Martin Landau, as Leonard, in North By Northwest.
"I chose to play Leonard as a gay character. It was quite a big risk in cinema at the time. My logic was simply that he wanted to get rid of Eva Marie Saint with such a vengeance, so it made sense for him to be in love with his boss, Vandamm, played by James Mason. Every one of my friends thought I was crazy, but Hitchcock liked it. A good director makes a playground and allows you to play." -Martin Landau.
It was in 1959 that he caught his big break, when Alfred Hitchcock spotted him acting opposite Edward G. Robinson in the Broadway hit Middle Of The Night and subsequently cast him as villain Phillip Vandamm’s sinister secretary Leonard in his ground-breaking thriller North By Northwest.
Hitchcock’s use of characters who are either coded as queer or made as explicitly attracted to their sex as contemporary censorship could allow is a well-known and still-controversial element of the Master of Suspense’s cinematic storytelling. In this particular case, it was Martin Landau himself who decided to play Leonard as a closeted homosexual in love with his boss and jealous of his mistress; supposedly, one of the film’s most delightfully subversive lines – “Call it my woman’s intuition, if you will.” – which Leonard says while discussing his suspicions of Eve Kendall’s duplicity, was added by screenwriter Ernest Lehman after conferring with Landau. It proved an astute choice: although the character’s implied homosexuality is used to amplify the sexual threat posed by his tall lean features, soft voice and suggestive body language, it also adds depth to what could otherwise have been a fairly simple henchman role and further humanizes Leonard as arguably the only character in the film with a strong consistent allegiance to someone other than himself.