Martin Landau to receive Icon Award

For Oscar-winning actor Martin Landau, a “good performance is a good performance.”

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

Local film icon Martin Landau will be given the Icon Award at the 11th Malibu International Film Festival this week. It is perhaps fitting for an actor who has worked with such iconic film directors as Alfred Hitchcock, Joseph Mankiewicz, George Stevens, Woody Allen, Francis Ford Coppola and Tim Burton.

Landau has been nominated twice for an Oscar and won once (for “Ed Wood”), and has been nominated for a number of Emmys in a career covering six decades and stretching from stage to film to television. Currently heading the West Coast branch of The Actor’s Studio, founded by Elia Kazan and Lee Strasberg, Landau originally trained with the likes of Steve McQueen and has coached actors such as Jack Nicholson and Anjelica Huston.

The Actor’s Studio has proven to be a fertile source for Landau. One of his colleagues from there, Gretchen Becker, wrote and directed “Finding Grandma,” a short film screening at the festival Thursday night.

“Gretchen wrote this wonderful little film after her mother passed away,” Landau said in a phone interview with The Malibu Times. “I play a veterinarian who is godfather to her little boy, played by Gretchen’s son, Dylan, who is my godson in real life. We shot it all here in Malibu. It screened in Milwaukee and Chicago and was a finalist at the Milan International Film Festival this year.”

Landau has been picking up many accolades of late. He won the Best Actor Award at the California Independent Film Festival in San Francisco last weekend for his performance in “Lovely, Still” with Ellen Burstyn. But he was unable to attend that festival, as he was busy attending screening panels at the Turner Classic Movie Film Festival in Los Angeles.

“Three of my old films screened there this weekend,” Landau said. “North by Northwest,’ ‘Cleopatra’ and ‘Crimes and Misdemeanors.’ Can you imagine three more dissimilar movies? These were films made for the big screen and most of the young people in the audience had only seen them on television. It’s nice to be a part of current cinema as much as those great old classics.”

Landau is also getting a great deal of attention for his television work of late. In a small screen career that started with Rod Serling’s critically acclaimed “The Twilight Zone” and continued through “Mission Impossible” in the 1960s, Landau has made a splash in recent series like “Without a Trace” (garnering an Emmy nomination), “Entourage” and “In Plain Sight.”

As far as the big screen, Landau believes that future “classic” films will come from the independent filmmakers of today, those visionaries who are unattached to the studios currently run by “young business guys.”

“Character-driven films are harder and harder to get made unless they’ve got lots of car chases and explosions,” Landau said. “Even a little film that costs maybe $10 million to make, they don’t want to put in the $15 million it costs for prints and advertising because a box office of only $30 million is not worth it to them.

“Movie audiences are young today,” he continued. “It’s all about $100 million opening weekend grosses and older people don’t go to the movies as much. They stay home and watch TV.”

“At the end of the year, look at the movies that win all the Academy Awards,” Landau said. “‘Avatar’ and ‘The Hurt Locker’ both got all the nominations, but the little indie movie, ‘The Hurt Locker,’ ended up with the awards. The whole budget for ‘The Hurt Locker’ was petty cash for ‘Avatar!’ So there’s some hope for continued great filmmaking. A good performance is a good performance.”

The Malibu International Film Festival opens Thursday and runs through Saturday. “Finding Grandma” screens Thursday night at Malibu Cinemas at 7 p.m. More information about MIFF’s screenings and venues can be obtained at www.malibufilmfestival.org

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