To Be Frankel
Written by Brandon Judell
Photography by James White
To market, to market, to buy a fat pig,
home again, home
Well, finally thereís a piece of kosher pork thatís 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 itís good to poke the fire with
someone elseís hand. Anyway, Leon, whoís 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 farmerís spermatozoa instead of his dadís to get his mom
pregnant. So in fact, his dad is not really his dad, and the Gentile girl whoís
dating him only because heís 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. Iíd sit with my dad, holding his
hand, watching Benny Hill. Thatís how I was brought up.
BJ: So Leon the Pig Farmer (Cinevista) is your first major feature
MF: Yes, my first feature -- my first picture, period.
All the women Iíve talked to whoíve seen Leon were wild over you. Youíre sort
of a sex-symbol-on-the-make. I didnít see that until about two-thirds into Leon,
when youíre making love to Maryam díAbo. Now, here in person, youíre stunning.
But women saw your appeal, your charisma, right away. How does this work?
(In a sexy, Cary Grant delivery) I li-i-i-ke you. I donít know. I think
probably what it is, is more Leon than me. There is definitely a vulnerable
quality to him, and I think thatís something women are tapping into. I donít
think theyíre tapping into Mark Frankel.
Ondine (one of the filmís publicists): Theyíre tapping into you.
Itís very flattering to hear that. My mother loves the film. Itíll be
interesting to see how it goes down with the general American public.
BJ: England is known for its anti-Semitism, and thereís another new British
film out dealing with the same subject, called Century. I canít think of
many other Brit flicks dealing with Judaism. How did you feel when you read the
I first read it just as a comedy. It really takes a lot for me to laugh. I
go to movies, and I think theyíre funny, but I donít actually, vocally, laugh.
Leon made me laugh out loud off the page. That was very exciting. Itís
definitely the first Jewish comedy in England -- and that definitely makes it
quite unique. You said thereís anti-Semitism in England. I donít really think
there is a great deal. I think we have so many other major problems and issues.
You mean the English now hate other people much more than the Jews?
(Laughs) Yes, thatís right.
Have any Jewish groups been upset with the film?
I personally have not met anyone whoís 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 canít crack a joke. . .I donít 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 thatís kind of ridiculous.
So no theater owners have been complaining about matzo ball stains on their
No. No. No. No. No. The film went down very well in England. People love
Has your star quality rating risen in England because of the film? Are you
getting many more scripts?
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 didnít 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 theyíre talking about
buying Sisters, which is a series I do here. (Jokingly) Yeah, definitely
now everyone [in England] knows who I am.
So now maybe some of the groupies of the Bros and U2 will start following
Yeah, Iíd like to think so.
So far people havenít been hanging around your hotel room?
No. No. It hasnít gotten that bad. My dry cleaner told me the other day
that sheíd seen Leon and thought it was really funny. She had no idea
that I was an actor.
Did you have to autograph your stub?
Yeah, I gave her an old pair of underpants.
How did you get cast in Sisters?
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 theyíd been shown here, and Iíd 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. . .theyíre 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 thatís how it all came about. I met the
producers, then I flew back to England, they made an offer, and I flew back
So did you rent a place in Los Angeles, or do you have an estate yet?
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 Iím there. I tend
to rent the same one. Iím going back now.
So is it barren? What did you bring from England so you wouldnít get
homesick? Just a few books?
I brought quite a lot. I brought trunks. I came to L.A. for 10 days. I
went back, and they said, ďCan you come out in two weeks?Ē I said, ďFor how
long?Ē They said, ďNine months.Ē So I said, ďOh boy!Ē I wasnít 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.
Now with Sisters, youíre getting American wages, so even if you never
act again, youíll be getting residuals.
Um, yeah. (Whispers) You want to know how much Iím making, right?
Iíd never ask. But this money must be a big change in your life.
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, Iíve just done a three-hour murder mystery for British TV. It
was sort of comparable, because my profileís raised. So things have changed. It
is very different, and obviously there are residuals from Sisters, which is very
nice. But I certainly donít do it for the money.
In Sisters, who do you play against most?
Most of the time -- well, certainly for the first half a dozen episodes --
I really had no contact with anybody apart from Sela Ward. Sheís 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.
Itís quite intriguing.
Do you hang around with Sela?
Yeah, I socialize a little bit with the girls. We go out to dinner
Swoozie Kurtz is known to be crazy and wild.
Swoozie is very funny. Sheís 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.
Are you lonely in L.A.? Did you have to break up a relationship to come to
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 donít speak sometimes for days, and we make arrangements to meet in
this hotel. We donít speak until we meet in the bar at this hotel. I do that in
London, as well, which makes it real exciting. Sometimes I canít come. . .even
if Iíve got a week off, itís just too impractical to go all the way back to
London. I say, ďYou come half-way, and Iíll go half-way.Ē And so we meet here. I
was doing that a lot last year, which is exciting.
Have you pursued any of Los Angelesí crazy night life, or are you too tired
after a dayís shooting?
Iíll be honest with you. Iím not big on night life. I tend to go to bed
incredibly late. . .but Iím 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. Itís not
my cup of tea, to be honest with you.
So what will the future of England be? Will Prime Minister Major last much
I donít know. Iím not really a great fan of Major. Iím into people with
charisma, dynamic people. Heís very gray. I donít know. Englandís in a bit of a
state, but then there are not many countries that arenít.
Well, maybe Britain will emulate your career, and be on an upswing.
Thanks very much.
Credits: Photography: James White for Shooting Star, LA; Styling: Gus
Romero for Oz, NYC; Grooming: Paul Podlucky for Pierre Michel Salon at Trump
Tower; Clothing, Pictures 1, 2, & 3: by Calvin Klein; Clothing, Picture 4:
shirt by Paul Smith, T-shirt by The Gap. Interview conducted by Brandon Judell.
© 1993, Detour Magazine.
Contributed by Julie Orlando