Written and directed by Andrew Wagner, Starting Out in the Evening is a little indie with a lot of buzz. And that buzz is mostly about its lead, actor Frank Langella.
Based on Brian Morton's 1999 novel, Starting Out in the Evening is the story of Leonard Schiller (Langella), an aging, somewhat washed-up New York writer who is drawn out of his shell by an overeager young graduate student, Heather, (Lauren Ambrose) intent upon rediscovering his genius.
"I didn't have to do a tremendous amount of research because I live on the Upper West Side of New York and my building and the streets are full of Leonard Schillers. They're absolutely everywhere," says Langella of his character. "I had to drop just about everything I could think of that would cause me to act. Or say, 'Oh, I know what I'll do with this man. I'll give him a little Jewish accent.' I didn't do any of that. I just thought, 'What's in his heart and soul? What's he trying to protect? What's his relationship with his daughter like? What are his days and nights like?' And I found all those things terribly moving. That he goes and makes himself toast with jam and a cup of tea, takes it to his bed, gets in, read his book and probably falls asleep with his book. Gets up the next day, tries to type, can't, goes for a walk in the park, takes in a French movie with his daughter, an occasional literary party. And I thought, 'There's so many people like that.'"
Langella has nothing but reverence for the character of Leonard. "He's a beautiful guy. I love him," he says. But that doesn't mean he wasn't a challenge. First of all, Leonard is substantially more frail than Langella, who had a bit of a 'there but for the grace of God go I' reaction to the part. "When you read something like this and you have a chance to play it, or at least investigate what that's like, it's kind of thrilling," he explains. And it's also hard. But the movie, which was on a tight budget, shot in only 18 days. "All day, everyday, no breaks and I was in most scenes, so I worked constantly. Sometimes the producer would pick me up in her car and take me to work and I'd change clothes in a restaurant men's room. Or I'd run back home and they'd bring the suit to my apartment, and I'd get in a taxi and run across town. It was wonderful," he recalls.
"If you're in a multi-million dollar picture, many, many times there's all the time in the world. And sometimes that can be wonderful--in the case of Bryan Singer who's got a mad, fabulous genius. And sometimes, in the case of the movie I did called Cutthroat Island, it's the kiss of death. Because there's so much money being flung around, everybody totally forgets the purpose of what the movie's supposed to be. "
Langella was immediately drawn to the Starting Out in the Evening because of the beauty of the writing. "Somebody asked me earlier today why I---and I do, I love this film about as much as any movie as I ever made. And he said, why did you want to do it? And I said, how could you read it and not? But the fact is nobody ever says, 'dude' or 'motherf*cker' or holds up a gun. There's no violence, there's no nudity--except for a brief little old guy in a bit of bathtub. There's no people cutting throats, there's no jump-cutting, there's no--all the stuff we've grown used to in films. It just sits there and unfolds in front of you--a literate, intelligent film."
It seems like his instincts might have been good: Starting Out in the Evening is getting talked about as an Oscar contender, particularly Langella for his performance. But Langella is taking it in stride. "I actually have--and I’m not being disingenuous--I actually have come to a wonderful point in my life where now is all that matters to me," he says. "If it came, it would be wonderful. If it didn't come, it would in no way be devastating. And that’s what I think you should be like in life at this age. I wasn't at 32. I just finished a wonderful picture with a wonderful director, I'm talking about one I love, and I'm about to start one. And that is very, very nice."