Kevin Kline for “De-Lovely”

Kevin Kline has an urbane, dry quality, one which exemplifies his portrayal of Cole Porter. At a youthful 57, Kline’s trademark moustache is back, and he is a distinguished grey. An actor who, when interviewed, chooses slow responses, always pausing slightly, His deep, baritone voice suggesting a consistently wry humour.

Adding Cole Porter to his vast repertoire of both cinematic and classical characters over his near three decade career, Kline admits that he wasn’t a huge Porter fan before working on De-Lovely, “but I knew Kiss me Kate and Anything Goes, loved his songs, and obviously have a deeper appreciation of him now, having been exposed to many, many more of the songs. There’s real passion in the music,” Kline says.

The ability to transform himself into character is prevalent when seeing Kline, an Oscar-winner for the farcical A Fish Called Wanda. The actor’s co-star in De-Lovely, Ashley Judd, commented in the course of this same press junket, that when she and the actor enjoyed social drinks following filming, she didn’t recognise him. “I realized that I hadn’t made a movie with Kevin Kline, but one with Cole Porter.  He had so consummately portrayed this other person that when his hair was shampooed, he just became this guy from New York who’s married, has a couple of kids and was passing through,” Judd told me earlier.

Such a comment may be typical of the actor who can effortlessly glide from character to character, genre to genre. Yet in preparing to play Cole Porter, in this unconventional treatment of the gay composer’s fascinating life, Kline says that there was nothing especially difficult that he had to do to prepare for the role. “There’s about 20 seconds of footage of Cole Porter on the Ed Sullivan show walking with a cane, that’s about all I can study. There was no worry or attempt to try to mimic, so I tried to just get into his soul through his music.”

Unlike the far more inaccurate Night and Day biography, which starred Cary Grant in a far more superficially safe interpretation of Porter’s life, De-Lovely also makes no bones about examining his homosexuality, as well as his deep marriage to socialite Linda Lee Porter. The gay aspects of Porter’s life are paramount if one is to delve into the complexities of the singer’s life, as well as understand what it meant to be gay in the period I which he thrived. “I was pleased and a little concerned that it not dominate, but I certainly think it is an intimate and intricate part of what makes the love story interesting. This is especially true in this day and age, where it’s no longer shocking or all that interesting except as a function of how we love, not because of, but in spite of how many kinds of loves there are besides the sexual kinds of love, or love where sex is an important component.  I didn’t want the film to say, ‘Yeah, okay, he’s gay.  I got it;’ I didn’t want it to be just about that.  There are fascinating things about the man aside from that and–and I’m glad it wasn’t just that. After all, there’s certainly nothing homoerotic or sensational about his homosexual escapades.”

Yet given our mass media’s dedication to gay-themed films and television, Kline agrees, that the timing is right for this open approach to Porter’s sexuality, “in the sense that it’s not like most sitcoms or many gay themes or gay characters and not such a big deal within our culture’s consciousness at the moment.”

Ironically of course, this is not the first time Kline has played a gay character. He was a closeted teacher ‘outed’ in the more light-hearted In and Out, and much has changed since then, Kline asserts. “I think we broke the ground from now on.  I think that movie was part of this general trend to de-mystify, de-horrify and de-demonize homosexuality in the American consciousness.  So yeah, it’s gotten easier.” Kline believes that had Cole Porter be alive today, it is unlikely he would have come out, “because he didn’t like the news media and didn’t talk about himself.  I mean, he was not a recluse by any means, but very social nor made any pretensions or was hypocritical about it at all. However, as many gay men today do, he had a wife whom he loved, but maybe he wouldn’t have a wife, but would he come out?  I don’t think it’s good for business if you’re writing love songs.”

Kevin Kline has now appeared in over 30 films, some of which are regarded classics. We all have our favourites, but for Kline, it’s his first major film that he says has a special place in his heart. “It’s funny, ’cause last night there was an AFI tribute for Meryl Streep so I’m just reliving all this Sophie’s Choice experience. It was my first film and a very intense and thrilling experience for me.  It’s hard because they don’t write movies like that anymore, which made that the most fun, maybe because I had the extraordinary luck and luxury in making my first film with Meryl Streep and Alan Pakula and doing that material.  It was frightening, exhilarating fun.”

For the rest of us, it appears that Kline’s comic masterpiece Dave, is our own, unanimous favourite. It’s a film that comes up time after time when one interviews Kevin, and he understands why. “Gary Ross’ brilliant script is so sweet, funny and innocent, set against a backdrop that is so cynical and mean-spirited. Through it all, this glorious character just seems to get to the top and does good.”

Kline is currently shooting a new version of the classic comedy, The Pink Panther, starring Steve Martin, with Kline in the old Dreyfuss role. He says his portrayal will be vastly different from his predecessor’s. “For a start, there will be no twitching”, he insists, doing his best to imitate the original character. Recently nominated for a Tony Award playing Shakespeare’s Falstaff in the complete Henry IV, Kline is cagey as to what stage role he wants to do, but Iago is on top of his wish list. Excellent idea, we suggest, in that he would make a formidable Iago. “Why? Because I’m just a fucking villainous manipulator”, he laughingly concludes I pure Kline style. How appropriately ‘de-lovely!