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Madrid City in English
Saturday 25th of November 2017
Rachel Morgan 1306 30th of May 2013 by editor 30th of May 2013
Frank Langella and Jake Schreier
Robot & Frank… and Jake

Rachel Morgan catches first-time director Jake Schreier on his recent visit to Madrid to find out about his highly acclaimed debut, Robot & Frank, starring Frank Langella and Susan Sarandon

Jake Schreier looks out of the window of the InterContinental Hotel in downtown Madrid, disappointed by the constant springtime drizzle. He shifts in his seat to get comfortable, and disregarding the depressing weather, he eagerly begins to answer questions about his first full-length film, Robot & Frank (Un amigo para Frank). It has an extensive list of stars, such as Frank Langella, James Marsden, Liv Tyler and Susan Sarandon. However, Schreier did not let that fact daunt him. “We only had 20 days to shoot,” he explains. “You don’t really have time to be intimidated.”
    The principle character, Frank (Frank Langella), is an elderly man, beginning to suffer from senility yet trying to get through his daily life, living alone in the near-future in upstate New York. His only respite is the local library and its librarian (Susan Sarandon). Hunter (James Marsden), Frank’s son, decides to buy his father a robot caretaker, much to the old man’s dismay. However, the robot soon grows on Frank because it helps him access part of his past that he has not visited for many years: he was formerly a jewel thief.
    The movie won the Sundance Film Festival award for the theme of science and technology, albeit Robot & Frank is not exclusively sci-fi, as Schreier and Ford delicately stir drama into the plot as well, and particularly comedy. “It’s not really genre-less, but it is kind of a mix of genres,” Schreier says. “I always think if you make people laugh you’ll get more of an impact when you want them to feel something deeper.”

The voice
The relationship between Frank and his robot, voiced by Peter Sarsgaard, has a very calculated dynamic, playing with emotion and guardedness. “[Sarsgaard] recorded his entire character in eight hours. He’s someone who has such a wonderful tenderness to his voice, we thought he’d be great, and even though we were going to reduce the performance to someone really monotone, we’d still get a certain amount of emotion.” Schreier reveals that all of the robot lines were printed on one piece of paper. “He just read through them in a row without interacting with the characters on screen,” he smiles. Although Langella and Sarsgaard did not work together face-to-face, they were able to cultivate a believable relationship on screen. Schreier praises Langella’s performance, mentioning, “He’s such a good actor. Sometimes the robot wasn’t there; sometimes the robot’s head was on a stick. It made absolutely no difference to him.”
    Schreier and Ford have certainly not created the robot as a traditional figure. “We wanted to make a movie where [the robot] didn’t magically have a heart and also it didn’t want to kill us all,” he explains bluntly. “It was just a robot and it was more about what we bring to that relationship, how it affects us and affects the characters involved in the film. Even though it’s very advanced and we want to think of it as a human, it’s following its own set of logic and that logic doesn’t change.”

Past and future   
In creating their vision of the future, Frank’s robot has a great impact on the lives of the residents of upstate New York, a much less tech-savvy area than the grand New York City. “I think part of the idea is that Frank lives in this very rural environment in upstate New York,” explains Schreier. “The idea was to do something in a future in which you still feel a lot of the past, and that the robot would be the biggest incursion of the future onto that world.”
    There’s a nod to Spanish medieval literature, as Don Quixote is the book that Frank decides to steal from the library. “It’s not our most subtle choice,” Scheier chuckles. “You’ve got an old man, tilting at windmills, and he’s got a sidekick, so we thought it’d be good.” Hopefully, the film will be as well-received in Spain as it was in the USA. “I didn’t know the film would play anywhere except my living room,” Schreier laughs. “Anything beyond that is an honour for us.”

Robot & Frank is out now. For Rachel Morgan’s review, see www.inmadrid.com/magazine/regular-sections/movies/robot-frank-un-amigo-p...

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