A roundtable chat with Kevin Kline of “The Extra Man”

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A highly accomplished stage actor, trained at Julliard under the tutelage of such exacting instructors as the legendary John Houseman, Kevin Kline pretty much started his film career as one of the best of the best, a genuine “actor’s actor” and also something of an old fashioned movie star with the presence to match. His first movie role was opposite Meryl Streep in Alan Pakula’s 1982 Oscar-winning film version of “Sophie’s Choice.” That was followed by Lawrence Kasdan’s Oscar-nominated ensemble dramedy, “The Big Chill,” and a leading role opposite Denzel Washington in Richard Attenborough’s portentous 1987 apartheid drama, “Cry Freedom.”

Though that was followed up by a part in Kasdan’s lighthearted homage to classic westerns, “Silverado,” Kevin Kline’s comic gifts remained under-recognized until his utterly ingenious, deservedly Oscar-winning turn as the murderous and hilariously insecure and pretentious Otto in the farce classic, “A Fish Called Wanda.” After that Kline became one of the screen’s most reliable comic leading men with parts in such high-quality mainstream comedies as “Dave” and “In and Out,” was well as the occasional part in such hard-edged tragicomic dramas as “Grand Canyon,” again with Lawrence Kasdan, and Ang Lee’s “The Ice Storm.”

Kline, who recently completed a successful stage run in Edmund Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac opposite Jennifer Garner, has — like other outstanding actors of his generation — gracefully moved from the A-list to the art-house. Though once noted for turning down movie roles in favor of stage work — John Stewart reminded him of his “Kevin Decline” nickname on his recent “Daily Show” “Colbert Report” appearance — Kline has been a busy and hugely reliable film actor for decades. More recent roles include the screen’s first correctly gay Cole Porter in the 2004 musical biopic “De-Lovely,” Garrison Keillor’s radio detective Guy Noir in Robert Altman’s 2006 swan song, “A Prairie Home Companion,” Jacques in Kenneth Branagh’s version of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It,” and the 21st century’s version of Inspector Dreyfus opposite Steve Martin‘s Inspector Clouseau in the rebooted “Pink Panther” series.

Add to those the role of the suave but irascible platonic male escort Henry Harrison in Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini’s adaptation of the Jonathan Ames novel, “The Extra Man.” Taking in a confused and nervous younger protegee (Paul Dano of “There Will Be Blood”), Harrison is an utterly reactionary self-made throwback to another time and place, and an ideal role for an actor gifted with the finest of old fashioned acting virtues.

Kevin Kline and Paul Dano in

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Gandhi wuz robbed!

So, in the wake of yesterday’s surprise announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize being awarded to Barack Obama, it occurs to me that while there are several movies about presidents, there are very few, if any, about Nobel Peace Prize winners. Martin Luther King was the subject of a TV movie, but that doesn’t quite cut it. Let’s face it, if there was a Nobel War Prize, there’d be tons of movies about those prize winners. War and other forms of mass murder are so full of dramatic tension! Think of how many movies there are about Hitler, General Custer, and Jack the Ripper there are…and those guys never won anything!

The one film that came immediately to mind, however, was Richard Attenborough’s 1982 “Gandhi.” It might have won some Oscars and ranked in the top 250 on IMDb, but few cinephiles types, myself included, think too highly of it, despite Ben Kingsley’s star-making performance — but it’s one. However, it turns out that despite being the 20th century’s poster boy for nonviolence, Mohandas Gandhi never actually won the famed prize.

Oh, well, as we await a movie about such heroes as Nelson Mandella (I think one may be in the works…and it’s about time), MLK, Aung San Suu Kyi, Lech Walesa or such “give them the award to help them stop it already” villains as Yassar Arafat or Henry Kissinger, here’s an idea for a movie whose time may have come.

  

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