WAMG Talks To MARTIN LANDAU And WINONA RYDER At The FRANKENWEENIE Press Day
With the release of FRANKENWEENIE just a few days away, I was invited to Disneyland in Anaheim, CA to talk with stars Winona Ryder (voice of “Elsa van Helsing”) and Martin Landau (voice of “Mr. Rzykruski”).
From creative genius Tim Burton (“Alice in Wonderland,” The Nightmare Before Christmas”) comes FRANKENWEENIE, a heartwarming tale about a boy and his dog. After unexpectedly losing his beloved dog Sparky, young Victor harnesses the power of science to bring his best friend back to life—with just a few minor adjustments. He tries to hide his home-sewn creation, but when Sparky gets out, Victor’s fellow students, teachers and the entire town all learn that getting a new “leash on life” can be monstrous.
I can safely say that this was a lively roundtable! Only a few questions were asked by the press in the 20 minutes that we had with Ryder and Landau. The two not only led the discussion, but also had a lot to talk about with each other. There was definitely a high energy level circulating the room. Check it out!
What was the experience working with Tim Burton again?
WINONA RYDER: Oh, it’s always amazing. I mean, I’m trying to think of like new adjectives to use, because I, um… it, it truly is just such a special experience all every time and, and even also just being around him when just he’s one of my favorite people I think in the world that – just to be around.
WINONA RYDER (Cont): So, it never really feels like work in that way even though it is very creative and, and, um… but working with him is very different than, uh, you know, uh, different than other, uh, directors, in the, in the sense other wonderful directors I… that I love, but Tim is very, uh, unique in the way that he, um, he’s very… he was very expressive. I don’t know if you… have you talked to him yet today?
WINONA RYDER: So, like, yeah, well he does this and he’ll kill… we’ve been talking to this [CHUCKLES]. He’ll come up to you and go, you know, just if you, g-… um, you know. And you’ll go oh, yeah, okay. [CHUCKLES] And, and that’s all, all it is. It, it… Marin, you know, you had that experience too.
MARTIN LANDAU: I mean we nev-… we never finish a sentence, you know. [CHUCKLES] You… you’d rehearse and he’ll come at you and say, you know, I, I… we just rehearsed and, and you, you know what’s missing for Tim without having him tell you. So, then you, you, you again. You know, again. [CHUCKLES] And then you do it and you add that element, and he comes oh, he’ll say exactly. And then he… he… let sh-…shoot it. Yeah, I know. Clean. Okay.
MARTIN LANDAU (Cont): So, if anyone’s standing there, uh, say to you, you — no one’s finishing his sentence for God sakes. [CHUCKLES] I mean… this is a… but it’s kinesthetic and you know what he wants.
MARTIN LANDAU (Cont): And, and but he creates a playground for the actors, and, and it’s so much fun. And even in this instance where you’re alone and a… you know, you’re not working with another actor, but you’re visualizing it and Tim’s there. And, and it’s just pleasant. Now, g… all good directors create a playground, but they’re all a little different. You know, and they speak differently, uh, but a good director he doesn’t direct a whole lot. He hires the right actor and then he lets them go. And, and the ones that direct too much are usually film students who haven’t directed before. [CHUCKLES]
WINONA RYDER: Yeah, but what’s, uh, uh, another thing just because I know this is, uh, print and then, and stuff, and I sometimes, you know, I just wanna make sure to say that e-… even if he’s not verbal, even if it is this I… you always feel very safe. And if you want you can’t… you have… you feel like if you wanna talk about it…
MARTIN LANDAU: Oh, yeah.
WINONA RYDER: Yeah, you know…
MARTIN LANDAU: Oh, you can talk about it.
WINONA RYDER: You can. You just don’t.
MARTIN LANDAU: Add nauseum, if you want.
WINONA RYDER: You just don’t need to, ’cause you’d know it’s the telepathic thing that happens. And, and his, his… all of his movies it… to me have… you know, with all the darkness that’s associated with him [COUGH], Tim Burton, it… there’s so much heart in all of his movies. In, in Ed Wood I sobbed. You know, I… it, it… and Frankenweenie, which I just saw the other night I was crying, and Edward Scissorhands I always cry.
WINONA RYDER (Cont): And, and, and it’s like he — there’s always, you know, there’s always someone with, with an incredible amount of, of purity even if they don’t — if they look a certain way. Like I, I do feel that, that Lydia from Beetlejuice, which sort of based Elsa a little bit on, the reason that she could see the ghosts was because she was actually, a young… she did have a purity with all of her obsession with, with death, you know, because she was not caught up in everything the way her parents were.
WINONA RYDER (Cont): And, and that’s why, you know, with little, little kids still today, like little, little kids, when they come up and they, they say are you the girl from Beetlejuice like it’s a [CHUCKLES] such a wonderful, warm, like amazing feeling for me. And, and, and when… when we’re associated with, with those associated with those films it’s — it like literally like I’m — you can probably see it in me right now.
WINONA RYDER (Cont): I’m a get… I… it makes me so happy and, and [LAUGHS], you know, even doing a, uh, a junket, we’ve all been here and like yeah [SIGHS], you know. [COUGH] And I’m so happy to, to be here and to, to be taught… ’cause this film is so special and, and to be here with Martin, too, you know.
MARTIN LANDAU: Well, it’s, it’s a joy to work with Tim and…
Martin, do you love your character and everything he stands for?
MARTIN LANDAU: Rzykruski, yes I love Rzykruski. [CHUCKLES] When I read him I loved him. I… if he wasn’t born in Europe I would like to be President of the United States [CHUCKLES], because he’s so honest. And he’d be the only honest man in Washington. [LAUGHS] So, by the same token I, I love this character, and I, I — you know, he’s a great teacher who’s completely misunderstood, but he sees in Victor himself as a child. I mean he, he’s the most undiplomatic character, ’cause he can’t lie. And, you know, you’re not gonna keep your job if you say, uh, to the parents of your students, you’re stupid [CHUCKLES], you know. I mean that’s not a… uh, he… he’s not, he’s not Henry Kissinger. [CHUCKLES]
MARTIN LANDAU (Cont): I’m of a, of a mind with Rzykruski, yes. I think, I think, I think in many areas we are ignorant of, of the things we should be aware of. And, and what he’s saying basically is that he loves science, and he loves life, and he loves the human condition, and he thinks that he doesn’t tolerate fools well. And I… basically I, I… I feel pretty much the same way.
MARTIN LANDAU (Cont): I mean I studied with tough teachers as an actor with Lee Strasberg, Leah Kusan, Howard Clurman, guys who were eccentric, passionate [GASP], talented, and tough task masters who raised the bar. And this is a guy who’s, you know, we’re way down on the totem pole when it comes to our education in this country. There was a time when we were… we produced scientists. We produced less, and less, and less, and less, and that’s what he talks about.
And the fact that the parents are ignorant, uh…
WINONA RYDER: And they like it that. It seems like they, they, they…
MARTIN LANDAU: They, they like it that way.
Winona, can you recall your first impressions of working with Tim back on Beetlejuice and what you might’ve learned from him as an actor?
WINONA RYDER: Um, I mean I, I remember vividly, vividly, you know, meeting him in a waiting… I, I was… been… didn’t look on life really. I had black hair and was wearing and I was waiting, and I was talking to someone in the waiting room for a while and just about, you know, movies and music, and then after about 30 minutes I was what… do you know when this Tim Burton guy is showing up, [CHUCKLES] ’cause I may be in the wrong building. And, and he’s like oop, that’s me. [LAUGHS] And I was like what? I had no idea that a director could be so like cool in that way. And, uh, like just like, you know, I had only worked with sort of more, uh, authority.
MARTIN LANDAU: Austere.
WINONA RYDER: Austere, yeah. [CHUCKLES] But, um, you just… I just find what Martin is saying so interesting and too, because the, the — when he says science is here, but it’s also here. (Points to head and heart) And it d– it, it just in, in he means — it means so many things, and what he’s saying about, you know, that it can be used for (SIGHS), you know, it’s, it’s like… with anything, with technology with the internet, which, which I’ve always, you know, been a little bit afraid of, but I do acknowledge the great that it could do in, in, in terms of like exposing corruption and giving voices to people, but then there’s this other side of it that’s like a little creepy. And, and so, it… but yet it’s… it is… advancing it’s technology. It’s, it’s going… moving real fast. I, I think I’m a little old-fashioned, and I…
MARTIN LANDAU: That’s all right.
WINONA RYDER: I like eye contact and books, and, and [LAUGHS], and, uh, I’m… well, I have LPs still, you know. I, I, uh [LAUGHS]… you, you know.
MARTIN LANDAU: You had a — you had to go to a library to look up something and it was usually a couple of miles away. Now it’s at your fingertips and you don’t use it properly.
WINONA RYDER: Yeah. I… it’s true. I mean I, I… you know, my best friend was my library card, you know. [CHUCKLES] I spent so much time… that’s where I, I learned, you know.
MARTIN LANDAU: Well, scientists, you know, again we, we have to acknowledge them. I was mentioning earlier that it, it, uh, uh, Man and Superman, a, a play that, uh, George Bernard Shaw wrote, and the other half of it, which is Don Juan in Hell. He wrote it in 1903, which was before the Wright Brothers invented the airplane, and he talks about the megaton bomb. And the devil says things like, uh, man’s greatest inventions come out of trying to destroy his fellow man. The greatest advances in science come from destroying people, not… I mean those kinds of things are what, uh, Rzykruski things about.
MARTIN LANDAU: You know. Uh, he’s, he’s so aware of, of, uh, the importance of, of knowledge and science. And, and…
WINONA RYDER: And exploring.
MARTIN LANDAU: As, as, as Winona says, he, you know, he’s got a big heart, and he’s completely misunderstood, because he doesn’t compromise. And he doesn’t soft-soap anything. He’s got the fastest brain mouth coordination. I mean anything comes into his head comes out of his mouth.
WINONA RYDER: Yeah.
MARTIN LANDAU: And, and…
WINONA RYDER: No, filter.
MARTIN LANDAU: And I had this vision as I say of, of, of him lasting at each school for two months before they [LAUGHS] fire him, and he’s probably the best teacher they’ve ever had. And he seems himself in that little boy… as a young man. And…
WINONA RYDER: I mean what a thing to hear, you know, you’ve just… you know, that whole the… it’s just…
MARTIN LANDAU: He’s a catalyst. You know, he’s what inspires the kid to make the movie. [LAUGHS] Uh…
WINONA RYDER: Yeah.
MARTIN LANDAU: I mean and, and, an…
WINONA RYDER: And, and then to Tim is, uh, inviting his teacher who from, uh, who’s, uh, 82 to the premiere. So, I can’t wait to meet that teacher. And thank that teacher…
MARTIN LANDAU: Tomorrow…
WINONA RYDER: …for giving us…
MARTIN LANDAU: … tomorrow night literally the…
WINONA RYDER: Yeah.
MARTIN LANDAU: …one of Tim’s teachers is coming to the premiere. I mean… and, and if he has an accent…
WINONA RYDER: …the reason why you’re here.
MARTIN LANDAU: …like my character… I’m gonna run out. [LAUGHS]
MARTIN LANDAU: I don’t know wheth– whether it is or not.
WINONA RYDER: I don’t know.
MARTIN LANDAU: I didn’t ask him, but, but it’s one of his teachers from Burbank.
Winona, can I ask, um, you’re always kind of, you are often gravitated towards dark films and dark characters. Sparkling, very beautiful. You’ve never really tried on… or, you know, [CHUCKLES] inherited that kind of real Hollywood sex symbol role. Can I ask why?
WINONA RYDER: Um, well, I think I just… well, thank you [LAUGHS] first of all. Um, I, it’s interesting, because I did the first, you know… even with Beetlejuice, you know, I wasn’t, uh, considered. I was sort of an awkward kid. I sort of started at puberty and, uh, went through it on film. And, um, but, but Lydia was a big… you know, one of my favorite roles, because I, I related a lot to her. And then that did lead to Heathers, but I had to really fight quite hard to be, uh, cast in Heathers, because I wasn’t considered attractive enough to, uh, be in a… the… that sort of popular girl click. I wasn’t the… but I, I, uh, I, I just have been really lucky, and, and the directors that I’ve worked with, and, and I think, um, I’m not… I don’t gravitate… you know, there’s like a [CHUCKLES] there’s a line that I just… I was watching, uh, you know, First Wives Club last night, and there’s this line where she’s like there are three roles in Hollywood for women, babe, district attorney, and Driving Miss Daisy. [LAUGHS] And I was like oh, my God, to see like what Tim has given me [LAUGHS]… that’s not funny.
MARTIN LANDAU: It’s funny. It is funny.
WINONA RYDER: Like it, it… what Tim has given me is the in between [LAUGHS] ones, you know. And, and, and, um, and I remember think… you know, thinking that oh, you know, being offered like the rookie cop on the trail of a serial killer. And I was like I… but I don’t by myself as a rookie cop. You know, there were just… I did have a few opportunities to try to go that way, but I, I just didn’t… it didn’t, uh, make sense for me.
WINONA RYDER (Cont): Um, I always… what I… I just did what I found interesting. I was so lucky that I was able to do that especially like in the ‘90s. You know, I was really able to… and then I, then I sort of like, you know, learned that you have to have a, uh, a life to go back to, because you just can’t pin everything on, uh, on Holly… you know, and that’s what’s so wonderful about Tim is that it is a very… and listening to Martin, too, is that it, it’s a… it… the experience itself is the reward. It’s being present in, in that moment. And even here with you guys I’ve never been this happy at a junket, [LAUGHS] never been like so excited about… um, you know, being here and talking about this. This is like not like… and you guys I’m sure have, have been in that boat [CHUCKLES] way more times than me, but it’s… I’ve been very, very blessed. And, um, and then also in my… what I find interesting in my personal life I think probably does have, you know, an effect, you know, but I’ve been very lucky.
What is your biggest change after working on this film… with Tim Burton?
MARTIN LANDAU: Well, it, you know, change is, you know, it’s a… I think… I approach each character I’ve ever played as a new person coming from a different environment, physiologically, uh, geographically, emotionally. Uh, I’ve never had to people that were the same, but the, the fun of this character, uh, reminded me again while I was working on it of my teachers and the ones that are impelled me to be better at anything I tried to do, to excel. And, uh, I… and I, I think that’s an important thing. Um…
WINONA RYDER: And to always be learning.
MARTIN LANDAU: … uh, you know, I mean… to be willing to stand up for what you believe. I’m offered a lot of parts for the old guy. You know, the guy that sits at a table and grunts, uh, where the young people, uh, uh, make fun of. You know, the guy who sits there like this guy here.
WINONA RYDER: And I’m waiting for like the big Jane roles, which I’m…
MARTIN LANDAU: You know, and, and I turn those down [CHUCKLES], uh, because I want a character who’s alive, and rich, and, and still has goals, and, and, and has an arc. And Tim I mean when he presented this to me I, I just loved the character. I just loved him. Uh, you know, it’s a unique character. [CHUCKLES] This entire picture is a… an animated film, but it… it’s loaded with characters. It’s a character driven movie. I see movies nowadays all the time with real actors that are… well, you don’t know the character. You don’t know who they are. You don’t care about them. As she said she was moved by this, and I was moved by this. This I mean it’s, it’s a… something that is… doesn’t have a real [CHUCKLES] person up there, but everyone is real. And you walk away being moved, laughing and enjoying it. And the 3-D isn’t used to attack you. It’s used to allow you to come into the world. And it’s, it’s ter… a terrific film. I mean it’s a good movie. Forget that it’s an animated movie. And it’s something that tear… has been burning inside of Tim Burton for 30 years. And he finally got to make it, and I’m so happy to be a part of it. I’m like pinch me. [LAUGHS] Is this real? Am I really… it’s wonderful.
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