A roundtable chat with Kevin Pollak of “Middle Men”

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A highly entertaining character actor, stand-up comic, and now also a screenwriter and Internet talk show host, Kevin Pollak will nevertheless remain forever in the shadow of three men. One is wise-guy crook Todd Hockney from Christopher McQuarrie and Bryan Singer’s slambam 1995 debut, “The Usual Suspects” (currently at #24 of all-time most popular films on IMDb); the other two are, of course, William Shatner and Christopher Walken. So powerful are the Pollak impressions of these two men, I’d venture that when most of us attempt to impersonate either actor, we’re really not doing Shatner or Walken, we’re doing Pollak doing Shatner or Walken. (Though, personally, my extremely bad Christoper Walken is really a very bad impression of Kevin Spacey‘s Walken but, for all I know, Spacey got his from Pollak while shooting “Suspects.”). Indeed, I can remember a time when it seemed like nobody did Shatner and I’m pretty sure it was Pollak who kind of opened to door for all the other impressionists into the voice and mannerisms of the man Pollak calls “the Shat.”

Among the nearly 90 or more productions he’s been involved with as an actor, Kevin Pollak’s latest release is “Middle Men,” a black comedy-laced drama owing more than a little bit to Martin Scorsese. The film stars Luke Wilson as straight-arrow businessman Jack Harris who falls in with a pair of highly inventive cokeheads (Gabriel Macht and Giovanni Ribisi) and would be Internet porn kings during the late 1990s. The pair have developed the first really viable method for collecting money over the ‘net in a reasonable amount of time. Of course, things get massively complicated from there and Pollak turns up later in the film as an FBI agent who comes to Harris and his porn star girlfriend (Laura Ramsay) with a startling new reality. The film, co-written and directed by George Gallo, best known as the screenwriter of “Midnight Run,” is actually just part of an ongoing collaboration between the director and the actor-comic and now screenwriter.

As is often the case, I was one of a number of scribblers who were participating in a roundtable with Pollak during the “Middle Men” press day at L.A.’s Four Season’s hotel. Pollak arrived in a friendly but highly subdued mood. He was a late addition to the press day and obviously has been keeping very busy. Among many other projects, he had a new stand-up special ready premiering, and an increasingly popular podcast, Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show, with recent guests including Neal Patrick Harris and John Slattery of “Mad Men.”  Pollak frankly seemed a little tired at first, though going out of his way to be funny — because that’s what you expect from Pollak. Things perked up as it went.

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Happy birthday, Dick

So, yesterday was Elvis Presley’s birthday and today is the birthday of his old partner in the war against drugs, President Richard Milhous Nixon.

Because of Watergate and Vietnam, and possibly also because in so many respects he still can seem like a central casting villain, Nixon gets depicted in movies a lot more than presidents you’d think we’d like to see on screen more often.  Want to see a movie about George Washington? Well, there was David Gordon Green’s “George Washington,” but our nation’s first president wasn’t exactly a character. Nixon, on the other hand, has been depicted in starring roles in numerous theatrical and TV movies by, among other, Frank Langella, Anthony Hopkins, Philip Baker Hall, and even Beau Bridges. Nixon was even portrayed by comedian Chuck McCann as Oliver Hardy to Vice President Spiro Agnew’s Stan Laurel in a 1972 ultra-ultra-obscure comedy called “Another Nice Mess.” (You may know writer-director Bob Einstein as TV’s Marty Funkhouser and/or Super Dave Osborne. ) If I could find a clip, I’d definitely feature it here but the film has apparently been secreted somewhere, perhaps in Dick Cheney’s man-sized safe.

In any case, my favorite portrayal of Nixon is by the great Dan Hedaya in the title role of Andrew Fleming’s underrated little 1999 comedy, “Dick.” One thing the film gets right is the innate humor of Nixon’s situation — a man with almost no sense of humor whatsoever (always hilarious) who was also the least hip man in America, president at a time when hipness was at a kind of premium.

Nice supporting cast in this one, huh?

  

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