Actor Kevin Kline shares memories during film festival

jholmes@bradenton.comApril 11, 2010 

SARASOTA — The second day of the 12th annual Sarasota Film Festival had Academy Award-winning actor Kevin Kline quite relaxed on the stage of Florida Studio’s Gompertz Theatre.

It was there, during the festival’s “In Conversation With . . .” series that Kline sat with festival artistic director Tom Hall to talk about his life and extensive career — from his love of music to working on projects like “Sophie’s Choice,” “The Pirates of Penzance” and “The Big Chill.”

And, of course, his big Oscar win for “A Fish Called Wanda.”

Accepting that award in 1989 was a moment Kline almost missed. He originally didn’t plan to go to the awards ceremony as he was busy preparing for another film project. Plus, the odds of winning were against him.

“Nobody picked me,” he told Hall of early Oscar predictions. “... But I thought I might as well go or mom will be angry.”

His mother told him she was expecting to see him on TV that night.

When Kline’s name was called as winner for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, he walked up on stage with no prepared speech, fumbling to remember who to thank. His producer, Michael Shamberg, told him he better remember his name should he win. So he thanked him. Kline also thanked his 78-year-old director, and as the music began to cut him off, he suddenly remembered to thank Phoebe Cates — his new bride of just two months.

A nervous wreck during that Oscar moment, Kline chuckles now at the memory.

Before acting came along, Kline, who was raised in a musical household in St. Louis, thought he was going to be a musician of some sort.

“There was always music playing in the house,” Kline, dressed in a light pink shirt, black blazer and black tennis shoes, said of his childhood.

Much of that music was classical. His father feasted off it. In fact, he would try to convert Kline’s rock ’n’ roll friends to classical music, with some successes.

The actor talked of how he discovered his love of acting in college while studying music at Indiana University. He also mentioned how he landed a spot in the newly formed drama program at New York’s Juilliard School after being rejected by another program.

Kline also talked about his early days of acting, where he found himself working on the set of “Search for Tomorrow,” a soap opera. It was never his intention, he said, to be on a soap.

“But after starving for several months, someone pointed out even an actor has to eat,” Kline said.

Kline told Saturday’s crowd that he’s always wanted to portray Don Quixote. He also talked of how much he was challenged and invigorated working with Meryl Streep in the drama “Sophie’s Choice,” where he played her jealous lover, Nathan.

The role earned him a Golden Globe nomination for New Star of the Year in a Motion Picture.

But to this day, there’s a part in it he can’t watch.

“I see myself trying to remember my lines,” Kline said of the scene that made the final cut. “And Meryl jumped in and was saying it for me.”

January Holmes, features writer, can be reached at 745-7057. Follow her on Twitter at @accentbradenton.

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