The death of Martin Landau is hitting Hollywood hard. The Oscar-winning actor died of “unexpected complications” following a brief stay at UCLA Medical Center, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Landau was 89-years-old.
While he was best known for his 1960s TV role on shows like Mission Impossible and Space: 1999 and his Oscar-winning role as Bela Legosi in the 1994 Tim Burton movie Ed Wood, Martin Landau was first and foremost a teacher.
Landau was accepted into the Actors Studio in the mid-1950s, and soon became an acting coach at the request of Actors Studio guru Lee Strasberg, according to Vanity Fair. Landau later spearheaded a West Coast branch of the famous Studio, where he would continue teaching for the rest of his life while juggling his work as one of the greatest character actors of all time.
Martin Landau’s early students included future Hollywood greats Jack Nicholson, Anjelica Huston, Harry Dean Stanton, and Shirley Knight. Martin also coached future filmmakers Oliver Stone and Robert Towne. Nicholson has credited Martin Landau for his acting skills.
“The reason I’m a good actor is because Martin Landau put me through a series of exercises for three years before I could do them,” Nicholson once said.
Martin Landau coached and co-starred with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars during his decades-long career. In the 1950s, Martin was close friends with James Dean, and in more recent years he crossed paths with everyone from Entourage star Jerry Ferrara to actor Orlando Jones.
After Martin Landau’s death was announced, many of his co-stars and Actors Studio students hit social media to remember the man who made such a big impact on their careers. Ed Wood star Patricia Arquette remembered Landau as a “sweet, generous actor,” while Entourage star Jerry Ferrara said the late legend was “the definition of what a great actor is.” Orlando Jones revealed that Martin Landau took him under his wing.
In 2016, Martin Landau talked to the Los Angeles Times about his long career as a character actor and his ongoing work at the West Coast branch of the Actors Studio.
“I take the Friday session every week,” Landau said.
“The people whom I teach are teachers. What I am really doing is igniting something that’s going to stay.”
Landau also noted that getting into the Actors Studio was never an easy task. In fact, Landau and Steve McQueen were the only two admitted out of nearly 2,000 hopefuls who auditioned for the classes in 1955.
“Steve and I got in the same night,” said Landau.
Still, it wasn’t smooth sailing for the future legend. Landau revealed that early on, Actors Studio founder Lee Strasberg berated him in front of fellow Actors Studio members Geraldine Page, Marilyn Monroe, and Patricia Neal about his acting choices on a TV production. Landau said that in hindsight, the verbal beating was good for him because Strasberg taught him that a “certain actor’s arrogance is needed.”
Martin Landau also dropped the bombshell that he hadn’t been directed by anybody in decades, proving once and for all that he even taught the most respected Hollywood directors a thing or two.
“I haven’t been directed by anybody in probably 30 or 35 years, whether it be Francis Ford Coppola or Tim Burton,” Landau told the Times in 2016.
“I come in with stuff, and I have ideas. I think if they don’t like what I’m doing, they’ll say something. They don’t say anything. So I hit the mark, say the words and get the hell out of there.”
[Featured Image by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images for BFI]