EXCLUSIVE: By May 4, the cast and crew of Netflix’s The Fall of the House of Usher had moved on. It had been three weeks since star Frank Langella had been fired following an investigation into complaints of unacceptable behavior, and Bruce Greenwood had just been cast as his replacement. Then the incident returned to the headlines with Langella’s fiery guest column on Deadline, in which he portrayed himself as “collateral damage” and a victim of cancel culture which he called “not fair,” “not just” and “not American.”
The response to Langella’s column has not been uniform. He did receive support — some in Hollywood called his statement powerful and praised the Oscar-nominated actor for speaking up. The reaction among the cast and crew of The Fall of the House of Usher, meanwhile, has been largely that of shock, disbelief and anger, multiple sources tell Deadline, bringing back memories of Langella’s time on the show and the investigation that led to his dismissal. The column also sparked a debate about freedom of artistic expression versus appropriate workplace conduct and about generational culture clashes as social norms change and evolve.
Deadline interviewed a number of people on or close to the Netflix production who did not want to be named for this story. One word consistently used by virtually everyone when describing Langella’s behavior was “toxic” as they recalled inappropriate comments and behavior as well as “crass” jokes he allegedly made.
“There was a general sense of toxicity that followed him around,” one person working on the series said. “A lot of the cast and crew were very uncomfortable around Frank from the beginning.”
Reps for Netflix and Langella did not respond to requests for comment. In his column, Langella made it clear he did not agree with his termination. He has been meeting with attorneys and is said to be exploring legal action.
In the column, Langella, 84, describes in detail the incident he says was at the core of his dismissal. In his words, it involved a young actress who complained that he had touched her leg during a love scene in a way that had not been blocked by the intimacy coordinator.
While Netflix’s investigation was triggered by the touching complaint Langella talked about, the internal probe examined more than a dozen incidents and accusations over the course of several weeks, sources told Deadline. Other sources claim that the main part of the investigation played out over the 48 hours following the touching incident, and that complaint was one of a couple that ultimately were deemed actionable by Netflix.
In his column, Langella spoke about the investigation, describing “some of the allegations: 1. ‘He told an off-color joke.’ 2. ‘Sometimes he called me ‘baby’ or ‘honey.’” 3. ‘He’d give me a hug or touch my shoulder.’
People who worked with Langella on the Netflix series provided more detail about some of the incidents, which, according to sources, started in the first week of production.
“There were issues out of the gate with very inappropriate comments, some of which were incredibly sexual in nature, others that were graphic and misogynistic,” one person from the show said about Langella, stressing that the comments were “not jokes but shocking to pretty much anyone within earshot.”
Here are a few examples Deadline has been able to corroborate with multiple sources; the alleged incidents were part of the investigation, sources said.
Langella had the habit of “saying things randomly or loudly that were not scripted” during blocking or rehearsal, two people from the production told Deadline. (“When you are the leading actor, it requires, in my opinion, that you set an example by keeping the atmosphere light and friendly,” Langella wrote in his column.)
One scene involved a discussion about a character that had gone to the bar. “Frank added during the blocking, ‘And then she took all her clothes and f*cked the whole bar in front of the whole crew.’ No one laughed. There was no joke to set it up, it was just a thing he said,” an eyewitness told Deadline.
Langella also allegedly inquired about the body makeup applied on an actor playing a character that had been badly burnt, asking the person whether the makeup extended to his genitalia; if the fire had “burnt your d*ck?” “It was grossly inappropriate,” a source said.
Then there was a crude sex joke Langella allegedly told multiple times in front of crew members and staff about elderly people in a nursing home where a guy dumps a girlfriend because she has Parkinson’s and her hand shakes when she is holding his penis, multiple sources told Deadline.
Additionally, “he asked cast members about their sexual experiences,” a source at the production told Deadline. Added another: “He spoke graphically about his own sexual history to many people even as they were trying to get out of those conversations.”
People who have known Langella a long time are not particularly surprised, pointing to the actor’s 2012 memoir Dropped Names, which is full of tales of sexual escapades and dirty jokes. The New York Times called the book “satisfyingly scandalous” in its review, which was titled “Cheerful Debauchery.”
I hear the Fall of the House of Usher producers and Netflix got involved early on, asking Langella to change his behavior. The actor alluded to warnings from the series’ producers in his column. He wrote: “’You cannot do that, Frank,’ said our producer. ‘You can’t joke. You can’t compliment. You can’t touch. It’s a new order.”
While Langella would agree to make adjustments, he also accused those who tried to correct him of being “too uptight and woke,” a source from the show said. Langella echoed the “cancel culture” sentiment in his column, in which he questioned Netflix’s due process, insisting that he was not given a hearing prior to his termination.
In addition to sexually charged and explicit remarks, the use of racially insensitive “comments and jokes” by Langella also was the subject of Netflix’s investigation, several sources told Deadline.
As for the accusations Langella referred to in his column as “he’d give me a hug or touch my shoulder,” there were three allegations of inappropriate touching in a performance including the one that led to the investigation, multiple people from the show told Deadline. “They were not necessarily sexual scenes, but they were intimate in their own way; some were intimate familial,” one source said. Added another, “Actors would request sometimes that additional people be on set with them if they would share a scene with him, including people who requested an intimacy coordinator even if a scene did not seem too intimate; there was sense of distrust and boundaries violation.”
In his column, Langella called the standard practice of careful choreographing love scenes by intimacy coordinators “absurd!,” claiming that “it undermines instinct and spontaneity.”
In a separate incident, “in at least one case a non-sexual physical contact was made with a makeup artist where he smacked them out of the way, that was very upsetting,” an insider told Deadline. Other sources suggested that Langella had asked repeatedly for special effects work on him to be paused and ultimately gestured at the makeup artist trying to protect himself. Whoever has read Edgar Allan Poe’s short story on which the Netflix series is based knows that the character Langella was playing, Roderick Usher, has a specific appearance that requires heavy makeup.
As Netflix’s investigation went on with new incidents and witnesses surfacing, tension grew as cast and crew felt like nothing would come out it, Deadline was told. When Langella was fired, “there was a profound relief bordering on jubilation among cast and crew,” a source from the show said.
The Fall of the House of Usher is in production for a possible 2023 premiere on Netflix.