Kevin Kline - Actors and Actresses

Nationality: American. Born: St. Louis, Missouri, 24 October 1947. Education: Attended Indiana University (major in music), 1972; studied at Juilliard. Family: Married the actress Phoebe Cates, 1989, two children: Joseph and Greta. Career: 1972–76—founding member of the Acting Company, New York City; 1977—played role of Woody Reed in TV soap opera, Search for Tomorrow ; 1982—film debut in Sophie's Choice ; 1987–88—artistic associate, Acting Company; 1990—acted and directed in production of Hamlet , later produced for television; 1993—artistic associate, New York Shakespeare Festival. Awards: Tony Award, for On the Twentieth Century , 1978; Tony Award, for The Pirates of Penzance , 1980; Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, for A Fish Called Wanda , 1988. Agent: Jeffrey Hunter, William Morris Agency, 1325 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019–6026.

Films as Actor:


Sophie's Choice (Pakula) (as Nathan)


The Pirates of Penzance (Leach) (as Pirate King); The Big Chill (Kasdan) (as Harold)


Silverado (Kasdan) (as Paden)


Violets Are Blue (Fisk) (as Henry Squires)


Cry Freedom (Attenborough) (as Donald Woods)


A Fish Called Wanda (Charles Crichton) (as Otto West)


The January Man (O'Connor) (as Nick Starkey)


I Love You to Death (Kasdan) (as Joey)


Soapdish (Hoffman) (as Jeffrey Anderson); Grand Canyon (Kasdan) (as Mack)


Chaplin (Attenborough) (as Douglas Fairbanks); Consenting Adults (Pakula) (as Richard Parker)


George Balanchine's The Nutcracker (Ardolino) (as narrator); Dave (Reitman) (as Dave Kovic/Bill Mitchell)


Princess Caraboo (Austin) (as Frixos)


French Kiss ( Paris Match ) (Kasdan) (as Luc Teyssier)


Fierce Creatures (Cleese and Robert M. Young) (as Rod McKane/Vince McKane); The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Trousdale and Kirk Wise—animation) (as voice of Phoebus); Looking for Richard (Pacino) (as himself)


In & Out (Oz) (as Howard Brackett); The Ice Storm (Lee) (as Ben Hood); Fierce Creatures (Schepisi, Young) (as Vince McCain/Rod McCain)


A Midsummer Night's Dream (Hoffman) (as Nick Bottom); Wild Wild West (Sonnenfeld) (as Artemus Gordon/President Ulysses S. Grant)


The Road to El Dorado (Bergeron et al.—animation) (as voice of Tulio)

Film as Director:


Hamlet (for TV) (+ title role)


By KLINE: article—

"Kevin Kline from Stage to Screen," interview with James M. Welsh, in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury), October 1986.

"'You've Heard of Watergate—This Is Surrogate,"' telephone conversation with Sigourney Weaver, in Interview (New York), May 1993.

On KLINE: articles—

Current Biography 1986 , New York, 1986.

Clark, John, "Kevin Kline," in Premiere (New York), May 1990.

Hoffman, Jan, "A Pair of Aces," in Premiere (New York), May 1990.

Morgenstern, Joe, "Kevin's Choice," in Connoisseur , July 1991.

Wetzseon, Ross, "Kevin Can Wait," in New York , 10 May 1993.

Gates, Anita, "Other Methods, Other Madness, and Always Slings and Arrows," in New York Times , 2 July 1995.

Kaplan, J., "Mr. Decline," in New York , 8 September 1997.

* * *

His first words on film were in an assumed Southern accent, announcing the technical virtuosity that would be the hallmark of his best work. Contravening the conventional wisdom that in screen acting less is more, Kline, trained in both classical and popular theater, is most arresting when allowed to import the large gestures favored, when not actually required by the stage. His screen persona thus tends to be that of a man who gets carried away with his enthusiasms, his ideas, most often himself. Roles requiring him to exhibit restraint or signal inner reflection can deaden his reflexes; Kline never seems so intelligent an actor as when he is playing stupid—witness his hilariously, self-enraptured, testosterone-driven dolt in A Fish Called Wanda. So exuberant is his performance that it literally takes a steamroller to halt the flow of his comic invention.

When no overt technical demand is made on the expressiveness of his voice or his body, Kline can be subdued, even dispirited. His debut in Sophie's Choice was an exception, a film in which Kline's uncanny impersonations, impulsive humor, and physical glamour were unpredictably fused in his portrayal of an irresistible and charismatic

Kevin Kline (left) and Tom Selleck in In & Out
Kevin Kline (left) and Tom Selleck in In & Out
madness. His subsequent dramatic parts, however, have been less successful in exploiting his physical and emotional volatility to unexpected or fresh use. The irrepressible narcissism of his comic persona is not so much expunged as sublimated into a much more subtle, sometimes more objectional form of good guyism in such films as the environmentally and emotionally correct Violets Are Blue. Nor has Kline fared well in genres, such as the Western, that call upon him to simplify his emotions into archetypal attitudes. As Paden, the quiet and aimless cowboy out to change his luck in Silverado , Kline is meant to evoke the taciturn and secretly troubled masculinity of the classic Western hero (especially in the High Noon ish final shoot-out), but at best manages to suggest a muted rather than heroically restrained psyche.

His most frequent and somewhat uneven work has been with Lawrence Kasdan, for whom Kline epitomizes the white liberal male afflicted with all the pieties and perplexities such a species is heir to. Kline is Kasdan's model for the aging radical whose midlife anomie manifests itself in the form of earnest soul-searching rather than sexual lunacy. In The Big Chill he is such a genial host to the friends of his radical youth that he even agrees to father a child for a woman whose biological clock is about to ring its final alarm. Eleven years later, he plays virtually the same decent white liberal befuddled rather than appalled by the state of the world in Grand Canyon , only in this film Kasdan offers a less admiring view of Kline's sensitive husband, generous friend, and preternaturally patient "good father." He gives Kline a superman dream of flight that hints at the moral giddiness underlying his quiet decencies.

The trouble with a morally unimpeachable Kline is that he is no match for his impeachable comic double who invariably proves not only to be more entertaining, but finally, a better ethical monitor. In the confession scene that opens I Love You to Death , Kline gives a hilarious rendering of a happy sinner's uncontrite, but dutiful effort to recall the time, frequency, and number of his adulterous encounters with all the precision due to a ritual confession. In Soapdish he does a rollicking turn as a former soap star (as he once was) condemned to do dinner theater in Florida until his deceased character is recalled to life, only to find himself at the center of an equally absurdist Oedipal drama offstage.

But it is Dave that represents the quintessential Kline performance since in this film he gets to impersonate himself. Two halves of his screen persona confront each other in this dizzy tale of a presidential double taking on the role, then the power, and finally the wife of a comatose president: the white liberal who has lost the values that once defined and sustained him (for the first time Kline plays the philandering husband without a trace of exculpatory male sentimentalism) and the comic ego, reincarnated in the gentle form of a populist who appreciates the simple joys of life. It helps to have Sigourney Weaver assisting in the comic transfer of power and affection. Kline is less fortunate in French Kiss , in which Meg Ryan's unrelievedly mannered performance almost overwhelms the subtle allure of Kline's larcenous charmer. Imitating not only a French accent but the mumble that gives movie Frenchmen their cachet, Kline reconciles the Gallic shrug and American double-take to register a surprising array of emotions—from a bemused laissez-faire sexuality to a conniving thievery to the unanticipated dawn of love. In such performances, Kline reminds us how comic theatricality can not only entertain, but also reveal as much about personal and national character as the most studied naturalism.

—Maria DiBattista

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