Five Questions for the cast & crew of the new film Robot & Frank

I had an opportunity to talk with actors Frank Langella and Susan Sarandon as well as director Jake Schreier and screenwriter Christopher D. Ford from the upcoming film Robot & Frank about a retired cat burglar in the near future who is given a robot to aid him with his daily life and increasing memory loss.

The robot in the film seems pretty close to what would soon be possible. Where did you get the inspiration for the actual robot and how did you make it?  It’s a character that becomes emotionally important. How do you work with a robot in making it an important character?

Jake Schreier: Yeah, it’s not easy.  I mean our inspirations were the ones they’re building for old people [which] tend to follow this kind of spaceman motif and we just kind of followed along with that, and the level of reasoning it’s capable of we may not see in the very near future, but I mean I think you will start to see things that look like him and for that purpose.  Even right now there are like these little seals

Oh yeah I’ve seen the robotic baby harp seals, I saw them online.

Jake Schreier: They give them to old people just to watch them form an emotional connection and it helps keep them more active and engaged and just kind of go along with that.

This doesn’t really feel like a film from a freshman director. I know you have commercial experience, but what was it like working with luminous actors like Frank Langella and Susan Sarandon?

Jake Schreier: It’s very easy, you just sort of sit back and they do really good acting and then say ‘that was good’. I remember the first two days on set it was Frank and Susan’s scenes, Susan did three days on the movie and those were the first three, and I just like forgot to direct for the first day and a half cause I was just like “wow, that was really good. I guess do that again” and I was like “I should probably do my job at some point and adjust these things” but yeah I don’t think there’s any way we could have gotten it done without [Frank and Susan].
Frank Langella: Well, he had to put a lot of work into convincing me that it was going well because I kept saying “this is a disaster, this is never going to work, nobody will understand this, this, this plot point doesn’t work, I’m lousy in this, my accent’s changing” he had to keep telling me “no you’re good, come on out” that’s what he had to keep doing.

Frank, this movie is really about memory and I know you get really into character. What was it like dealing with the fears of losing your memory, as a person who is of that age when it becomes a possibility?

Frank Langella: Well, I don’t have that fear yet, I haven’t had any trouble with it yet.  I was once in an award ceremony where an actress said I wanted to thank my hairdresser and my makeup man for getting me out there and I had already gotten my award but if I had to follow her I would have said I’d like to thank my ego but I don’t have any memory troubles yet- other things are going, I just had cataract surgery so I can see you really clearly but so far I can still remember my address and all the essential things.  If it starts, I’ll stop acting, if I don’t have breath and I don’t have energy, I won’t work in the theater anymore [but] you can do very well in films for a long time even if you are decrepit, they can wheel me.

Frank, you wrote the book that everyone’s afraid to write (Dropped Names: Famous Men and Women As I Knew Them) and it was fascinating with that kind of honesty but did you get a big backlash from it?

Frank Langella: You know, I must say I was prepared for it, it’s four months practically today, I kept waiting for an angry letter from Mel Brooks, nope, not a word. It’s all been “God I wish I said that,” “I knew him when he was like that,” “you had the courage to say things about people.” I didn’t mean them in a mean way I just said those are my perceptions, so no I haven’t had any backlash.

Susan, I wanted to ask you about marriage. As someone who’s been in a long term relationship, it seems like not getting married is becoming more of a trend. I know that you’ve spoken out and said you didn’t really believe in marriage anymore.

Susan Sarandon: No I believe in marriage for other people, I just never have really liked the idea of institutionalized religion, but I mean I think if it means something, I think it’s great. I think everyone should be able to get married and if you know I think it’s a good party. For me, I just think it’s nice to wake up- now he’s in relationship, (speaking about screenwriter Christopher D Ford), I shouldn’t say this, but he’s engaged so you can ask him, why are you engaged?
Christopher D Ford:  Because I want to be married.
Susan Sarandon:  Why do you want to be married?
Christopher D Ford:  Because I want to be in a family with my girlfriend.
Susan Sarandon:  Which means being married. Yeah I think it depends on what it means to you.

Do you think it’s changing, because gay marriage certainly brought up a lot of different issues?

Susan Sarandon:  I think more people are getting married more not less.  I was married in my 20’s for a brief period of time so as not to get kicked out of school.  When I had my first child out of wedlock, I wasn’t married to any of the guys I had children with. That at the time was a major, major thing. Now it’s not such a big deal so I think that has changed.  It seems to me more people are interested in getting married younger and I think it’s a really great way to publicly discuss your commitment and it’s a great party.  I think the trap of a long term relationship is taking each other for granted and some people when they seal the deal kind of stop trying, they’ve done it, they’ve caught the person, they’ve found the person, they’ve made the contract and then it takes so much work to be in relationship for a long time. It’s just so wonderful to be in one, I’ve always been in committed relationships for long periods of time and if being married makes you commit to trying to improve your skill set and keep that going I think it’s great.

Robot & Frank Opens in Theaters August 17, 2012.

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About Tim Needles

Tim Needles is an artist, photographer, humorist, and writer from Long Island, NY. His writing and art work has been seen in multiple exhibitions and publications around New York as well as the Photographer’s Forum, French Photo, the New York Times, and LI Pulse magazine. He is also an educator and currently teaches art and film at Smithtown, NY and as an Education Leader for Adobe. He was recently the recipient of the Robert Rauschenberg Award in Washington DC and serves as the director of Strictly Students, a non-for-profit group for media and education. His work can be seen on his website: www.timneedles.com
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