Thursday, 18 October 2012
INTERVIEWED: Martin Landau remembers filming Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest in 1958, for the Telegraph Magazine
This scene was filmed at LaSalle Street Station in Chicago. I wasn’t working on the first day of filming, and Alfred Hitchcock called me in my hotel and said, 'Martin, put on one of the suits you are going to use in the movie – I’d like to see it being worn in the [scene’s] surroundings.’ He had helped me choose the suits because he wanted my character, Leonard, to be better dressed than Cary Grant’s. He took me to a tailor’s called Quintino’s in Beverly Hills, which also made Cary’s suits, though Cary didn’t know about this. I arrived in the middle of a take, so stood on the fringe of a crowd of hundreds of Chicagoans watching the shoot. I was tapped on the shoulder. It was an English fellow called Ray Austin – I guess you could call him Cary Grant’s valet. He said, 'Excuse me, Mr Grant would like to know where you got that suit.’ I said, 'I beg your pardon?’ He repeated the question, adding, 'Only two people in the world make a suit like that, one’s in Beverly Hills, the other is in Hong Kong.’ Cary had noticed the suit in the middle of hundreds of people. I suggested that he had better have this conversation with Mr Hitchcock. He said, 'Oh! Are you in the film?’
North by Northwest took two and a half to three months to film. When I look back, I realise I wasn’t intimidated by Hitchcock and Cary Grant. They were so accepting of me. Cary was very generous, as was Hitchcock. And Eva Marie Saint (also pictured) played such a range of different roles throughout her career. The critics haven’t acknowledged her in terms of her ability.
I was 30 and it was my first film. I am sort of in awe of the fact that I wasn’t overawed by it. I think it’s because when I was a teenager in the 1940s I was already working in a 'grown-up’ job, as a cartoonist on the Daily News in New York. At the age of 22 I was offered a promotion but I knew if I took that job I would never leave, so I quit. Subliminally, I had always wanted to act. Although I had only performed in a couple of plays, I was serious about it, and was subsequently trained by people like Lee Strasberg and Elia Kazan. Hitchcock first saw me in an Edward G Robinson play in 1957. The character was 180 degrees from Leonard, very macho, a bit of a dope actually. When I asked Hitchcock how he could cast me in this part, as they were so different, he said, 'Martin, you have a circus going on inside you. If you can play that in the theatre you can play this role.’
I chose to play Leonard as a gay character. It was quite a big risk in cinema at the time. My logic was simply that he wanted to get rid of Eva Marie Saint with such a vengeance, so it made sense for him to be in love with his boss, Vandamm, played by James Mason. Every one of my friends thought I was crazy, but Hitchcock liked it. A good director makes a playground and allows you to play.