Actors inspire me. They also are just people.
That may seem obvious, but I’m constantly amazed at the way they are perceived. I’m not just talking about celebrities now, who take up far too much of our psychic real estate for no good reason. Everyday working actors are more apt to attract derision or envy or suspicion than members of most other professions. I’m speaking even from my experience growing up working in the film and television industry. There’s a definite division between cast and crew. Examples? A grip fixes his cowlick in a mirror on set, no one thinks anything of it. An actor glances at his reflection, and he’s obviously an egomaniac.
I’ve been both an actor and a crew member, and the difference is astonishing. With celebrities, it’s way more intense. People want to have a story to tell about their experience with a celebrity, so the poor celeb’s slightest action is scrutinized and reacted to beyond all reason. I remember being overwhelmed when Robert DeNiro held a door open for me. Common decency, but what an amazing guy! Or the time I passed Bruce Willis in a parking lot and he nodded at me. Why aren’t there statues of him in every city? And by the way, I can tell you without question that Matthew Broderick is a douche because he looked at me funny when I stumbled across him talking on his cell outside his trailer, and Steve Martin is a knob because he didn’t look up from the book he was reading when I hovered 30 feet away from him for 10 seconds.
But enough of these demigods and scumbags. I have to apologize to Kevin Kline.
In 1988 when I was a kid, I worked on the movie “The January Man“. I was suffering from near hallucinatory exhaustion brought on by 10 consecutive 80-hour work weeks. I was physically wretched and emotionally overwrought from the moment I awoke until I fell unconscious. At lunch, while ingesting my food without being able to taste it because my senses had shut down, I started to notice a little ritual that at first merely annoyed me, then soon filled me with poisonous rage.
Kevin Kline would get his lunch, sit down and chat amiably with the crew, and finish his meal in about 20 minutes. And then, get this, then this smarmy bastard would excuse himself, silently catch the eye of the 3rd Assistant Director (who needs to know the whereabouts of all the actors at all times) and communicate with her through an elegant little mime show of resting his head sideways on his hands that he was going to his trailer to take a nap. A nap. I hadn’t had a nap or a decent night’s sleep since whenever this freaking show had started. And here he was rubbing my hardworking face in it.
The fourth time I witnessed this ritual I snapped.
He was in the middle of his mime when I stood up directly between him and the AD, and performed a cruelly exaggerated version of his “me go sleep now” gestures to my boss, then stomped off to work for another 12 solid hours. Screw you, Kline. I work for a living! Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed that Kline was watching me go with a look of what may have been sadness and concern. Good.
The next day, Kevin Kline stood in my office doorway. Stars never stood in my doorway.
“Hi, I’m Kevin. You’re Chris, right?”
“You look busy.”
I stared at him. He smiled. Gestured towards my player.
“Hey, that’s Ladysmith Black Mambazo you’re playing, aren’t they great?”
“I saw them live recently in South Africa. The feeling in the audience was amazing!”
I just nodded at him, then went back to jamming numbers into my computer.
“OK, well, just wanted to drop in and say hi.”
I waved him off. And he left. Freaking Kevin Kline. Interrupting my work.
A week later, his then-girlfriend Phoebe Cates paid him a visit. She was standing in the hallway outside the set waiting for him to wrap. She looked absolutely stunning in a tight angora sweater. I filled a file folder with blank paper and carried it to and from the set, inadvertently brushing against that soft angora twice. Phoebe apologized both times for being in my way.
In my cockiness, I felt pretty good about putting this smug, overpaid actor in his place until years later when I related the story to Swan. She looked at me with genuine horror.
“So what you’re telling me,” she said, “is that this poor actor would hurry through lunch so he could take a nap, and being a professional, would inform the AD. For this you mocked him to his face. Then, when he tried to be friendly to you, a fellow crew member, and have a pleasant conversation, you were even more rude to him. And then you rubbed yourself against his future wife.”
Immediately I realized that she was right. To this day I can’t watch a Kevin Kline movie without feeling remorse.
So, Mr. Kline, I formally apologize for my boorish behaviour toward you. You were being decent, and I was a dick.
And Phoebe, if you ever get tired of Kevin, drop me a line.