Download: Frank Langella and the Climate of Fear
Frank Langella has decided to speak out about having been fired from Netflix’s horror series, The Fall of the House of the Usher, rather than just disappear into the wasteland of Me Too discards. Perhaps he is just too old by now to shut up and take it. The idea that he would be fired over vague and flimsy allegations shows you how everyone in Hollywood is STILL terrified about being Me Too’d.
They know there is a massive publicity machine that devours accusations — without due process… my God, due process, what is that? It can mostly derail a career because in this climate, even a year into the Biden administration when you’d think some of the panic and fear would have settled down, it is “once accused, forever guilty.”
This is true no matter who has been accused, or for what. It only matters how a collective hive mind on Twitter interprets those actions. They can make something untrue suddenly true. Very few people in Hollywood have the actual stones to stand up to the mob. I am always impressed by those who do.
People who go along with witch hunts never fare well over time. History always sides with those unfairly persecuted because if there is one thing we should learn from history it’s that mob justice very rarely gets it right.
Whether it’s the Salem Witch Trials or the Jim Crow era — cultivating a climate of fear where anyone can be accused of anything and be condemned for that accusation with no due process always takes us to dangerous places. Of course, we aren’t talking about people being hanged, or lynched or even jailed. We are talking about them being fired and shunned and pariah-cized.
It has less to do with the consequences and more to do with what it turns us into, how it cripples the creative spirit, and what it feels like to live with lies. We don’t know how the Amber Heard/Johnny Depp trial will turn out but he had his day in court and was able to tell his side of the story. She also was able to tell her side of the story. They are doing this with a judge, a jury, and lawyers representing each of them. That is called DUE PROCESS.
When we eliminate it, and we rely on accusations, the reactions to those accusations — TWITTER — clickbait and a community of very frightened people who appear to have no courage whatsoever, we will always get it wrong.
That doesn’t mean due process always gets it right. The Salem Witch trials and the all-white juries during Jim Crow were also due process. They too were reliant upon fear to guide them. The Me Too movement exists because for too long women were not believed when they tried to tell their stories of assault or rape.
What started as a reckoning, though, devolved into a paranoid witch hunt that seems to be ongoing, up to and including the unfair firing of Frank Langella.
The problem is the media machine convicts before anyone has a chance to even hear the full story at all. The idea is that just the accusation can ruin a career. It’s almost even worst than that. Just an insinuation of an accusation can ruin a career.
I learned the hard way what it is like to defend someone. I have never been good at shutting up, but especially not when people get things wrong. Bad sex on a date is not assault. A man touching your arm is not assault. Just because people say it is doesn’t make it so. That an actor of Langella’s caliber (he would be the only reason I would want to watch the show, which I have no interest in watching now because I would have only watched it if Frank Langella was IN IT) can be fired over something – and for the entire production to flip out over it shows just how terrified everyone in Hollywood still is.
Journalists are terrified. People on Twitter on terrified. The money and the power are especially terrified. Yet very few people will simply stand up to that fear and say, “You know what? No. No. We’re not going to play this game. Sorry. We’re here to do good work. If you find it uncomfortable to work on this project, there’s the door. But until someone actually DOES SOMETHING BAD? We’re going to continue working. Frank, just don’t talk to that actress off script.” But they won’t do that because they are TOO SCARED.
Here we get an anatomy of a freak-out in real time.
In the increasing madness that currently pervades our industry, I could not have imagined that the words “collateral damage” would fall upon my shoulders. They have brought with them a weight I had not expected to bear in the closing decades of my career. And along with it has come an unanticipated sense of grave danger.
On April 14 of this year, I was fired by Netflix for what they determined to be unacceptable behavior on set. My first instinct was to blame. To lash out and seek vengeance. I interviewed crisis managers, tough connected lawyers, the professionally sympathetic at $800 per hour. Free advice was proffered as well:
“Don’t play the victim.” “Don’t sue. They’ll dig into your past.” “Sign the NDA, take the money and run.” “Do the talk shows, show contrition, feign humility. Say you’ve learned a lot.”
Apologize. Apologize. Apologize.
I was playing the leading role of Roderick Usher in Edgar Allan Poe’s classic The Fall of the House of Usher, modernized as an eight-episode series for Netflix. It is a glorious role, and I had come to regard it as, most likely, my last hurrah. Bizarrely prophetic under the current circumstances.
On March 25 of this year, I was performing a love scene with the actress playing my young wife. Both of us were fully clothed. I was sitting on a couch, she was standing in front of me. The director called “cut.” “He touched my leg,” said the actress. “That was not in the blocking.” She then turned and walked off the set, followed by the director and the intimacy coordinator. I attempted to follow but was asked to “give her some space.” I waited for approximately one hour, and was then told she was not returning to set and we were wrapped.
Not long after, an investigation began. Approximately one week later, Human Resources asked to speak to me by phone. “Before the love scene began on March 25,” said the questioner, “our intimacy coordinator suggested where you both should put your hands. It has been brought to our attention that you said, ‘This is absurd!’” “Yes,” I said, “I did. And I still think so.” It was a love scene on camera. Legislating the placement of hands, to my mind, is ludicrous. It undermines instinct and spontaneity. Toward the end of our conversation, she suggested that I not contact the young lady, the intimacy coordinator, or anyone else in the company. “We don’t want to risk retaliation,” she said. When I mentioned that it was certainly not my intention to … she cut me off politely and said: “Intention is not our concern. Netflix deals only with impact.”
Granted, if there is more to the story, let it be told. If it was more than an actress upset that he broke the rules the “intimacy coordinator” laid out, then fine. Let’s hear it. But if this was IT? If this really was the whole thing? That actress really should not be an actress. She is in the wrong business. Acting requires you to access authentic human behavior. If they are doing a love scene and he has to be told where to put his hands it is not going to look authentic. It’s going to look artificial and stupid.
If we’re talking about The Last Tango in Paris or Don’t Look Now where they were going for hardcore authenticity that really did blur the lines, that’s one thing. Here, they were both fully clothed. If THAT is too much for this actress, if she is THAT fragile? She should go do something else, or play a different part. She should look at the script that describes a love scene with a grown male — and at that point she can decide, “oh, I am not strong enough to do that because I am easily triggered by hands on my body.” That is called protecting yourself.
That they would have to pull back on authenticity because the actress can’t handle it? Netflix should film a series about THIS story. I can promise you it would be a lot more interesting than one frozen in fear with intimacy coordinators scurrying about.
At some point, we have to stop treating grown women like children, or like they’re made of glass. Actors this nervous should not be actors. I would not even want “intimacy coordinators” on set. I don’t like “sensitivity readers.”
What are we doing here anyway? The problem is that young adults seem to have been raised to believe that the world must be safe for them. But guess what, folks? That isn’t how it works. Take a look at Ukraine. Do you think any of those young people have a world made safe for them? The world is not a safe place. It is a dangerous place. Micromanaging art to accommodate overly sensitive feelings renders art useless.
Someday there will be great books and great movies written about this moment. No one is ever going to believe that we once lived through a time when a famous and talented actor was fired because he touched a woman on the leg during a love scene where both were fully clothed. The truth is, it wasn’t for that reason. It was because he didn’t apologize — in effect, confess as a witch and live. To have apologized, he would have sold himself out, and admitted he’d done something “wrong.”
Every young person should be told that the world is never going to be made safe for them. They have to become strong to survive it. Strong inside, strong outside. The last thing we need is writers, directors, comedians, and yes, actors to play it safe. We need art to express authentic human experiences – good, bad, and ugly so that they can be wrested from our own hearts. We need this to prevent madness. Frank Langella knew that. Edgar Allen Poe certainly knew that.