A role that could become 'Golden'

Audiences in Orange County perhaps best know actor Hal Landon Jr. as the mainstay of South Coast Repertory Theater Co.'s annual production of "A Christmas Carol."

The veteran of the SCR stage, who was one of the company's founding members in the 1960s, just wrapped up his 32nd yearly turn since 1980 as Ebenezer Scrooge.

In this latest run as the miser reborn on Christmas Day as a generous and gregarious Englishman, the 70-year-old Landon even performed his signature "hat trick" on at least one occasion in front of a live audience.

Over the years, the thespian has delighted audiences by performing the stunt, in which a bareheaded Scrooge, rejuvenated with the yuletide spirit, puts on his hat by somersaulting over his bed.

Now, at a cinema near you, Landon wears a different kind of hat, a bicorne or two-cornered one worn by Napoleon Bonaparte. He makes an appearance as an actor playing Napoleon in the Golden Globe-nominated "The Artist."

"The Artist" is up for six Golden Globes on Sunday, including Best Picture and Best Actor, and is being touted in the press as a contender for the 84th Academy Awards.

Although his is a bit part in the film by French director Michel Hazanavicius — an homage to Hollywood at the twilight of the age of silent pictures — Landon could have a sliver of glory if the film wins Hollywood gold during the 2011-12 award season.

SCR theatrical roles dominate Landon's resume. He also has a long list of TV credits and about a dozen film credits to his name. His roles have included appearances in the movies "Eraserhead" (1977), "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" (1989) and "Pacific Heights" (1990).

As Landon described it in an interview, in "The Artist" he appears on screen while "filming a film within the film." He plays the part of a conceited Shakespearean actor playing the role of Napoleon on the set of a Hollywood silent film.

"Napoleon" (Landon) encounters George Valentin (played by Frenchman Jean Dujardin), who is one of the main characters of "The Artist" and plays a heartthrob film star from the age of silent pictures.

The experience of acting in a silent film was no different than acting in a conventional film, because he still had to speak his one line while on the set, Landon said.

He had been invited to read for two of the film's butler roles, including the one for which actor James Cromwell ultimately was cast, but the prospect of playing an actor playing Napoleon came as a surprise.

"I was kind of confused because you think of Napoleon as short and dumpy, and I am tall and thin," Landon recalled.


Twitter: @ImranVittachi

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