Dr. Kevin Kline

By Tamera Theodore

Actor and IU alumnus Kevin Kline returned to the Bloomington campus last week to receive a Doctorate of Humane Letters honorary degree and to be a guest of the Jorgensen Guest Filmmaker Lecture Series. With about 1,200 attendees present at the IU Auditorium, President Michael McRobbie and Provost Lauren Robel offered introductory remarks on Kline’s illustrious stage and film career, one that has spanned over four decades and resulted in a long list of accomplishments including an Academy Award, two Tony Awards, and induction into the American Theatre Hall of Fame.

To a roar of enthusiastic applause and lots of woo-hoo’s, our very own Professor of Practice Robby Benson and his wife, Karla DeVito, introduced their longtime friend Kevin Kline by recounting the details of how they came to be fellow cast members of Broadway’s “Pirates of Penzance.” Robby and Karla, possibly the most adorable couple in the entire history of couples, explained that because of Kline’s stellar performance, Robby agreed to join the cast in the role of Frederic and thus met and fell in love with Karla, and the rest is history. Robby summed it up by saying “… and the only reason that my life has been so extraordinarily blessed is because of Kevin.” It was said tongue in cheek, of course, but clearly there’s a lot of love between these old friends.

Here are a few selected tidbits from Mr. Kline’s – indeed, Dr. Kline’s – hour-long, very funny onstage conversation with Jonathan Michaelsen, Chair of the Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance.

On his visit to the Bloomington campus last week:

“I wandered around the campus yesterday and a flood of memories came back. And hearing myself extolled today, I thought ‘Oh, it’s all nonsense’ and then I thought ‘No, it did all start here.’ It’s great to revisit the place where I learned so much valuable stuff.”

On being a member of the Vest Pocket Players at IU during the Vietnam War:

“If they brought back the draft, if there were conscription right now, I think the student body would be much more politicized than they are at the moment. I’m not advocating that. What I’m saying is – this is sort of what The Big Chill was about. A lot of the … idealism that we had came from [the fact that] our lives were on the line and we took a stand. We wrote a manifesto … because we wanted to put down our commitment to the community, our commitment to serving the community and being a voice …”

On preparing for roles:

“Each role, I think, requires its own preparation. Part of what one learns the more one does this is it starts with preparation. How do I prepare? Or do I not prepare? Let’s not even learn the lines, let’s just show up because the director loves to improvise. Great! I’m not going to plan it. I’m just going to respond on the day to the material. Other times, [preparation takes] hours, weeks, months, years. I carried around a copy of Hamlet in my pocket for about ten years before I did it. Each one requires its own preparation.”

On auditioning:

“I learned a lot about auditions, about casting directors, how to work and how not to be seduced by the idea of ‘there’s a way I’m supposed to play this character.’ And I started to learn this important message that there’s no such thing as a right way or a wrong way – there’s just a good way and a bad way. It was a great lesson to learn.”

During his visit, Kline also taught a masterclass with theater students (here are some video highlights) and was present for a screening of A Fish Called Wanda at the IU Cinema. Coming full circle from his film debut in Sophie’s Choice, Kline will begin work in a few weeks on a new film with none other than Meryl Streep (who is also a 2014 recipient of an honorary doctorate from IU).


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