This November marked my eleventh year serving as a volunteer usher at the Virginia Film Festival. Although I’ve enjoyed my time working for the festival, meeting other volunteers, and seeing some extraordinary films that I wouldn’t had otherwise seen, I had never met one of the festival’s special celebrity guests. This year was different.
My volunteer shift included a screening of Frost/Nixon, which explores the making of the 1977 television interviews between British television host David Frost and President Richard Nixon. In the film, Nixon is played by actor Frank Langella in an Oscar-nominated performance. I had seen Frost/Nixon when it was first released in 2008 and really enjoyed it.
The festival screening of Frost/Nixon would be followed by a question-and-answer session with Frank Langella. My venue manager asked if I would welcome Langella when he arrived and make sure he was comfortable until the Q&A started.
You never know what a famous person will be like when you meet him or her in real life. I had seen many Frank Langella films, for which he’s primarily known for playing villains, and had even read his memoir, Dropped Names, which is fun and kind of catty. So, I didn’t know what to expect from Langella in person.
When he entered the lobby with his friend and a festival driver, he was a tall, imposing figure in very elegant, casual clothes and what I call a “newsy” cap. He immediately approached me and shook my hand. He face took on a concerned look, as he looked me in the eyes, and he began to apologize. He thought he was running late, but that actually wasn’t the case at all.
As he settled in to await the film’s conclusion, he revealed himself to be a kind and gracious person, asking about the audience, the moderator, and the organization sponsoring the film (where I work).
During the Q&A itself, Langella was passionate, funny, and gracious toward the audience’s questions, especially the those of students.
About a week later, I caught Dracula, the 1979 film in which Langella plays the title character. Amidst the dated presentation (but cool production design), he brought a certain elegance and humanness to the character and to the movie as a whole.