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Kevin Kline on Shooting Independent Films, His Mumblecore Resentment and Making ‘Darling Companion’

Kevin Kline on Shooting Independent Films, His Mumblecore Resentment and Making 'Darling Companion'

Actor Kevin Kline has had a long career in Hollywood, but some of his greatest collaborations have been with director/writer Lawrence Kasdan. Together, the two have worked on six films including “The Big Chill,” “Silverado,” “I Love You to Death,” “Grand Canyon,” “French Kiss” and now their latest effort, “Darling Companion.”

“Darling Companion” marks Kasdan’s first independent feature, but the film is just the latest in a line of many charting back to “The Ice Storm” for Kline. The actor sat down with Indiewire to discuss the differences between shooting independent and studio films, why he’s worked with Kasdan so many times, the joys of filming in Utah and why he has no plans to do “mumblecore” any time soon.

This is your sixth time working with Lawrence Kasdan and your first film together since 1993. So what brought you to this project?

1993 was the last time I worked with him? Wow… I never say no to Larry. I love his writing. I jump at any opportunity to work with him. It’s been a while because he hasn’t done any—I think it’s been seven or eight years.

Yeah, he hasn’t made too many films since then.

He’s been developing things and I think he made a couple of films without me. I hope he’s learned his lesson! No, we have a great time when we work together. We have the same idea about what the process should be. When he casts a movie, he’s casting actors that he feels get the story, get what he’s written in as deep as possible a way as an actor can… that’s implying that I think actors are shallow. I don’t mean to imply that… I mean to state it as an actual fact!

No, I mean, he casts it and he trusts the actors. Some directors are like, “Ok now, I need you to do this” before you ever… I mean, how about let’s shoot one take and see if I’m not in the ballpark and then we’ll talk? I’ve been spoiled by Larry and Alan Pakula and Robert Altman, directors who love actors and love their input, love them to bring something and then react to that. [The actors] are reacting to the script and then the directors react to the actors and then you get this possibly creative friction, or whatever kind of friction and then you’re all working together and rubbing up against each other and coming up with an interpretation. I’ve worked in so many different styles.

I’ve done three or four movies that Larry has written and a couple that he didn’t write that were very much departures for him: “I Love You to Death” and “French Kiss.” Playing an Italian guy, playing a French guy. Was there anything else that he didn’t write that was not a foreign person? I’ve never thought about that… um, but we just get along. We laugh a lot. And this was a no brainer. What a cast. I mean, I loved the script. It was a delight to work with some of my favorite actors in the business.

What was it like working with this cast? Had you worked with any of them before?

No. I’d known Dick Jenkins since we were in college together, but I’d never worked with him. Always wanted to, always admired him greatly. Dianne Wiest, always just seen her in so many films and on stage here in New York. Diane Keaton, you know, Sam Shepard. I had not seen “Mad Men” so I didn’t really know Elisabeth Moss’ work that well but I’d heard glowing things and saw them when I worked with her. Same with Ayelet Zurer and Mark Duplass. I’d seen Mark in… “The Comfy Chair”? “The Puffy Chair”! The comfy chair, that’s Monty Python! “The Puffy Chair” was maybe the only mumblecore film that I really could tolerate. It’s not my thing.

It’s definitely a very specific niche. You either go with it or you don’t.

I can’t watch them objectively. I get that they’re not actors, boy do I get that! And they’re improvising. And even the most seasoned actors doing good improvisation is really difficult. And so here’s amateurs—in the best sense of the word—lovers of film going to act in films. Well, for someone for whom that’s been their life, there’s naturally a sort of resentment. But of course, I’ve always felt that you don’t need to be an “actor” per se to do film. You do to do theatre. There’s just certain types of equipment you just need. You have to be able to be audible and people with certain voices they’re born with and have developed, they still can’t be heard past the fifth row. But you can’t do mumblecore theatre! You have to do whatever the opposite of mumblecore is in the theatre. “Articulate-core.”

You shot the film in Utah. What was that like?

Gorgeous. The higher up in the mountains you got, the more mist you’d be driving through. And the mist would clear and the sky… Beautiful. The colors, the foliage and everything in the fall. I’d been to Park City, that’s where we were based, that’s where the Sundance Film Festival is, but that’s always in the dead of winter. There’s snow and it’s freezing. And this was fall and it was just beautiful and empty, relatively empty. Surrounded by these beautiful vistas and these wonderful actors and this great script. Just fun. Someone said the other day, “What was the hardest thing?” Leaving. Because we were having so much fun.

And this film was Lawrence’s first independent film, so did shooting this film feel different from shooting his other films because of the restricted budget?

Not in the important ways. You’d shoot four scenes in one day whereas in a larger budget [it’s] differently scheduled. You would shoot one or two. Larry talked about this right from the get go. It was a first for him. It wasn’t a first for many of us. But he embraced the challenge of working faster. You can’t indulge yourself in any “Let’s try it another way, we’ll do an alternate” or “Try this” or “We’ve got time, let’s try one where it’s funny or where it’s not funny.” It was a couple takes, then “Great, that’s good.” You had to be more on your toes. There wasn’t this luxuriating in [adopts snooty British accent] “I haven’t learned the lines, but I’ll get them by the fifth or sixth take.” No, you had to show up and stand and deliver. And that’s good. There’s not that sitting in your trailer for hours while they’re doing magnificent subtle lighting. Everybody’s working fast. The crew, the cast, the caterer…

Do you have a preference for one type of shooting over the other? Or is it just like a different experience or a different challenge for you?

Both of them require a certain amount of adaptation. But I like the momentum you get when you’re doing an independent film, when there’s not a lot of time. And also, shooting on digital, you can just keep the camera running. You do several takes without even stopping. [Between takes] having makeup come in, powder you, making sure it all matches… it can have a rather deadening effect. But this keeps kind of percolating along. The trick is not to rush. There is a kind of tendency to… “Let’s just rush! We finished that in no time at all! Great! Aaaaand it sucked! But we’ve moved on.” And I’ve worked with directors who are like “Hey, we’re ahead of schedule, it’s great!” And I went, “Yeah, but it’s crap.” If we’d spent more time on it it would have been better. Some things get rushed. That’s like any athlete, any art form. Each project deserves or requires its own pace in terms of allowing it to emerge. And if this movie had been a $60 million movie with a 12-week schedule, its essence would not have changed. It’s still the same script.

How long was the shooting schedule for this?

Six weeks.

So half the time you might have normally had?

Well, “French Kiss” was three and a half months in Paris. I can’t complain too much about that. But you had that luxury. I remember shooting “The Ice Storm.” Ang Lee said, “We don’t have one extra day to go over. We can’t go over. If we don’t finish this scene this day and move on to this scene tomorrow and that scene the next day, we’ll just have to start cutting scenes.” I think that was my first independent film experience. And yet, within that, Ang was meticulous, detailed, extremely focused. He never left the set. In the budget, there was not a trailer for Ang on the set. Always thinking, brooding.

Most of your time in the film is spent with Diane Keaton. How did you two work to build your relationship and convey that you had been married for a long time and you still love each other but you’ve reached this rut?

I like to say it’s because we took an immediate dislike to one another which was tantamount to 30 years of marriage. We just cut right to the chase! No, in fact, I loved her. I loved working with her, but we had this kind of teasing fun relationship from the beginning. It’s something unconscious almost. Borderline subliminally, you tend to construct an off-screen relationship with someone that somehow is maybe parallel or may have nothing to do with the plot, but somehow can feed in, can be tapped into when the camera’s running.

And I think both of our senses of humor meshed in such a way that there was this kind of sparring. Witty sparring. There was a lot of laughter. I loved being teased and I love teasing. And she does too. And in a very superficial way I think that there was an almost instant kind of non-connection. Because we’re distanced at this point in our relationship. I’m not letting her in, she’s not letting me in. There’s this standoff.

It may be a tribute to Larry’s unerring sense of casting because he knew Diane and knew me and he thought we would somehow mesh and not mesh until push comes to shove and we find our way back into each other’s graces, if you will. Because we’re put through this test. We’re sort of pitted against nature and loss and we’re losing our children and we’ve lost our dog and we’re losing our minds and we sort of have to find our way home. So it’s a romance of sorts but it does not follow the prescription or the formula of many Hollywood films.

So what was it like working with the dog?

It was great, because the dog didn’t care much about me and I didn’t care much about him. We used it. I think he used it really more than he needed to. No, he was fairly indifferent to me. Because he’s mostly there with the trainer.

Have you worked with a lot of animals in your career?

Yeah, in fact I was just thinking yesterday that I’ve done a lot of films with dogs. In “A Fish Called Wanda,” we kept killing dogs, squashing them. In “Silverado” there’s a little backstory that you never see but they’re teasing my character about what happened to the dog because in order to save a dog’s life I apparently… I don’t know, I forget what it was, but I cared more about the dog than a good gunfighter should have. Something got screwed up because of it. There was another couple of dog things… Maybe that’s it. I’m trying to find some thread, some theme that gives my life, my career… makes some kind of sense of it.

Some cosmic purpose?

Yeah, some overriding theory… It’s chaos.

So you’re kind of notorious for being very selective with your projects…

Some people think it’s like the old studio system where you’re assigned roles and you just beg the studio to just trade you to MGM for the week so you can shoot this. It doesn’t work that way. You have to be selective. So you see what’s on the table and you say, well, this one actually interests me. This would be an interesting challenge or this is not original but it’s really well-written or none of these options. And you play the piano and read books until something better comes along.

So is there anything specific that you look for when you’re choosing you’re next project?

Nope! Something original, something that’s different, something’s that’s different from me. Something I haven’t done before if possible. Or if it’s something I’ve done before but I can do it differently. There’s a lot of factors but it starts with the script. Is the story worth telling? Is this a movie worth making? Is this something you want to devote this chunk of time to, this piece of yourself you want to invest in it? Are these people you want to be with every day for six weeks? It’s very important. Because that’s what it comes down to. That’s why this movie is really… You’re spending a lot of hours a day and in sometimes very emotionally intimate situations. I remember hearing a story about how Albert Finney was offered “Lawrence of Arabia.” He said, “I don’t want to go to the desert with David Lean for nine months, thank you very much.” Something like that. But Peter O’Toole said “Yeah, I’m in.” So yeah, there you are.

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