Much as they complain about typecasting, every actor needs a niche, and Wallace Langham believes he’s found his. ”I don’t think I’ll ever be cast as a leading man,” says the 32-year-old actor. ”But I’m very content playing people everybody knows: ‘Oh, there’s that smart little a–hole.”’
Fortunately for Langham, not all smart little a–holes are alike. Phil, the super-cynical writer Langham plays on HBO’s The Larry Sanders Show, and Josh, his uptight assistant on Kirstie Alley’s new NBC sitcom, Veronica’s Closet, are polar opposites. ”Josh dresses much better than Phil,” says Langham. ”So I know when I have the really nice Banana Republic shirt on, I’m Josh.”
There’s one other tiny difference: Though he hasn’t come out of the Closet yet, Josh is assumed to be homosexual. Phil, on the other hand, ”is a raging heterosexual,” says Langham. So, too, is the actor (he has two kids, Alex, 8, and Chloe, 6, with actress Laura Langham). But that didn’t stop him from taking TV’s most prominent potentially gay role since Ellen: ”[Director] Jimmy Burrows said to me, ‘Just play it completely straight,’ and that’s what I tried to do.”
Langham’s been playing it straight for nearly 20 years. The Fort Worth native became a child actor after his mother moved to Hollywood in the mid-’70s to work as an assistant costume designer for the Donny and Marie show. ”One of my most horrifying experiences was helping my mom carry some shoes into Marie’s dressing room,” recalls Langham. ”I had the hugest crush on her. She turned around, and she didn’t have any makeup on, and it was like the Phantom of the Opera at the organ.”
Langham wasn’t entirely scared off from showbiz. He played small parts in the ’80s flicks Weird Science and Soul Man. But after the much-hyped CBS newsroom drama WIOU, on which Langham had a regular role, was canceled in 1991, he didn’t work for a year. ”I was literally eight hours away from opening a coffee shop,” says Langham. ”Thank God I didn’t — a Starbucks opened right around the corner.”
Landing the part on Sanders broke his bad-luck streak. Now that he’s got two steady sitcom roles, Langham’s only dilemma is finding enough time to sleep. Even Sanders boss Garry Shandling doesn’t mind his costar’s moonlighting. ”Garry told me a funny script idea where Phil gets a second job,” says Langham. ”You can’t talk about any kind of problem with Garry, because he’ll steal it and put it on the show.” We should all have such problems.