There aren't that many actors working today who can segue seamlessly from playing legendary dramatic characters like Hamlet and King Lear to lighthearted fare such as a regular schmo impersonating the president or a teacher questioning his sexuality.

But for 30 years Kevin Kline has done just that, winning two Tony's for his work on stage and an Oscar for his hilarious role as Otto, a British-hating criminal in 'A Fish Called Wanda.' Now for his latest film, 'The Extra Man,' Kline combines his comedic and Shakespearean talents to create his most outlandish character yet.

Adapted from Jonathan Ames' novel and directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini ('American Splendor,' 'The Nanny Diaries'), the film follows Louis Ives (Paul Dano), a young playwright who moves to New York City's Upper East Side and comes under the spell of his new roommate, Henry Harrison (Kline), an eccentric bon vivant with no apparent source of income who spends his evenings as an "Extra Man," someone who escorts wealthy widows around town. Soon Harrison puts his new roomy under his wing and shows him the ropes of being an Extra Man, including the discrete way to urinate in public, how black shoe polish can be helpful when you don't have clean black socks and the art of conversing with another... which is to not.

Moviefone sat down with Kline at the posh Crosby Street Hotel in Lower Manhattan to talk about his career and why he had some explaining to do when he bumped into Jeremy Irons on the streets of New York while playing Henry Harrison.< There aren't that many actors working today who can segue seamlessly from playing legendary dramatic characters like Hamlet and King Lear to lighthearted fare such as a regular schmo impersonating the president or a teacher questioning his sexuality.

But for 30 years Kevin Kline has done just that, winning two Tonys for his work on stage and an Oscar for his hilarious role as Otto, a British-hating criminal in 'A Fish Called Wanda.' Now for his latest film, 'The Extra Man,' Kline combines his comedic and Shakespearean talents to create his most outlandish character yet.

Adapted from Jonathan Ames' novel and directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini ('American Splendor,' 'The Nanny Diaries'), the film follows Louis Ives (Paul Dano), a young playwright who moves to New York City's Upper East Side and comes under the spell of his new roommate, Henry Harrison (Kline), an eccentric bon vivant with no apparent source of income who spends his evenings as an "Extra Man," someone who escorts wealthy widows around town. Soon Harrison puts his new roomy under his wing and shows him the ropes of being an Extra Man, including the discrete way to urinate in public, how black shoe polish can be helpful when you don't have clean black socks and the art of conversing with another ... which is to not.

Moviefone sat down with Kline at the posh Crosby Street Hotel in Lower Manhattan to talk about his career and why he had some explaining to do when he bumped into Jeremy Irons on the streets of New York while playing Henry Harrison.

Had you read 'The Extra Man' before they approached you for the part?
No. I read the script and then I read the novel and loved it. It's really laugh-out-loud funny and the character of Henry Harrison goes on far more escapades than we could fit into the film. In fact, Jonathan Ames once told me, "I wish we could do it as a miniseries because there's so many extraordinary episodes."

Did you have time to try to get some of your favorite moments from the book into the script?
Yes, in fact, at our first meeting they said if you find things that you're dying to do let us know, but there were too many. I actually started putting notes in the margins of the book of my favorites, and we put one or two in but there wasn't enough time. It's really an embarrassment of riches because what the character says is so outrageous and funny.

Did you put a lot of thought into how you wanted his voice to be and his mannerisms?
It was pretty instinctive. I must have absorbed over the years working in theater these larger than life characters. I mean there is a sense of performance to Henry Harrison and a healthy dose of self-delusion which is a big part of his survival kit, so he's living in this absolute squalor of degradation which is even more vividly described in the book ...

And his car is awful too.
Oh, what a great car. I don't know how they found that.

I've heard you compare Henry Harrison to Sir John Falstaff or Don Quixote. Is it fun to play a character that you yourself may not have figured out yet?
Yeah, absolutely. And he's created this mystique about himself. It's really a study of generational differences. We're in an era of utter transparency and people giving too much information about themselves, but he's from the old school, the more European early part of the 20th Century where opacity is a virtue and the less you know about someone the better. As he says [to Louis], "Are we having a conversation? Well, this has to stop. The less we know about each other the better, it's the foundation of a good relationship." [laughs] But it also creates a sense of mystery about him and he needs this to survive this Quixote-like imaginative lifestyle that he's living. He's got his black shoe polish to paint his socks and he darkens his hair with mascara, he's playing dress up. There's something heroic about his style in the face of near-destitution.

And for something like this you need a great straight man, and Paul Dano does that so well. Did you guys have any time to discuss how you wanted to play off each other?
There was no time for that, it was just do it. And I was surprised by the depth that Paul brought the character, and the vulnerability. He's not just the straight man, he plays him as being so passionate and so vulnerable and having deep feelings, he's really a guy in the throes of a real identity crisis. Which is kind of funny because here's this other guy who doesn't even know who he is. They're both searching for an identity.

'The Extra Man' trailer


Do you remember Paul from 'The Emperor's Club'? He was one of your students.
Oh, yeah. He was 16 at the time and I've enjoyed watching him since.

So has a real Extra Man come to you and given their assessment of your performance?

No ... at least, I didn't believe that's who he was. [laughs] But I think there are more of them out there than we think. Especially in New York.

At this point in your career is the stage more satisfying for you than film?
Honestly, it's whatever I find stimulating and of a certain quality. It can be either. And I've been fortunate that when I've returned to the theater I've played some of the great roles.

While filming 'The Extra Man' you ran into one of your colleagues on the streets of New York, right?
Well, it's New York so you never know who you're going to run into. And we were shooting this insane scene with Henry driving his car, and I'm supposed to be driving like a maniac, and we're in the East Village and I was just swerving and it was time to reload the camera and Jeremy Irons walks by and says, [in his best Irons accent] "Oh, Kevin how are you?" And before you know it it was time to get back to work. It was a brief encounter. But I'm driving this wreck of a car and I'm assuming that he saw the camera in the back seat but maybe not. Maybe he thought, poor Kevin, he's fallen on hard times. [laughs]

You won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for your role as Otto in 'A Fish Called Wanda.' Looking back, it's one of the few comedic roles to receive that award. Does that distinction give you a bit of pride?
At the time I was delighted just to have this part written for me. Because my first film was 'Sophie's Choice' and after that maybe there was a bit of comedy in other roles, but it wasn't all-out comedic like 'A Fish Called Wanda.' The Oscar sealed it in a way, and more comedic roles were offered to me after that. It was nice to hear at the time that a comedic role isn't often recognized by the Academy.

Did that give you confidence to take more comedic roles?
Well, I'd been doing comedy on stage for years, it was just I had never had the opportunity in film. So it wasn't news to me, but it was news to other people who thought I was just this Shakespearean guy. I think it was the surprise element that won the award, nothing to do to the merit of my work.

It is a great performance, though. Is that the one that's often mentioned when fans approach you?
The ones that were popular like 'Dave,' and yeah, 'A Fish Called Wanda.' The comedic ones are usually a bit more popular.


'The Extra Man' opens in theaters on Friday, July 30.