October 24, 1947– Kevin Kline:
“I vowed I would never do a commercial, or a soap opera… both of which I did as soon as I left Julliard and was starving.”
The van came to pick me up first. I didn’t even know that I was sharing the ride to the film set. The driver stopped in front of the hotel and in slipped a matinée idol handsome man who buckled his seatbelt and turned to me, smiled a dazzling smile, extended his hand and greeted me with: “Hello… my name is Kevin Kline”. My retort: “No kidding”.
Do you have any idea what it is like when you meet someone that you truly idolize? I had been crazy in love with Kevin Kline beginning in 1977 when I saw him on Broadway in the Hal Prince directed musical On The Twentieth Century featuring John Cullum, Madeline Kahn and Imogene Coca.
When we worked together, Kline had just won an Academy Award for his outrageous comedic performance as Otto in A Fish Called Wanda (1988) and he had a new baby with wife Phoebe Cates. I congratulated him on both accomplishments.
Kline asked me about the theatre scene in Seattle and he kept insisting that we had worked together before: “Shakespeare In The Park in 1978? I am sure of it!” Stephen: “No, Kevin Kline… I think I would have remembered that”.
I kept up my part of the conversation. While letting him know how much I admired his work, I kept a nonchalant, yet engaged demeanor. But, my brain was racing a million miles an hour with:
“Oh my God, oh my God, It’s Kevin Kline. I am sitting right next to him. He has freckles. He has freckles on his arms. His arms are hairy. I think I love him. Kevin Kline! He is talking to me! He thinks he knows me. Can I sneak a peek at his crotch? Will he notice? No, don’t do it! Oh…you did it, you looked at his basket! I’d like to give him an Oscar, right now.”
I finally let him have it. I gushed. I babbled about how much I admired his work, that he was a favorite actor, and how thrilled I was to be working with him. I let him know that I held him in the very highest regard as an artist. Kline replied:
“I am never completely satisfied with what I’ve done as an actor. I tend to look at it all too critically. I’m trying to get better about that. I’ve got that Jewish guilt and the Irish shame and it’s a hell of a job distinguishing which is which.”
Kline was so much fun to work with. Our director, Lawrence Kasdan, didn’t know we had traveled to the set together and he introduced us all over again. We reenacted the ride to the set.
Kline had an almost Robin Williams-ish manic energy on the set; joking, playing the piano and singing between takes. In contrast, his co-star Tracey Ullman (I worship and adore her also) was shy and reticent. She stayed in character when the cameras were not rolling, sitting alone, away from the other actors and crew. But, as soon as the director said “cut”, Kline was back to his antics.
At the end of the day, he touched my shoulder, looked me right in the eye, and stated: “That was fun; we need to do it again sometime”. I smiled back and deadpanned (he had found my deadpan to be funny during the shoot): “Yes indeed, Mr. Kline, let’s do it every day. Please?” Still, my brain was going:
“Oh my God, oh my God, it’s Kevin Kline! He is looking at me… It’s Kevin Kline! He is so handsome! He is actually talking to me!”
I beamed, but tried to act like it was no big deal:
“Oh my God, I just filmed two scenes with Kevin Kline. He is like the best American Actor, he is our Laurence Olivier! I am acting with him! I think he likes me. He keeps smiling at me. I think I am in love with him!”
Did I mention that I love Kline? My favorite of his film roles include Musicals, Dramas, Westerns and Comedies: The Pirates of Penzance (1983), Sophie’s Choice (1982), The Big Chill (1983), Silverado (1984), A Fish Called Wanda, Soapdish (1991), Grand Canyon (1991), The Ice Storm (1997), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1999), A Prairie Home Companion (2006), and As You Like It (2006). I was surprised by My Old Lady (2014) opposite Dame Maggie Smith, and I reluctantly admire In & Out (1997). For me, In & Out is not really a very good film, but I watch it every time I come across it while channel hopping. With all of its lapses in logic, the film still makes me feel all gooey. I love watching Kline play gay.
Worth revisiting in these interesting times is Kline’s two roles in the White House comedy Dave (1993) where he is perfectly paired with Sigourney Weaver as a First Lady, and his spot-on, fast, drunk, womanizing Douglas Fairbanks opposite Robert Downey Jr.’s Charlie Chaplin in Chaplin (1992).
In 1970, Kline was in the first class of the newly formed Drama Division at The Juilliard School in NYC. In 1972, he joined fellow Juilliard grad Patti LuPone as members of The City Center Acting Company (now The Acting Company), formed and directed by John Houseman. Just kids, Kline and LuPone worked together for four years performing with the company in NYC and touring the country by bus.
The two acting greats had a passionate and volatile love affair that lasted on and off for a decade. In her terrific memoir imaginatively titled Patti LuPone: A Memoir (2010), she writes honestly and with humor about a certain LuPone/Kline/Peter Weller love triangle. Kline was apparently LuPone’s “first great love”. In 1977, LuPone had a romance with a pre-Robocop (1987) Weller when they worked together in David Mamet’s The Woods, a drama about an intense relationship. LuPone writes that at the closing night party:
“In a drunken stupor, I declared my love for Peter to Peter with Kevin standing right next to me. We were able to patch things up until he slept with a chorus girl in Boston while he was doing On The Twentieth Century.”
Up next for Kline: an unnecessary live action remake of the Disney musical Beauty And The Beast to be released in spring 2017. It is directed by openly gay Bill Condon and features a first-class cast: Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Emma Thompson, Ian McKellen, Ewan McGregor, Josh Gad, Audra McDonald and Stanley Tucci. In this version Kline plays Belle’s father and not Gaston or The Beast, but at least he will be doing some singing. With all the talent involved maybe my inner-12 year old girl will enjoy it.
Still, when I think about Kline, and I like to, it is his work in the theatre that really grabs me: Chekhov, Brecht, Shaw, plus Richard III, Henry IV, multiple Hamlets, several King Lears and a couple of Tonys. I saw him dazzle at The Public Theatre’s Shakespeare In The Park, opposite Meryl Streep in The Seagull and in Mother Courage And Her Children. This has come at the expense of what should have been a major Hollywood career. He has shied from the lure of LA, working in quirky indie fare instead of blockbusters and franchises. Kline:
“Along time ago, my agent told me: ‘Stay in New York, there’s much more cachet.'”
In April 2017, Kline will return to Broadway in Noël Coward’s witty, glamorous comedy Present Laughter playing a role first taken by Coward himself. It is one of my favorite plays, perfect for our own social media-obsessed age. Present Laughter is a shimmering sex farce about self-obsessed actor having a mid-life crisis. It is Coward’s most personal work. I would do just about anything to see it.