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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Landau Explains the Mafia to Moscow

Despite being a former top member of the IMF, Martin Landau has never been to Russia before. The Oscar-winning actor played Rollin Hand of the Impossible Mission Forces in the Cold War television series "Mission Impossible," but it's the original godfather that has brought him to the Moscow film festival.

Thirty-odd years after he was pitted against world evil, Landau arrived in Moscow last Saturday for a weeklong visit promoting his latest work, "Bonanno: A Godfather's Story."

"It's the godfather for real, without embellishments," the 68-year-old actor said in an interview Tuesday.

In "Mission Impossible" he was famous for his ability to switch guises, but now Landau's magnetically expressive face doesn't really need anything extra. With his large frame hunched into the chair, Landau rapidly begins telling of his latest project while intermittently puffing on a slim cigarette.

In the title role of Bonanno, Landau plays one of the original Mafia bosses in a movie that premiered on HBO last Saturday. It's a role that Landau would have never got near15 or 20 years ago. Despite the fame of three seasons in "Mission Impossible" and as Commander John Koenig in "Space:1999," Landau wandered through a series of barely noticed roles in the 1970s and 1980s.

Before the television series typecast him, Landau had been an actor aimed for the top. When he was 22, he gave up his job as a cartoonist at the New York Daily News to audition for Lee Strasberg's Actors' Studio. He beat out nearly 2,000 other actors to win a place. The only other applicant accepted was Steve McQueen. Six years later he was starring in Alfred Hitchcock's "North by Northwest."

It wasn't until Francis Ford Coppola chose him to play businessman Abe Karatz in "Tucker: The Man and his Dream" in 1988 that he was propelled into the limelight again and to a nomination for an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor.

A year later he was nominated for his role as Judith Rosenthal in Woody Allen's "Crimes and Misdemeanors." He lost both times before winning in 1994. Landau has likened the period of B-movie overdose to a baseball player with a leaden bat, just waiting for the chance to hit a home run.

To research his role as Bonanno, Landau visited the man himself, who is in his early 90s and still living well.

"It's fascinating," Landau said. "He's the last one."

The last one alive from a time where the Mafia held far much more control over politicians - Joseph Kennedy, father of President John F. Kennedy, was a close associate.

"When he phoned Roosevelt he got through," said Landau, who is certain that the movie will show in Russia after the festival visit.

Bonanno even confided in Landau - although Landau didn't pass on the confidence - who really killed Kennedy and said that if he had still been in charge it wouldn't have happened.

"He's gentle, smart," Landau said. "You had to be."

Landau arrived in Russia from playing the role of Gepetto in the sequel to "The Adventures of Pinocchio" in Luxembourg.

"I've been everywhere. That's why I've come here," he said.

"It's much nicer than I expected. I thought of it as gray and unfriendly but there's wide boulevards, pastel buildings, the people are no different from any other place. They're not dour or miserable."

"And," he said, emphasizing the point three or four times, "the women are very beautiful ... really beautiful."