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KLINE, KEVIN : In & Out, The Ice Storm

Oscar winner Kevin Kline is as comfortable doing comedy as he is drama, and this year, movie audiences get a chance to see both: as the outed school teacher in the hit comedy In and Out, and as a weak family man in the drama, The Ice Storm. The films open simultaneously which is good news for Kline fans. PAUL FISCHER spoke to the actor at the recent Toronto Film Festival.

Kline remains one of Hollywood's busiest actors, yet says that he still has difficulty finding material that doesn't insult the intelligence of the audience. "It’s very difficult whether comedy or drama, to find a script that doesn't insult our intelligence, because this art form is also a business, and the studios tend to want to reach a large audience, so they're looking for something that will do that." So along came In and Out, his most successful screen comedy since A Fish Called Wanda. As with that script, Kline's attraction to this latest screen outing was simple. "I first heard about it before I read it, and didn't much care for it. Then I just laughed heartily when I read the script." In the film, Kline plays Howard Brackett, a high school English teacher from an idyllic small town, Greenleaf, who is besieged by the townsfolk and the press when a Hollywood heartthrob and local ex-student (Matt Dylan) thanks him during an Oscar speech, then adds "...and he's gay."

"What makes the movie accessible, is that it's about denial " on In & Out

But Howard’s engaged to be married the following week to a fellow teacher (Joan Cusack), who doesn't take this development very well. "I'd never played a character that was as deeply in denial and as repressed, who had cut off this large portion of who he was," Kline explains when analysing Howard. "What makes the movie accessible, is that it's about denial and we're all in denial to one degree or another."

One of the major talking points of In and Out is the now infamous kiss between Kline and co-star Tom Selleck, who plays a gay, intrusive TV reporter. ["I took mouth wash first", he quips]. It was a scene that took a lot of practice to get right. "Our objective was to try to get the scene right, including the comedy and the emotional truth of the moment. In the tradition of all screwball comedies, the couple is fighting or arguing, then suddenly one grabs the other, kisses the other, and his life is forever changed." Though this kiss is a tad unique, Kline explains. "Something has awakened in him that has been dormant by sheer will on his part; He WILLED this side of himself away and denied a part of himself which, suddenly at that moment, he is forced to reckon with." Though it's indeed a comedy, Kline has very strong views on the subject of outing. "It's despicable. I'm one of those old-fashioned people who think your private life is your private life, and one's sexuality comes under that category. On the other hand, there are people in the public eye, who have gone public and are obviously politicising it, and I think they're making a statement. But the idea of OUTING someone ELSE? That's unconscionable."

"I learned comedy watching my father react to my mother, because, well, she's formidable."

Born to a Jewish father and a Catholic mother, Kline was exposed to family-style histrionics long before he ever set foot in a theatre. "My mother was the really dramatic theatrical character in our family," Kline once recalled. "She's way larger than life. I think I learned comedy watching my father react to her, because you had to have a sense of humour, because, well, she's formidable." Though Kline appeared in a handful of plays at the Benedictine-monk-run, all-boys Catholic prep school he attended in his teens, it was music, not theatre, that was his earliest passion. He spent the first two years of his college career at Indiana University studying composing and conducting, but then was bitten by the theatre bug and switched his focus to drama studies, and to founding the Vest Pocket Players, an off-campus theatrical troupe that specialised in satirical revues. After completing his degree in speech and theatre, Kline left the heartland bound for New York City, where he entered the inaugural class of John Houseman's newly established drama department at Juilliard. Upon graduating from the program in 1972, Kline became a founding member of Houseman's The Acting Company along with fellow Juilliard alumni William Hurt and Patti Lupone, the latter of whom Kline was romantically involved with for seven years.

During the 70s, a decade during which American film enjoyed a vigorous resurgence - Kline remained completely focused on the theatre. He starred on and off Broadway in such plays as The School for Scandal, Scapin, and The Hostage, for the Acting Company, and also played minor roles in New York Shakespeare Festival productions. He left the Company in the mid-70s, only to find himself reluctantly accepting a regular role on the soap opera Search for Tomorrow. "Doing a soap was something I vowed I'd never do. After all, I was a trained classical actor, and I'd never cheapen myself or sell myself by doing commercials or soap operas. But then it was pointed out to me that an actor's first duty is to eat, which I was on the verge of not doing." This painful survival tactic wasn't without its own karmic rewards: the job kept Kline in New York, where he remained busy in the theatre scene, and in 1978, he earned a Tony Award for his role in the musical On the Twentieth Century; he won a second in 1981 for his performance in The Pirates of Penzance.

"He's the only actor I know who played Hamlet in order to learn to be decisive." John Cleese on Kevin Kline

In 1982, the Tony-decorated actor set off for Hollywood, where he made a considerable splash with his debut screen assignment as Meryl Streep's schizophrenic lover in Sophie's Choice. He followed Choice with an appearance in Lawrence Kasdan's seminal 1980s film The Big Chill, in which he portrayed the archetypal idealist turned capitalist. The one-two punch of the successful films put him very much in demand, of course, but Kline seemed to shun the superstardom that appeared to be his for the asking. Despite his tendency to take small roles in big movies like Silverado (another Kasdan-directed effort), Kline was poised once again to shoot onto the A-list following the enthusiastic reception of his Oscar-winning supporting performance in the popular 1988 comedy A Fish Called Wanda. But, as his co-star in that film, John Cleese, noted, Kline seemed determined to turn down the kind of roles that would make him a star: "He's known in Hollywood as Kevin D. Kline," Cleese teases. "He's the only actor I know who played Hamlet in order to learn to be decisive."

Kline's film career hasn't exactly taken off in the nineties, either, but, then, he never really planned for that outcome. "I have turned down terrific roles in terrific films, and I have never had the slightest regret about doing so," Kline says. "What's not right for me now doesn't interest me. I can't do it if there is not some little spark that says, 'That would be good right now.'" Fortunately, the spark Kline must feel in order to commit to a role finally seems to be firing at the right times. He scored a critical and financial hit with 1993's Dave, in which he played a dual role as a U.S. President and his doppelganger; and he charmed audiences as the thieving Frenchman who steals Meg Ryan's heart in the 1995 romantic comedy French Kiss. Now Kline's brightest era in the spotlight has re-emerged, what with the comedic In and Out and the dramatic The Ice Storm which already have critics muttering about Oscar nominations.

"A movie that deals in regeneration, life and death, love, despair and fatigue." on The Ice Storm

In the 70s-set Ice Storm, directed by Ang Lee, Kline plays family man Ben Hood, who is having an unsatisfactory adulterous affair with his neighbour Janey Carver (Sigourney Weaver). Her husband Jim, is frequently away on business but Ben's wife Elena has grown increasingly suspicious. Ben and Elena's daughter Wendy (Christina Ricci) is sexually experimenting with both the Carver boys while her brother Paul (Maguire) is enamoured with a rich girl from his prep school. All these micro-dramas blend and come to a head during the course of one long evening that also plays host to the area's worst ice storm in 30 years. It's a very different piece to the more frenetically funny In and Out. "My agent called and said, 'There's this script; it's the most harrowing domestic downer," says Kline. "I said, 'Oh, good, send it along.'" Kline sees The Ice Storm as being thematically universal despite its 1970s setting. "This is a movie that deals in regeneration, life and death, love, despair and fatigue."

Despite the success that a spotted film career has brought him, Kline insists that he's very much a reluctant star.

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See our Reviews of

and IN & OUT

Read Paul Fischer's exclusive interview with In & Out co-star,

Playwright/screenwriter Paul Rudnick is gay. He's openly gay; but most of all, he's gay about, In & Out, which grossed $15 million in its opening weekend in the US, five times more than Rudnick's last film, Jeffrey, took in during its entire run.

Loosely based on Tom Hanks' acceptance speech for his Philadelphia Oscar win, In & Out is the brainchild of producer Scott Rudin (Clueless, Ransom). "It never occurred to me that I would some day be writing a movie inspired by that moment," says Rudnick, who also penned Addams Family Values for Rudin. "But Scott had the idea, clearly sparked by that speech, and he came to me with the notion of someone being outed on the Oscars," Rudnick explains between sips of diet coke in New York's plush Essex House hotel.

Rudnick carefully juggles the film's themes of acceptance and growth without letting them weigh down the script. "We wanted to make a real screwball comedy, not a solemn liberal document or a movie of the week or a soap opera," Rudnick says. "And I think the way gay and straight people deal with each other is naturally terribly funny. It's very hard, or maybe impossible, to live in a completely homosexual or heterosexual world. At some point, everybody has to leave their house."
Paul Fischer



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