Martin Landau’s Best Scene
The actor gave more to the film industry than most others can hope to — now, alas, we've lost him
Martin Landau was the rare actor who got better with age. Even before he passed away at 89 years old on Saturday, he had a number of films in the works. He never slowed down, never lost his passion for acting.
Landau died Saturday after unexpected complications from a brief hospitalization at UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles. Best known for starring in the original “Mission: Impossible” series as well as Tim Burton-directed movies such as “Ed Wood,” he delivered his best scene at the ripe old age of 70.
He was cast in 1998's "Rounders" as Abe Petrovsky, a judge who takes an interest in young Mike McDermott (Matt Damon), an ex-gambler working on his law degree. Though appearing in only a handful of scenes, Landau acted as the beating heart of the film. Without him, the project doesn't quite work, while with him it becomes the cult classic it is today.
In a crucial scene of the movie, McDermott meets Petrovsky at a bar. Feeling the pull of two worlds, he looks to explain to the judge his limited appearances at classes and moot courts. What he gets is Petrovsky's explanation of his journey to a judge's seat, one that involves leaving the position of rabbi to pursue a true passion.
Halfway through the scene, viewers aren't watching a master actor deliver lines. They are Matt Damon sitting across the table from a senior judge telling the story of how he became the man he is.
The ease with which Landau plays the scene doesn't just suggest a master of the craft; it suggests a man doing exactly the thing he was born to do. Many people become actors, but few inspire and own a screen the way Landau did even in his senior years, when most performers would be enjoying easy paychecks and bit parts.
"Our destiny chooses us," says Landau to Damon in a scene that inspires even the coldest of people to reexamine and follow their dreams.
Perhaps it's the weight of his history in film that he carries with him, or perhaps it's the writing, but Landau showed that even at a late age in life, he was fully worth the attention of a camera. Having worked with everyone from Burton to Alfred Hitchcock, he was given yet another scene in which to excel.
Over the course of 89 years, Landau gave to the art world what most can only dream to do. With 177 credits on IMDB, he never stopped working or mastering his craft.
"All an audience wants to believe is that what's going on up there is happening for the first time ever. If I have to laugh at a joke, it's funny the first time, but if I have to do it 15 times, which I have to in a film ... or cry ... no one tries to cry. How you hide your feelings tells us who a character is," Landau told Ain't It Cool News about his process.
To know what a colossal loss his death is to the artistic community — one need only to watch the actor deliver his lines in "Rounders."