"IRONICALLY, I WAS A GREAT BUSH SUPPORTER and mourned the loss of our great conservative administration. I don't endorse the politics of the movie at all," intones Kevin Kline somberly - and rather disappointingly - pausing just long enough to cause consternation before a huge grin breaks across his chops. "Of course I endorsed the movie's politics! How could I do the movie if I were a Republican? Hahahahaha! "
Kevin Kline. What a card.
A card and, of course, a man of many parts, although none of Kline's roles have been as bizarrely demanding as the lead in Dave, the political comedy that arrives in Blighty this month having scored remarkable sleeper success in the US. It's the story of an innocent dogooder and part-time Presidential impersonator who gets duped into replacing the Pres - yep, that old movie staple - when the real McCoy inadvertently croaks en sac with his secretary, and Kline plays both parts. It's not the first time an actor has been in the White House, of course, or indeed in politics generally but, warm-hearted and honest, good old Dave Kovic from Baltimore, the kind of bloke who likes to wrestle with his dog on the White House lawn, displays so much enthusiasm for the job that he soon has America falling at his feet.
Despite the fact that he will probably stick in most people's minds for his Oscar-winning turn in A Fish Called Wanda, Kline - trimmer at 46 than many 20 years his junior - has only recently made a foray into the world of comedy.
"1 had done comedy on the stage for years but because I made my film debut in Sophie's Choice, studio people thought that the potential audience would not see me as a comedian," he explains. "You know, 'Oh, Kevin Kline, whom you saw play in Sophie's Choice, is now doing this rollicking comedy,' and you'd go, 'I don't want to see him - I want to see Bill Murray in a comedy. I want to see Eddie Murphy.' "
The versatile actor, performing with consummate ease - with or without a moustache - is, of course, neither comedian nor tragedian, 'but a strange mixture of both, having run the gamut of emotions in such dramas as Cry Freedom, Consenting Adults, Grand Canyon and The Big Chill, bringing his dramatic intensity to comedies like Soapdish and, er, I Love You To Death and combining all to perfection for his seemingly tailor-made performance as Douglas Fairbanks in Chaplin. But it was his doppelganger performance in Dave that really tested his mettle.
"I play two men who were at once identical and yet strikingly different was intriguing," smirks the man who's married to actress Phoebe Cates. "I also loved the interplay between the comic and the dramatic elements. It was different from other roles I had played. Rather than sort of an outrageous character, which is what I had in A Fish Called Wanda and Soapdish, this was an ordinary guy in an outrageous situation and so the comedy came out of that. 1 had to keep him life-like to be attractive."
Kline, in fact, as the old showbiz legend goes, fell into acting by accident, leaving his home in St. Louis, the heart of middle America, for the prestigious Indiana University School of Music where he studied the piano. He stumbled upon the joys of thespianship by way of hamming it up in the school theatre, ultimately moving to New York to study drama, and making his Broadway debut in 1978,
Then Hollywood beckoned - 1982's Sophie's Choice earned him a BAFTA and a Golden Globe - and so the two disciplines of stage and screen coexisted, Kline returning to Broadway despite the success of his next movie, The Big Chill, and appearances in Silverado (1985) and Cry Freedom (1987). The scales finally tilted firmly back in the direction of comedy with A Fish Called Wanda though few of his films since - The January Man, I Love You To Death, Consenting Adults - have had the same impact, it could have been worse, given that he very nearly took the Bruce Willis part in Death Becomes Her. And while Kline is currently working with Cleese and company on a follow-up to Wanda - "Not a sequel. It's the same actors in a different movie, with different characters but the same wacky humour" - he hopes that Dave will finally put previous glitches behind him.
"The movie is disarming and I think it does touch in you the idea that, 'Hey, democracy can work if we can get through all that political machinery,' " he declares. "The movie dares to not be cynical. It dares to not be hip. It dares to say that if you have a president who genuinely wants to do something, you can get a lot of work done. And I think with Clinton we're closer to that now than we have been in a long time. Finally, we have a man in the White House who can string dozens of words together at one go - a verb, noun, even a full sentence. It's been years since we've had a president who can do that .. ."
EMPIRE, December 1993