For Kevin Kline, The Beard's (Sometimes) The Thing Academy Award winner Kevin Kline has worn many hats -- and many different styles of facial hair -- on film, the stage and television. His latest role is that of Henry Harrison, an eccentric playwright, in The Extra Man. He speaks with Liane Hansen about how his film is like Midnight Cowboy and what his mustaches say about his characters.
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For Kevin Kline, The Beard's (Sometimes) The Thing

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For Kevin Kline, The Beard's (Sometimes) The Thing

For Kevin Kline, The Beard's (Sometimes) The Thing

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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A curious and quirky film called "The Extra Man" opens next weekend in New York. Actor Kevin Kline plays the role of Henry Harrison, an eccentric and penniless playwright who takes in budding writer Lewis Ives, played by Paul Dano. Harrison lives his life at the fringes of Manhattan's high society, at the side of aging, wealthy ladies.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Extra Man")

Mr. KEVIN KLINE (Actor): (as Henry Harrison) Rosenkavalier, an escort.

Mr. PAUL DANO (Actor): (as Lewis Ives) Henry, are you a gigolo?

Mr. KLINE: (as Henry Harrison) Don't be disgusting. I am an extra man. Although I would argue that Im so much more than extra - Im essential.

Mr. DANO: (as Lewis Ives) Yeah, but do these old ladies pay you?

Mr. KLINE: (as Henry Harrison) Of course not - except in pleasure, fine meal, vintage champagne, an orchestra, perhaps.

HANSEN: That's actor Kevin Kline in the character of Henry Harrison, in the new movie "The Extra Man." And Kevin Kline joins us from our New York bureau. Welcome to the program.

Mr. KLINE: Thank you. It's good to be here.

HANSEN: Is it true, can you get by in New York with no money, live off the wealth of others?

Mr. KLINE: I think so. I think we all live off the wealth of others.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KLINE: But, yeah. I think, to me, when I first read the script, it reminded me obliquely of "Midnight Cowboy," where Ratso Rizzo is showing this newcomer to the city, showing him his New York. And in so doing, I think you get not only this desperate survival-skill lesson, but a way of taking the enormous wealth that is everywhere in New York City, and skimming a bit off the top for yourself.

HANSEN: So getting into the art gallery openings and the wine tastings, and all those things. It's a little like what many interns do on Capitol Hill, and how they feed themselves through the summer.

Mr. KLINE: Hmm. Well, it's certainly what I did as a young actor in drama school. We all - it's called second acting. You just wait for people to leave the theater at the intermission, and go watch the second act.

HANSEN: The screenplay is from a novel by Jonathan Ames, the creator of the HBO series "Bored to Death." What did think of the story when you read the book?

Mr. KLINE: Oh, I loved it. I mean, laugh-out-loud funny. But it's all from Lewis' point of view - as, indeed, the experience for Jonathan, who actually shared an apartment with an eccentric gentleman and knew, as soon as he moved in, that here was his next novel because the man just said the most outrageous, outlandish, extravagant things - that he just started writing them down.

HANSEN: This is a comedy of manners, in many respects. And you know, it's almost as if your character is doing a period piece, and the character of Lewis is doing a contemporary piece. Did you feel that way?

Mr. KLINE: Well, yes. I think both of them yearn for a bygone era when gentlemen were gentlemen and are, in their own ways, appalled by the vulgarity of contemporary culture. He's a very complicated fellow, but I think he does come from another era.

HANSEN: Oh, for sure.

Mr. KLINE: Yeah.

HANSEN: Especially in his attitude about women.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KLINE: Yes.

HANSEN: I mean, he's like - I remember writing down: 70-year-old virgin encased in amber.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KLINE: Very good. Yes, he may very well be that.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Extra Man")

Mr. DANO: (as Lewis Ives) Or he said women shouldnt go to college.

Mr. KLINE: (as Henry Harrison) Oh, Im against the education of women.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KLINE: (as Henry Harrison) It dulls their senses and affects their performance in the boudoir.

HANSEN: He plays it to the hilt and yet he always leaves - you always leave, as the actor portraying him, a bit of mystery. I mean, at one point, he says to Lewis: Are we having a conversation? Well, it has to stop. We should know as little about each other as possible. So...

Mr. KLINE: And then he says: Good relationships have this foundation.


(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KLINE: I dont know if it's - I've rarely heard it in screenings, because it's usually drowned out by a laugh.


Mr. KLINE: But the age of confessional transparency in which we live is something he would eschew heartily. He's all for opacity, mystique, mystery and self-mythologizing.

HANSEN: So as an actor, you create a certain inner life for your character, but then you have to be careful about giving away clues to that inner life.

Mr. KLINE: Exactly. And one counts on the well-written script to do that for you. But there is an element of performance in this character. There is something - if not larger than life, as large as life gets with him.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Extra Man")

(Soundbite of Tchaikovsky's "4th Symphony" and grunting)

HANSEN: There's the scene where Lewis has just moved in and Henry Harrison is -he says he's dancing, but it's really...

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: ...he is moving to Tchaikovsky's "4th Symphony," which is pretty much a wake-up call for Lewis. What - I mean, this dancing that Henry does, it's a little like the character Elaine on "Seinfeld." It's...

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: It's like a car accident; you can't help but watch it. Was that choreographed?

Mr. KLINE: It was loosely - well, Patricia Birch, who's a brilliant choreographer, with whom I've worked over the years, we had a session. We decided rather than doing what - the description thats in the book, which is a sort of balletic foxtrot, sort of singing - dancing along to Ethel Mermen singing Cole Porter - which A, the producers could not afford to get the rights to and B, we thought, well, let's take the line, which is also - I guess happily or unhappily covered by laughter - but he says, I try to move whatever I think is rotting, and take it to the hilt.

He thinks everything is rotting, so I move just about every part of my body -every joint imaginable. And later I say, oh, it's inimitable; no one can possibly replicate this. It's based on jungle rhythms.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KLINE: You know, again, it's one of those crazy pronouncements that he makes. But it was just a free-form - his references would have been classical ballet, Martha Graham, right up to and including Twyla Tharp and Merce Cunningham, and what have you.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Extra Man")

Mr. DANO: (as Lewis Ives) Whats happening?

Mr. KLINE: (as Henry Harrison) Can't be seen when Im dancing. Woo. I forgot you were here.

Mr. DANO: (as Lewis Ives) Well, it's...

Mr. KLINE: (as Henry Harrison) Next time I exercise, Ill make sure that you're out. Sometimes, the need is too great.

Mr. DANO: (as Lewis Ives) No problem.

Mr. KLINE: (as Henry Harrison) I must keep in shape. You know? I try to move whatever I think is rotting.

(Soundbite of Tchaikovsky's "4th Symphony")

HANSEN: I have to ask you about something that the film critic Roger Ebert said.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: He called it the Kevin Kline Moustache Principle...

Mr. KLINE: Mm-hmm.

HANSEN: ...that you have facial hair in comedies, but are clean- shaven in dramatic roles. Is that true?

Mr. KLINE: Well, gee. I did "King Lear" with quite a bit of facial hair. And actually it was funny, in retrospect. I guess he's right. No, I think even he -I've heard about that theory, and I think he's admitted that there are exceptions.

HANSEN: Sure. Well, see, the obverse of what he says - said - the reverse of what he said about Robin Williams. He has a beard in his serious roles...

Mr. KLINE: Ah.

Mr. KLINE: ...and is clean-shaven in his comedies.

Mr. KLINE: Right. Well, I think of "A Fish Called Wanda," where I had this rather full mustache, and what they call a soul patch under my bottom lip.


Mr. KLINE: We were looking for something sort of tragically hip, and trying desperately to set himself apart in some way. And facial hair can be an affectation. In that case, I think it was. In the case of Henry Harrison, we thought because he dyes his hair blackish when he goes out with the ladies, but by day he's really a white-haired, elderly gentleman, I thought if we had facial hair you would notice that he'd put mascara on it, that it was different. It's subtly done, but in fact he learned in the theater that you can use mascara. And he can't afford, really, to get some good Clairol hair dye.

HANSEN: He also can't afford socks, so he uses - what is it, Magic Marker on his ankle?

Mr. KLINE: Oh, was shoe polish...

HANSEN: Shoe polish on his ankles.

Mr. KLINE: ...I think it's meant to be, yeah.


Mr. KLINE: But I love that about him because he's never - whatever the cards he's dealt, however negative - whether he's living in financial destitution and squalor, or his socks are threadbare and he can't afford to get a new pair, he can improvise something. And he's always improvising some wonderful improvement on his lot, to turn a negative into a positive.

HANSEN: So because I can't see you - Im in Washington; you're in New York - do you...

Mr. KLINE: I am wearing socks - but they were not painted on, if thats what you were going to ask.

HANSEN: No, I was going to ask if you have a mustache.

Mr. KLINE: I do not...


Mr. KLINE: ...which is why I haven't been funny.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KLINE: Oh, I take it all back.

HANSEN: Take it all back.

Mr. KLINE: I got a laugh.

HANSEN: Yes, you did. Yes, you did.

Mr. KLINE: No, I have no mustache at the moment.

HANSEN: So I was just looking about clues for your next role, thats all.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: No clues, eh?

Mr. KLINE: What my next role is?


Mr. KLINE: I wish I could tell you. No, Im entertaining a plethora of possibilities. It's just a matter of choosing which one seems the most remunerative - to the soul, of course, I mean.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Extra Man")

Mr. KLINE: (as Henry Harrison) There we are. Where are we?

Mr. DANO: (as Lewis Ives) Sorry?

Mr. KLINE: (as Henry Harrison) I like to say that sometimes before retiring.

HANSEN: Well, there we are.

Mr. KLINE: There we are. Where are we?

HANSEN: At the end of the interview.

Mr. KLINE: Terrific.

HANSEN: Actor Kevin Kline. He appears in "The Extra Man," which opens in New York this coming weekend. He joins us from our New York bureau. Thank you so much.

Mr. KLINE: Thank you.

(Soundbite of Tchaikovsky's "4th Symphony")

HANSEN: "The Extra Man" opens in New York next weekend. And there's a memorable clip from the film, where Henry Harrison teaches Lewis a unique urban skill. You can see that, and hear Kevin Kline talk about it, at our website,

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