Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Local Newscast
Hear the latest from the WRKF/WWNO Newsroom.

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


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.


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.


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.


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."


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.


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.

Andrew Limbong is a reporter for NPR's Arts Desk, where he does pieces on anything remotely related to arts or culture, from streamers looking for mental health on Twitch to Britney Spears' fight over her conservatorship. He's also covered the near collapse of the live music industry during the coronavirus pandemic. He's the host of NPR's Book of the Day podcast and a frequent host on Life Kit.