Healthy living is integral to this actress
and producer’s personal life AND craft.
By Allan Richter
Juliet Landau’s directorial debut was anything but ordinary. She was hired to direct a short behind-the-scenes documentary about a music video that actor Gary Oldman was making. The video was for the Jewish hip hop band Chutzpah and was shot with cellphone cameras. Following her artistic instincts, Landau turned the project into a film about Oldman’s creative process.
When Landau showed the finished film to Oldman, the actor had only one production note for her, to shift a sound cue. Oldman delighted in the playful side of him that the film, “Take Flight,” showed and that audiences used to his often hard-edged characters seldom saw. Oldman’s receptive reaction was reward for Landau’s penchant for celebrating artistic and individual expression and months of film work. “I had a lot of footage, watched everything three times and, with my editor, edited this whole piece together,” Landau recalls.
Landau’s work behind the camera, as well as her acting onstage and on screen, tend to garner positive reviews. “The wildly gifted Juliet Landau plays Dru like an acid-addled cross between Ophelia and Cassandra,” The New York Times, referencing Shakespeare and Greek mythology, wrote of Landau’s vampire character Drusilla in the television series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and its spinoff “Angel.”
And, reviewing a staging of “Danny & the Deep Blue Sea,” the Los Angeles Times observed that Landau inhabited the role of the downtrodden and tough Roberta, “at once scabrous and delicate, to hilarious and touching effect.” Landau and her husband co-produced the show as well.
Landau’s family is something of a creative Hollywood dynasty. Her husband Deverill Weekes, with whom she formed the production company Miss Juliet Productions, is a sought-after cinematographer. And her parents are the veteran actors Martin Landau and Barbara Bain. She shares her mother’s beauty, notably her high cheekbones and steely blue eyes.
Landau spoke with us from her Los Angeles home about her life-saving love of her husband, her background as a professional dancer and how her art and healthy lifestyle in Hollywood fuel each other.
Energy Times: How does exercise help your acting, and what is your exercise routine?
Juliet Landau: I find exercising keeps me balanced emotionally. I always feel centered when I’m stretching. All thoughts and mental chatter peel away. Working out helps me dispel excess energy and helps me feel invigorated. I often get creative ideas while moving. I don’t know if it’s from having been a dancer, but inspiration very often strikes me at the gym. I can learn dialogue smoothly when I’m moving. It seems to sort of fly into my head and stick. I don’t know if it’s the rhythmic aspect or what, but I do a lot of work while moving. Even sometimes when I’m home working on dialogue or working on a character I find myself moving around the room and talking to myself.
I stretch every day, and I do weights every other day. I do cardio pretty much every day, and cardio, if I go to the gym, consists of the bike, the elliptical and the stairs. I also like hiking. Los Angeles has wonderful places to do that. I bring a notebook to a workout, and often I’ll have whatever script I’m working on, or a copy, and I’ll jot furiously. Often when you’re working on something there’s one little piece that’s a bit elusive, and sometimes that piece will come to me in those moments.
ET: Can you give me an example of a role that you were enlightened about while exercising?
JL: Sometimes with a role there will be one particular scene that is not making sense, and very often that’s the scene that liberates the entire character once you kind of figure out what it is that’s making that little bump that you can’t quite figure out.
I remember when I was cast in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and working on the character Drusilla, who had a very specific physicality. In the beginning my character was weak and dying, and then I got renewed strength. For the first sort of “floaty” way that my character moved I remember getting an idea when I was at the gym, a certain posture, and a feral aspect to the character, where when she was about to get aggressive she’d sort of tilt her head downward. I remember getting a piece of that while I was moving around at the gym.
ET: How does your background as a dancer manifest itself in your acting?
JL: The physicality of a character is so integral. When you watch people, the way they carry themselves, the way they move through space, it tells you so much about them. I am always fascinated by that particular element. I did a play last year, which John McNaughton directed, called “Danny & the Deep Blue Sea,” a John Patrick Shanley play. My husband and I co-produced it. We were supposed to run six weeks and we ended up running for six months. It was an amazing experience; incredible awards and reviews.
But as for the nature of the character, the character was a tougher character, Bronx-bred, with a lot of weight in my heels and my hips. It was just a different way of moving than I typically would move. She’s a character with a lot of bravado, but she comes from an abusive background so she carries a lot of pain as well—on the outside one thing, but on the inside quite another. It’s also a wildly funny play, as well as having deep, touching material.
Before that, my husband and I put together a two-evening reading of “A Streetcar Named Desire” for the centennial of Tennessee Williams’ birth. We did it as a fundraiser and raised a lot of money for the charity Equality Now, whose mission is to achieve legal and systematic change that addresses violence and discrimination against women and girls around the world. It’s an incredible organization.
I also work with the Sophie Lancaster Foundation. Sophie and her boyfriend were viciously attacked while they were walking home in Manchester [in the United Kingdom] just because of what they looked like. They looked goth, but not extremely so. Sophie was this incredible spirit who protected her boyfriend during the attack. By cradling and shielding him, she saved his life while the mob kicked her to death. Her mom founded this organization as a legacy to her daughter, and its aim is to provide education about prejudice and tolerance, and to make changes in hate crime legislation. Individuality and creativity should be nurtured, not brutalized.
ET: That’s a powerful issue that would move anyone with a soul to action, but is there something more that resonated with you about Sophie’s story?
JL: There actually is. With Sophie, I did a movie in South Africa [in 2012] and my husband got very ill there. Luckily everything worked out, but he got food poisoning and it went into his bloodstream and he went into septic shock. He was in the ICU for three days, and it was really touch and go. They were not sure he was going to make it at all because his organs started to shut down. It was the most horrific experience ever. We made it through that experience, and he really credits me for the way we came through it together. We had just gone through that experience right before finding out about Sophie, and were really touched by Sophie and her love and care for her boyfriend.
ET: It was almost a parallel experience, though the situations were different.
JL: It was a different situation. I had pressure from production. On a movie set they’re always trying to get you to come back to work. I knew that the schedule was such that hopefully everything would be okay, that they could flop some stuff and I could honor my commitment to the film. It was a movie called “Where the Road Runs Out,” and I play an English missionary who runs an orphanage in Africa. There was the pressure of, “Well, could you come for a little bit.” And I was, “No, I really need to be here 24/7.”
Most importantly my husband was ill, and there was nowhere else I was ever going to be but by my husband’s side and doing everything I could possibly do for him to come through it. It was really dicey, and we had a lot of moments where it was me saying, “I need you to stay here with me”
and “Fight with everything you can,” and he did. Some of those moments he actually felt himself going above his body and thinking it might be easier to just let go. Every time that happened was when I talked to him, I could feel that that was happening and I wanted to anchor him to fight. So, yeah, we were touched by the experience they went through, but Sophie wasn’t so fortunate to make it through.
ET: Earlier you mentioned that you stretch every day. What’s the correct way to stretch to avoid injury?
JL: You basically don’t force anything. It’s all about gravity doing its work and letting the weight give you the stretch rather than pushing anything. It’s also all about breathing and letting your breath go through your entire body. That’s one of the reasons it’s really centering to do it. Same thing with yoga; it’s very breath-based.
ET: What’s your approach to food and diet?
JL: I eat healthy food. Ever since I was little, I’ve gotten extremely nauseous if I eat butter, cream, coconut or too much olive oil. So the food I eat is pretty lean and not oily. I love to eat, but I definitely eat a healthy diet. I also take the Nature’s Plus Source of Life Multivitamin every day. Then I take Y Cramp as well, which has been helpful for me with migraines and menstrual cramps. The Nature’s Plus GI Natural Digestion Perfection really helped a lot when I came back from South Africa, because I had food poisoning as well, and so did the director of the film, nothing near what my husband had. I also take vitamin C.
I would typically eat oatmeal for breakfast, sometimes with strawberries or a banana. I’ll eat a large salad and soup for lunch, any kind of vegetable puree or lentil soup, sometimes chicken soup.
Sometimes I’ll have fruit in salads as well. Then dinner would be a pasta or a vegetable curry, a turkey burger patty, a beef burger patty or chicken breasts with vegetable and potato. I love Indian food, Thai food, I love Japanese food, Italian food, not oily Mexican food. And I’m really fortunate because my husband loves to cook. He loves making curries and pasta sauces. He’s vegan, but he is completely happy and comfortable to cook, meat, fish or chicken for me.
ET: Have your diets been consistent since the beginning of your relationship, or have they evolved?
JL: He says that he’s gotten much healthier since we’ve been together. I teased him when we first met; I said he was the only non-vegetable eating vegan that I ever knew. He ate a lot of kind of starchy, fried food, and now he eats really healthy. He eats lots of salads, vegetables, lots of fruit. He’s a cinematographer and a still photographer, and he used to forget to eat. He would go for long hours on a shoot, be starved afterwards and then eat stuff that was not particularly good for you. Now he eats really regularly.
When we first got together he gained, I’d say, 15 pounds because I eat a lot. Nobody ever believes it until they hang out with me. They say, “Look at her, she eats like a man.” So he came up with this slogan: “You don’t do drugs with Keith Richards and you don’t eat with Juliet.” I’m fortunate in that I have one of those metabolisms that’s worked for me. I joke that I walk across a room and I’m hungry.
ET: What are the big lessons you’ve learned from your parents?
JL: In terms of what I do, the thing that was imparted to me was to concern myself with the work. There’s a lot of stuff on the business end that isn’t necessarily the most fun or the most lovely at times. I feel fortunate to get up every day and do what I love to do. Not everybody gets to do that. Creativity was nurtured in our house. We sort of played acting games. Everyone in my family is keenly observant, so their outlook on the world and the way they see things and point out things about people and the way people behave was always part of the conversation.