the filmmaker's heart.
In Frankenweenie, Winona provides the voice of an introverted young girl who's the put-upon niece of the town's mayor. Landau lends his voice to the character of a science teacher who inspires his students while angering their close-minded parents and stuffy town bigwigs. And together at the LA press conference for Walt Disney Pictures' Frankenweenie, Landau and Ryder discussed how they got into these characters and what it's like to be directed by Tim Burton.
Frankenweenie Martin Landau and Winona Ryder Press Conference
How did it feel to reunite with Tim Burton?
Winona Ryder: "One of the many, many great things about Tim is that he's actually the same guy. I mean, [since] 25 years ago life has happened and he has a family..."
Martin Landau: "He has come a long way."
Winona Ryder: "And we worked with him like three years on Edward Scissorhands. His direction has remained very similar and he's very expressive without actually sometimes saying anything."
Martin Landau: "Well, he doesn’t finish his sentences most of the time."
Winona Ryder: "Yeah! And it's like either you get him or you don’t. He casts so well because he casts people that do understand him."
Martin Landau: "My feeling, I have worked with a lot of directors from Hitchcock to [Joseph L.] Mankiewicz to Woody Allen, and the good directors create a playground for the actors. They don’t direct a whole lot; they cast carefully and they kind of let you loose - and the stuff that happens, happens. All the audience wants to believe is that what's going on up there is happening for the first time ever. They don’t want to see the rehearsals. They don’t want to see the slickness, and Tim understands that.
One of the reasons that he cast Winona is because he doesn't have to tell her a lot. She gets it! And sometimes there is someone standing near me and Tim and let's say my character is supposed to just do the voice, he'll come up and say, 'Let's rehearse.' I say, 'OKay,' and we will rehearse. He will come up and say, 'You know...,' and I'll say, 'Yeah.'"
Winona Ryder: "Yeah! Exactly. It's telepathic."
Martin Landau: "Only because I know what's missing, and I'll say, 'Let's go again,' and we will go again. He'll say, 'Exactly!' People say, 'You're not finishing your sentences, for gosh sakes,' and it's because this strange kind of understanding. He's a very creative guy and even when I get to work I say to him,' If after five minutes of saying Landau is doing a good job, we don’t have a movie, you've got to be Bela Lugosi and that’s what I aim for. I like to say to directors, even with Woody Allen, I say, 'If you see any actor moment stop me.' I like a degree of theatricality in my work, but there are sometimes I don’t want you to know it's an actor playing a part. I want you to know it’s the guy."
Winona Ryder: "And I have to say listening to Martin - and yesterday, as well - it really reminds me that the experience is the reward. There are a lot of people that do things hoping for results for when the film comes out, but you're never really going to be happy that way if you're just chasing that. It’s a dangerous thing."
Martin Landau: "A very dangerous thing."
Winona Ryder: "And he is sort of articulate in reminding me that it’s the moment that you're there and it's being yanked into a present moment where you're reacting and you're listening and you're acting, but it just feels really real. Tim is so visually stunning and creative and unique, and this film especially…just black and white and the homages, but there is just so much heart in it. Our voices...yours especially [referring to Martin Landau]...the speech he gives to the parents, it's so actually very deep. And then what he says to Victor about science is up here [pointing to her head] but it's also here [pointing to her heart], it reminds me a lot of Tim because for all the sort of darkens that’s associated with him, his movies are so full of heart. There's always the characters that are very pure regardless of what they may be like. There's such purity, which is why children still come up to me. It's like the greatest feeling when a kid comes up and says, 'Are you the girl from Beetlejuice?,' because it's like a great honor to have been given that gift."
Martin Landau: "I'm also so happy because this is the movie that Tim wanted to make 30 years ago and couldn’t. You know, it's somewhat autobiographical. Edward Scissorhands was as well. He grew up in the nice rural houses in Burbank and he was that odd kid, and Edward was that and Victor was that, and the fact that he never lost touch with this... In fact, there is something added that wouldn’t have been there 30 years ago which is the 3D. But he doesn't use 3D to throw you off your seat. He does it in a way that allows you to enter the movie. It adds an element that kind of welcomes you, and it's lovely.
You know, it’s a character-driven [movie]. And even with live actors these days, you don’t see a lot of well done character-driven movies and here it's an animated movie, stop-motion. One of the things is when I did it, I had visualized behavior, which I didn’t do obviously because I was a voice. And when I saw it I said, 'My god, it's exactly how I would have done it if I was on camera.' You relinquished your voice to animators and who knows what's going to come back. But, not with Tim. I didn’t have that fear exactly, but when I saw it I was still a little bit in awe of the fact that if the delivery had been on camera I would behaviorally not been any different, which is kind of astonishing."
How do you find the voice?
Martin Landau: "Well, in Ed Wood I had to be Hungarian because of Bela Lugosi, but this script said something kind of interesting when I read it, and I loved the character. If he wasn’t a foreigner I'd like to elect him as President [because] he's so honest, more so then anyone in Washington. Anyway, it said he's European, but he's not from Russia, he's not from Hungry, and he's not from Italy. He's not from anywhere, but he's European. So it's like a sort of Slavic, so I made up a country Slavoviea where the slaves come from."
Winona, how was tackling the singing?
Winona Ryder: "Well the singing was…I don’t think I can say I never tried, but the great thing is that the character is not excited about singing and really actually is being forced to do it by her uncle. There's a little scene where she is practicing in her yard and she is just sort of miserable about it.
"It was great to be able to work directly with Danny Elfman. I remember on Beetlejuice I had visited him when they were scoring and he had a whole orchestra. [...] I was like, 'I didn’t know that.' And so to work directly with him was amazing. I've seen Oingo Boingo a few times. But, I didn’t have the pressure of having to sing well. [...] I drew a lot on my character in Beetlejuice. I was picturing her as an 8 year old and sort of a shy girl that would not ever volunteer to sing. But it was really actually quite fun and I can't believe that I am on the soundtrack! That is so shocking and especially next to like Karen O and just great singers.
But to add something to what Martin was saying that I just thought of is the other great thing about Tim's films is that, in this film there is nothing manipulative. He doesn't try to manipulate the audience into feeling, or instruct you how to feel. He allows the audience to feel their own emotions and their own sort of connections to the characters, or their own animals that they have lost. When I saw it for the first time in Austin, I was crying and I was so moved. And I didn’t feel [manipulated]. Sometimes you feel manipulated a bit - you know, I do. And I'm crying and I'm like, 'Why am I crying?,' but with his films you never feel that. I just think that's really amazing."
Martin Landau: "Well, he respects the audience."
Was there anything or anyone you drew on to help you figure out these characters?
Martin Landau: "Well, yeah. You know, teachers are important people and I, as a young actor, I had tough teachers. [...] And I feel that Mr. Rzykruski sees in Victor himself as a child. I also figured he only lasts two months at any school he teaches in because you can't make a speech in front of your students' parents and say, 'You're stupid.' I mean, he's not Harry Kissinger. He's not a diplomat in any way, shape, or form, but he can not tolerate fools. I like that [there's] something so clear about this guy. There's not a phony bone in his body, and that’s a pleasure to act a character like that."
Winona Ryder: "With that conviction."
Was there anything in the story that you personally relate to? Did you have your own pet growing up?
Martin Landau: "Well, yeah, as a kid growing up I had a dog and years later... Yeah. I mean, I think that we love things and become attached to them, but you know even if something is dear to you and connects to you passes away, I mean I've lost a lot of people in my time, a lot of friends, I'm an old guy and I have seen a lot of animals die and people die and it's always hurtful. I can understand Victor completely. He had this bond with this dog."
Winona Ryder: "Yeah. But then it has this sort of nice kind of message about letting go."
Martin Landau: "Having to let go. You know, when I was six years old I lost three of my grandparents in the same year. I never knew the other one because he passed away before I was born, but in that one year I watched three people who were dear to me [die]. So yes is my answer."
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Frankenweenie hits theaters on October 5, 2012.