Frank Langella does not mince words when it comes to describing his real-life character, Judge Julius Hoffman, in Netflix’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” “He’s about as a big a son-of-a-bitch as I’ve ever seen, both on paper and in real life. I was happy to play him.” In our exclusive video interview, he describes Hoffman as “unrelentingly cruel, determined to convict everybody, utterly corrupt and, I think, going a little nuts in the head.” In addition to being happy to play the judge, he found that playing that role gave him a unique perspective on the other cast members that he enjoyed. “I also had, from a perch and when I was off-camera, I had the luxury of watching each of them figure out their characters.”
“The Trial of the Chicago 7,” which is available to stream on Netflix, is written and directed by Emmy and Oscar winner Aaron Sorkin. It explores the trial of seven leaders of the anti-war movement who were accused of instigating riots against the Chicago police during the Democratic National Convention in 1968. The film is rounded out with an all-star cast that includes Eddie Redmayne as Tom Hayden, Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman, Jeremy Strong as Jerry Rubin, Mark Rylance as William Kunstler and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Bobby Seale.
Langella is a previous Oscar nominee, having earned a Best Actor nomination in 2008 for playing Richard Nixon in “Frost/Nixon.” He’s also received seven Tony Award nominations for his work on Broadway and has won four times: twice for Best Actor in a Play (“Frost/Nixon” in 2007 and “The Father in 2016) and twice for Best Featured Actor in a Play (“Seascape” in 1975 and “Fortune’s Fool” in 2002).
While Langella doesn’t necessarily keep a list of writers or directors that he’d like to work with, the chance to work with Sorkin proved to be one that he couldn’t pass on. “When I read this, Aaron just handed it to me on a silver platter. I put my tea down and I read it there, immediately, and I called my agent and said, ‘I have to be in this movie.’ I knew it was a great role, among many, and then Aaron and I met and I was utterly sure of it.” He went on to describe someone of Sorkin’s talents as something that only comes along once in a great while. “I don’t think you can say enough about his unique writing and now his directing career is beginning. He’s a renaissance man. I’ll work with him again if he wants me to.”
The similarities between the time portrayed in the film and what the country is dealing with now is not lost on Langella and he does believe that we, as a society, can take advantage of this moment and make ourselves stronger from it. “It’s been my belief for a very long time that very few people ever act for the greater good. They act for themselves, their little world, their family, their life. If we could begin to see that acting for the greater good is extraordinarily rewarding, I think we’ll come through this.” He adds that while the past several years have been very difficult, there have been positive things to come out of the last few years. “The other thing is the wonderful addition of blacks, women, Hispanics and Asian, which is just great!”
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