November, 1993

Brandon Judell

“To market, to market, to buy a fat pig, home again, home again, jiggety-jig.” – Anonymous

Well, finally there’s a piece of kosher pork that’s turned the tables around. Leon the Pig Farmer (directed by Vadim Jean and Gary Sinyor, and written by Sinyor and Michael Normand) has been popping up at film markets and festivals around the world, and being bought up like mad. And why not?

Just imagine a tale about a nice kosher chap, Leon Geller, who has nightmares about lobsters, ham sandwiches and other things trayf. But before we go on, there are certain Yiddish terms you must be familiar with: a) ferblunjit (fer-BLUN-jit) means mixed up, b) fercockta (fer-KAHKT-uh) means fu**ed up, c) fermisht (fer-MISHT) means very mixed up, d) ferpachkit (fer-PAH-kit) means extremely mixed up and e) mit fremde hent iz gut feier tsu sharen, means it’s good to poke the fire with someone else’s hand. Anyway, Leon, who’s played by the gorgeous Mark Frankel, discovers one day that his mother was artificially inseminated because his father has a low sperm count. Then he discovers that the sperm bank made a mistake, and used a pig farmer’s spermatozoa instead of his dad’s to get his mom pregnant. So in fact, his dad is not really his dad, and the Gentile girl who’s dating him only because he’s Jewish might drop him if she finds out, and… Well, you get the idea, maybe…

Brandon Judell: Were you upset when Benny Hill died?

Mark Frankel: That was a shock. We were brought up on Benny Hill. It was like Benny Hill was Saturday Night Live. I’d sit with my dad, holding his hand, watching Benny Hill. That’s how I was brought up.

BJ: So Leon the Pig Farmer (Cinevista) is your first major feature film?

MF: Yes, my first feature – my first picture, period.

BJ: All the women I’ve talked to who’ve seen Leon were wild over you. You’re sort of a sex-symbol-on-the-make. I didn’t see that until about two-thirds into Leon, when you’re making love to Maryam d’Abo. Now, here in person, you’re stunning. But women saw your appeal, your charisma, right away. How does this work?

MF: (In a sexy, Cary Grant delivery) I li-i-i-ke you. I don’t know. I think probably what it is, is more Leon than me. There is definitely a vulnerable quality to him, and I think that’s something women are tapping into. I don’t think they’re tapping into Mark Frankel.

Ondine (one of the film’s publicists): They’re tapping into you.

MF: It’s very flattering to hear that. My mother loves the film. It’ll be interesting to see how it goes down with the general American public.

BJ: England is known for its anti-Semitism, and there’s another new British film out dealing with the same subject, called Century. I can’t think of many other Brit flicks dealing with Judaism. How did you feel when you read the script?

MF: I first read it just as a comedy. It really takes a lot for me to laugh. I go to movies, and I think they’re funny, but I don’t actually, vocally, laugh. Leon made me laugh out loud off the page. That was very exciting. It’s definitely the first Jewish comedy in England – and that definitely makes it quite unique. You said there’s anti-Semitism in England. I don’t really think there is a great deal. I think we have so many other major problems and issues…

BJ: You mean the English now hate other people much more than the Jews?

MF: (Laughs) Yes, that’s right.

BJ: Have any Jewish groups been upset with the film?

MF: I personally have not met anyone who’s been upset by it, but I know that there are some people who apparently have been in England. A very few, but to me, the one thing that Jews have always been able to do is to laugh at themselves, and if we can’t crack a joke… I don’t think Gary and Michael wrote the script with any intention apart from making a very funny film. Even the scene on the cross, it was so mild. Anyone who takes that personally, Orthodox or Hasidic Jews, or whatever, I think that’s kind of ridiculous.

BJ: So, no theater owners have been complaining about matzo ball stains on their screens?

MF: No. No. No. No. No. The film went down very well in England. People love the film.

BJ: Has your star quality rating risen in England because of the film? Are you getting many more scripts?

MF: Yes, definitely. My career has been very strange. Immediately after I came out of drama school, I went straight into a play. A play in a tiny pub which seated 40 people. Within three weeks of doing this, I was offered the role of Michelangelo in this 20 million dollar film shot in Italy. An American director had come over to England to try and find Michelangelo. He found me in this pub. I then went to Italy for five months to film. That was shown in a few countries, and on TNT in America. Then I came back for a few weeks, and I went off and did Young Catherine, also for TNT. So I was filming almost non-stop for a couple of years, and nothing had ever been seen in England. No one had even heard of me except people within the business. They knew exactly who I was, but they didn’t know if I could act, except from drama school, because we do lots of public performances. Then there was Leon. So suddenly, the people became almost instantly aware of who I was. Leon has just been bought by British TV, and it will be shown in a year and a half. And now they’re talking about buying Sisters, which is a series I do here. (Jokingly) Yeah, definitely now everyone

[in England] knows who I am.

BJ: So now maybe some of the groupies of the Bros and U2 will start following you.

MF: Yeah, I’d like to think so.

BJ: So far people haven’t been hanging around your hotel room?

MF: No. No. It hasn’t gotten that bad. My dry cleaner told me the other day that she’d seen Leon and thought it was really funny. She had no idea that I was an actor.

BJ: Did you have to autograph your stub?

MF: Yeah, I gave her an old pair of underpants.

BJ: How did you get cast in Sisters?

MF: I finished filming Leon, and I thought maybe I should go to the States, and actually go to L.A., because I had never been to L.A. I filmed all these things abroad, and they’d been shown here, and I’d never been to that side. Well, I had just done my first lead in a movie. Maybe I should pitch up, so I did. My agents there… they’re very good agents, they just sent me around to all the studios. I walked into Warner Brothers, and they had this character that they wanted to develop. And that’s how it all came about. I met the producers, then I flew back to England, they made an offer, and I flew back out.

BJ: So did you rent a place in Los Angeles, or do you have an estate yet?

MF: No, I rent a place. And estate? No, I got a 40-acre ranch in Bel Air. Maintenance is enourmous. No, I rent an apartment in L.A. when I’m there. I tend to rent the same one. I’m going back now.

BJ: So is it barren? What did you bring from England so you wouldn’t get homesick? Just a few books?

MF: I brought quite a lot. I brought trunks. I came to L.A. for 10 days. I went back, and they said, “Can you come out in two weeks?” I said, “For how long?” They said, “Nine months.” So I said, “Oh boy!” I wasn’t sure about it. I was tired. I really wanted to do this role because this character was sort of like Bruce Wayne without the Batman side. So I basically took everything I could carry. I took a lot of books – everything that I needed.

BJ: Now with Sisters, you’re getting American wages, so even if you never act again, you’ll be getting residuals.

MF: Um, yeah. (Whispers) You want to know how much I’m making, right? (Laughs)

BJ: I’d never ask. But this money must be a big change in your life.

MF: Yeah, you definitely cannot compare American wages with British wages – at least not for television – although things are changing for me now. With Leon out, I’ve just done a three-hour murder mystery for British TV. It was sort of comparable, because my profile’s raised. So things have changed. It is very different, and obviously there are residuals from Sisters, which is very nice. But I certainly don’t do it for the money.

BJ: In Sisters, who do you play against most?

MF: Most of the time – well, certainly for the first half a dozen episodes – I really had no contact with anybody apart from Sela Ward. She’s just done The Fugitive with Harrison Ford. Then I was kind of introduced to the rest of the family. But only really with the other sisters, because the character is this recluse who almost never goes out of his apartment. He works and lives there. He functions completely in isolation, apart from some servants. It’s quite intriguing.

BJ: Do you hang around with Sela?

MF: Yeah, I socialize a little bit with the girls. We go out to dinner occasionally.

BJ: Swoozie Kurtz is known to be crazy and wild.

MF: Swoozie is very funny. She’s great fun to be with, and a real professional. She never ceases to amaze me. Every week at the read-through, she can deliver a world-class performance.

BJ: Are you lonely in L.A.? Did you have to break up a relationship to come to America?

MF: No, I managed to keep a serious long-distance relationship going. I use New York as a sort of meeting point, and we actually meet in a hotel in New York. We don’t speak sometimes for days, and we make arrangements to meet in this hotel. We don’t speak until we meet in the bar at this hotel. I do that in London, as well, which makes it real exciting. Sometimes I can’t come… even if I’ve got a week off, it’s just too impractical to go all the way back to London. I say, “You come half-way, and I’ll go half-way.” And so we meet here. I was doing that a lot last year, which is exciting.

BJ: Have you pursued any of Los Angeles’ crazy night life, or are you too tired after a day’s shooting?

MF: I’ll be honest with you. I’m not big on night life. I tent to go to bed incredibly late… but I’m normally doing things by myself. Cooking at home. I really enjoy going out to eat a lot. I really enjoy good food and good restaurants, but I have experienced sort of the dangerous side of L.A. It’s not my cup of tea, to be honest with you.

BJ: So what will the future of England be? Will Prime Minister Major last much longer?

MF: I don’t know. I’m not really a great fan of Major. I’m into people with charisma, dynamic people. He’s very gray. I don’t know. England’s in a bit of a state, but then there are not many countries that aren’t.

BJ: Well, maybe Britain will emulate your career, and be on an upswing.

MF: Thanks very much.