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Kevin Kline: “It’s a different sort of thrill”

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Kevin Kline
Short Profile

Name: Kevin Delaney Kline
DOB: 24 October 1947
Place of Birth: St. Louis, Missouri, USA
Occupation: Actor

Mr. Kline, if you could give your younger self any advice about the movie industry what would it be?

It’ll sound like I’m joking, but I’m serious: “Don’t listen to any advice from an older artist.” You sort of have to find your own way. The only thing I would say is the thing William Goldman said in his book about Hollywood – nobody knows anything. When you’re young you tend to think they know what they’re doing, but they don’t really know.

Really?

We’re all just making it up as we go along and trying to figure it out. Lord Byron said, “I doubt everything and deny nothing.” So, find your own way. You think there are rules – and there are some. There is a thing called discipline. I see young people, especially in acting, “I think I’d like to be an actor.” Okay, you ready to work? Yes, you have a winning personality, you’re attractive, you’re photogenic – great! You can make movies and make millions and gazillions of dollars if that’s what you want. But if you really want to do it, you’ve got to put in the work. Work, work, work, work. Practice, practice, practice, practice.

You are considered a great Shakespearean actor, so I assume you put in the work and the practice…

When I was starting out I didn’t have a life. My life was my work, everything was acting, that was it.

Did that change over the years?

I married someone who is an actress as well who said, “I’m done. I’m having children, I’m not going to do that anymore. I’m going to be a mom, a wife.” Now I suppose I compartmentalize. There is my work and then there is my life.

Is it easy to keep them separated?

Well, I saw a movie with my family the other day. They all kind of enjoyed it and I hated it. Hated it! And I respect their taste. And I knew exactly why I hated it, because I’m starting a movie in three days. When you’re just about to make a movie, almost anything you see, you see the flaws, you see the holes, you see the manipulation. “I’m supposed to believe that? What about the logic that’s missing here, here, here – throughout?” Because you’re thinking about the script you’re doing.

Would you have reacted differently if you would have just finished a movie?

After you’ve just made a film, you go see a film and you go, “It was great! It’s hard and they sure did their best, they gave it a really good shot.” You’re totally forgiving. Because it’s hard making a film! I don’t think the general public is the same way, but I think it depends on the mood you’re in when you see something, your mindset. Because I saw a different movie than my family saw. My son thought it was okay, but not bad. I hated it. (Laughs) I wanted to fix it!

"Wonderful things can come from acting – from being childlike and putting on costumes and playing dress up and telling lies."

Did you ever consider giving up acting to dedicate your life to your family like your wife did?

No, I wasn’t quite ready to give up acting for it, but suddenly I had a wife and children and because of her being who she is – and two brilliant, wonderful children – I’ve had a life, and something of a career on the side. But I’d still like to have a life and a career.

When do you feel like you live the most these days?

Oh man, that’s a good one. When I’m asleep? I had a great dream last night. No, when am I most alive? Of course family has a special place. When your first child is born, that’s it, you can’t compare that to, “Oh, that take was my favorite!” (Laughs) That’s a different sort of thrill. Or, “Wow, that was a good show tonight!” But I do get very happy when I’m working. I love acting. I get silly. Giddy.

What kind of a thrill do you get acting?

It’s like playing football or some game. It’s capturing lightning in a bottle. It’s very collaborative and it’s communal and it’s a kind of fake family that you’re in that’s kind of nurturing and mutually loving. You know, you have to love each other because we’re all being so silly together. It’s all an act of faith. If you’re looking at me like, “What the… how did I get stuck in this movie with this jerk?” I’m not going to do very well. So you have to bring a generosity of spirit, you have to bring a playfulness, an openness, accessibility, vulnerability and all those things.

Has acting ever been a spiritual thing for you?

It’s a different thing than in life. I don’t want to characterize it as deeper, but when your child says something that’s original and profound and observant and interesting and challenging and loving, any one of those things, those moments, little epiphanies you have about your marriage or your parenthood or your children’s childhood, those are different. They’re much subtler. It’s like what the Yogis were talking about, the subtle mind, the subtle body. But the thrill you get from acting is like the one you get from playing a sport. There’s this thing, but it’s fairly coarse, it’s gross, it’s not subtle. It’s so stupid, what we do. (Laughs)

What do you mean stupid?

It’s just so silly, but wonderful things can come from it - from being childlike and putting on costumes and playing dress up and telling lies. But lies that have a truth.