Oddly famed for being moustachioed in comedies but clean-shaven in serious roles, Kevin Kline is one of the most critically acclaimed stage and film actors of his generation.
The Oscar-winning star of A Fish Called Wanda also has an impressive array of voice acting credits to his name. You may recognise his clipped tones from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the comedy series Bob’s Burgers and most recently the 2017 version of Beauty and the Beast. Here are some things you may not know about Kline.
20. He turned down the chance to play Batman for Tim Burton
Kline is notoriously picky about which jobs he accepts – but it’s still surprising that he turned down the chance to play Batman in 1989.
While Kline wasn’t explicitly offered the job, he told his agent that he wasn’t even interested in meeting the film’s director, Tim Burton.
Recounting the incident on a 2013 podcast, Kline explained how he ended up losing out on the role: “I probably said ‘Batman? No.’
“I didn’t think I wanted to be in a movie based on a comic book in principal. And wear a mask? And fly?”
Kline does admit that he might have been too hasty in his judgement. “The [Batman films] I’ve seen are very well-written and stylishly made and I should have done it.”
However, Kline says he never regrets turning down projects, no matter how successful they become.
19. His character in A Fish Called Wanda was based on a real person
In the hit 1988 comedy A Fish Called Wanda, Kline stars as Otto, a pseudo-intellectual who constantly misinterprets every philosophical text he reads.
According to actor and director John Cleese, the character of Otto was inspired by the real-life self-help guru Dr. Frederick P. Lenz, aka the “yuppie guru.”
“I know where I got the idea of the character from. It was a magazine called Los Angeles magazine and I saw a two-page spread that was an advertisement for a weekend retreat of a Buddhist nature,” Cleese explained in a 2014 interview with NPR.
“And somebody was going to be teaching it, his name was Zen Master Rama (ph) or something.”
“And there was this rather callous-looking youth with uncertain eyes and a strange sort of haircut that looked like a full dandelion, you know, very fluffy.”
“And I thought he was singularly unimpressive, and then I saw the banner headline across and it said ‘Buddhism gives you the competitive edge.’ And I thought this is wonderful, so I wrote Kevin as a man who had read everything and understood nothing.”
18. Kline talked himself out of a role in Jaws when he tried to convince Spielberg to cast his friend instead
When director Steven Spielberg was casting for Matt Hooper, the intrepid oceanographer in Jaws, he met with Kline.
Unfortunately, Kline was more interested in persuading Spielberg to cast his buddy, a former classmate at Juilliard.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter in 2012, Kline recounted the situation: “I tried to convince [Spielberg] that he should cast a friend of mine who was also an amateur oceanographer.”
“I said, “He is an oceanographer!” He said, “Why are you trying to cast someone else?”
“Yeah, I had a very nice meeting with him.” Ultimately, however, Kline did not take up the role of Hooper.
Spielberg instead chose to give the part of Hooper to Richard Dreyfuss. Dreyfuss went on to bag a BAFTA nomination for his performance, in what would prove to be a signature role.
17. He almost didn’t go to the Academy Awards on the night he won
In 1989, Kline won an Oscar for his standout performance in iconic comedy film A Fish Called Wanda.
Kline’s win was highly unusual given the fact that comedy films only very rarely pick up Academy Awards.
Perhaps the person most surprised to see Kline bag the award was Kline himself. He was so convinced he wasn’t going to win that he almost didn’t turn up.
Speaking to Entertainment Weekly in 2018, Kline revealed that he almost didn’t go to the 61st Academy Awards.
“I was actually out in L.A. rehearsing I Love You to Death. I thought, I don’t have time to go to this Oscar ceremony.”
“I’m not going to win! People were very forthcoming, saying, “Just so you know, you’re the darkest of dark horses.” Thank goodness he did go!
16. His A Fish Called Wanda Oscar marked an extremely rare win for a comedy performance
It’s highly unusual for actors to win Oscars for comedy performances, but Kline did just that in 1989.
In 1988 comedy A Fish Called Wanda, Kline stars as jewel thief Otto West, co-starring alongside John Cleese and Jamie Lee Curtis.
Kline’s performance was widely acclaimed. In the Philadelphia Inquirer, critic Desmond Ryan wrote: “John Cleese is not the funniest performer in [A Fish Called Wanda].”
“Believe it or not, that honour goes to none other than the usually sombre Kevin Kline.”
In 1989, at the 61st Academy Awards, Kline went on to take home the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance.
He was presented his award by Michael Caine and former James Bond actors Sir Sean Connery and Sir Roger Moore.
15. He auctioned off the prosthetic noses he wore in Cyrano de Bergerac for charity
In 2007, Kline auctioned off the false noses he wore on-stage to play Cyrano de Bergerac in order to raise money for charity.
The auction was hugely successful. A television producer paid $1,300 for the first autographed prosthetic nose.
The following night, a generous theater-goer paid $1,500 for the second nose Kline wore as Cyrano.
The noses were signed by Kline and co-star Jennifer Garner, who played Cyrano’s cousin Roxanne.
The money went towards the AIDS charity Broadway Cares, an industry-based organisation that relies on the American Theatre community to raise money for AIDS-related causes in the US.
“The idea that Kevin Kline is literally auctioning the nose off his face is hilarious, and hilarious for a great cause,” said Tom Viola, executive director of Broadway Cares.
14. He went to a school where the teachers were all Benedictine monks
Kline attended the Saint Louis Priory School before graduating in 1965. While there, he was taught by Benedictine monks.
Kline first got into acting while enrolled here – but his monk headmaster didn’t put on the most orthodox plays.
Speaking to Irish America in 2001, Kline recalled the sorts of plays he and his schoolmates would perform.
“[The headmaster] blithely suggested we put on a play written in 184 B.C. by the early Roman comedy dramatist Titus Maccius Plautus and thought that we ought to do the whole thing in Latin!”
“We managed to convince him that a bit of the subtle comedy might be lost on our audience with their questionable grasp of the language,” Kline reflected.
“The Benedictines were great educators; this was a classic facility.” In 1997, the school named its new auditorium as the Kevin Kline Theater in his honor.
13. He got the nickname ‘Kevin Decline’ by refusing so many roles
Kline has been given the nickname ‘Kevin Decline’ for agonising over the roles he’s offered and rejecting a great many of them.
In a 2010 interview with the LA Times, Kline recalled turning down lucrative parts because they didn’t suit him.
“My agent was always confused because when he would say, ‘It’s going to be a big commercial hit,’ I’d say, ‘So?’”
Directors and producers have also been left frustrated with Kline’s nonchalant attitude to work – Irwin Winkler in particular.
“He never seems concerned about what his next job is going to be, and I wish he’d think about it more. Frankly, I think he’s too careful,” the Hollywood veteran warned.
Kline says that he’s never been a fan of the moniker as he believes it makes him sound ungrateful.
12. He vowed never to do soap operas or adverts as a young actor, then immediately did both to avoid “starving”
In an interview with The Guardian in 2004, Kline said: “I think every American actor wants to be a movie star. But I never wanted to do stupid movies, I wanted to do films.
“I vowed I would never do a commercial, or a soap opera.” But reality soon caught up with Kline.
“Both of which I did as soon as I left the Acting Company and was starving,” Kline confessed.
Kline’s first television role was in Search for Tomorrow, a US soap opera that ran from 1951 to 1986.
He appeared as minor character Woody Reed in the show before leaving after just one year.
He’s also starred in commercials for cream cheese, liquor and Goldfish Crackers over the decades.
11. He actually wanted to play Jeff Goldblum’s (much funnier) character in The Big Chill
Kline auditioned for three main parts in the comedy-drama The Big Chill: Sam Weber, Michael Gold and Harold Cooper.
Tom Berenger and Jeff Goldblum snapped up the parts of Sam and Michael, while Kline ended up playing Harold.
However, Kline reportedly envied his co-stars at first for their more comical parts and would have preferred not to have ended up as Harold.
“I had my eye on the funnier roles,” he confessed to Backstage.com back in 2012.
“This guy [Harold] was just so normal… I’d never done anything like it; in theatre, my characters were very different…
“In retrospect, having just done Sophie’s Choice, it was good to play a regular guy,” he reflected.
10. He played the first Disney hero with facial hair
It’s widely been noted that Kline almost always sports a beard or moustache when he performs in comedies, but he is usually clean-shaven for dramas.
When Kline lends his voice to animations, however, this rule then doesn’t seem to apply.
He had facial hair while recording as Captain Phoebus in The Hunchback of Notre Dame (perhaps the most sobering of all Disney films).
Captain Phoebus also happens to be the first Disney hero with facial hair, a man who sports a neat blonde goatee.
This isn’t the only time where Kline goes against the so-called ‘Kevin Kline Moustache Principal.’
In animated sitcom Bob’s Burgers, Kline plays Mr Calvin Fischoeder, who does not have any facial hair.
9. His film The January Man is often cited as one of the worst of all time
Despite his pickiness about which parts to play, Kline also starred in The January Man, which was panned by critics and has been named by many as one of the worst films of all time.
Kline stars as a detective in this crime comedy, and he has since described this film as his least favourite performance.
Renowned critic Roger Ebert went as far as to call the film “one of the worst movies of all time.”
He wrote: “The January Man is worth study as a film that fails to find its tone. It’s all over the map. It wants to be zany but violent, satirical but slapstick, romantic but cynical.”
Ebert wasn’t the only unimpressed critic. Writing for United Press International, critic Cathy Burke described the film as “an erratic hodge-podge that is never quite funny or dramatic, and often just doesn’t make good sense. The star-studded cast tries to overcome the material, but it’s a losing cause.”
Kline starred alongside Susan Sarandon, Harvey Keitel, Alan Rickman, and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio in the doomed film.
8. He still gets starstruck when he works with his favourite film stars
Kline has three Tonys and one Oscar to his name, and in 2003 he was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame – but he’s still humbled to work with his favourite actors.
“It never ceases to surprise me, the people I get to work with,” Kline said in a 2019 interview with Inside Jersey.
“I’m in a French film with Sandrine Bonnaire? I adore Sandrine Bonnaire,” he gushed, recalling 2009 film Queen to Play.
He was equally excited about his work on The Conspirator in 2010. “I’m doing a picture for Robert Redford? The Sundance Kid?”
“I have to pinch myself sometimes. You know, actors are fans, too. And talent is very attractive to me.”
It’s very sweet that an actor as acclaimed as Kline still gets starstruck when meeting other accomplished stars.
7. Before he became a Shakespearean actor, Kline hated Shakespeare
In Kline’s defence, not many school children enjoy reading the work of Shakespeare given the modern difficulty in understanding Early Modern English.
But not many school children go on to win Tony awards for their stellar performances as Shakespearean characters.
Speaking to Inside Jersey in 2019, Kline explained his sudden change of heart for the Bard’s work.
“Shakespeare was not written to be read, it was written to be performed – but still they assign it to you in high school and tell you to read it, and you hate it,” he said.
“I’d hated it. ‘What’s the point! Who cares! Who would read this cr*p?’ But read it aloud, act it out so you really have to understand what’s being said and, God.
“That’s the way it should be taught, by immersion, like a foreign language. I was happy to see both my children, when they got Shakespeare in school, they were shown films. One of mine in fact. ‘Ha! You finally had to see Dad doing that Shakespeare movie.’”
6. He met wife Phoebe Cates at auditions for The Big Chill
Kline met his wife, retired actress Phoebe Cates, in 1983 during auditions for The Big Chill.
Even though Cates did not get the part she auditioned for, sparks flew between herself and Kline.
The duo didn’t get together immediately and only started dating two years later in 1985, after a chance meeting at New York City’s Public Theater.
Kline reportedly enlisted the help of Cates’ former assistant and asked her to get him a date with Cates.
The pair tied the knot in a private wedding ceremony in New York in 1989 and are now parents to two children, Owen and Greta.
Some have cast doubt on the relationship due to the 16-year age gap between the pair, but they’ve been going strong for over 20 years now.
5. He initially studied to be a musician
Kline didn’t set out to be an actor – in fact, he actually majored in music for his first two years at Indiana University.
But when he joined the Vest Pocket Players troupe, he discovered his talent for theatre and soon swapped to a Speech and Theatre degree.
After graduating, Kline joined the inaugural drama class at the Juilliard School in New York City.
There he studied under the famous drama teacher John Houseman, along with Patti LuPone and Tony Azito.
After getting his graduate diploma from the Juilliard School, Kline moved on to work with The Acting Company in 1972.
He spent the next four years touring with the group, acting in a variety of classical and contemporary plays.
4. He’s hugely passionate about raising awareness for type 1 diabetes
Kline’s son Owen was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as a young child, and since then he’s been committed to raising awareness for the illness.
Speaking out on how Owen’s diagnosis changed his life, Kline told CNN in 2020: “Once you have a child diagnosed with diabetes, you stop being merely a parent.
“You become a parent, a doctor, a nurse. You count every carb, watch their activity, prick their fingers, and make sure they take insulin.
“At first, it’s a lot like having a newborn. Their diabetes never sleeps, and neither do you.”
Kline has since done a lot of work with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) to aid with their mission to raise awareness and continue research into the condition.
In November 2004, Kline was presented with the JDRF’s Humanitarian of the Year award by Meryl Streep for his charity work.
3. He has played multiple characters in multiple films
In Dave, Wild Wild West and Fierce Creatures, Kline takes double duty by playing two characters – one of whom at some point pretends to be the other.
Kline stars as both father and son Rod and Vince McCain in 1997 comedy Fierce Creatures.
Kline also plays a man, Dave Kovic, who impersonates the President (also played by Kline) in 1993 political comedy Dave.
Lastly, Kline plays both Marshal Artemus Gordon and President Ulysses S. Grant in Wild Wild West.
Kline was also supposed to play two characters in Charlie Kaufman’s movie musical Frank or Francis.
However, despite having an impressive cast on board for production, the film never got off the ground due to financial difficulties.
2. He and his whole family acted together in The Anniversary Party
The Anniversary Party – a comedy-drama released in 2001 – follows the celebrations of a married Hollywood couple.
Among the party guests are the fictional actor Cal Gold, his wife and their children.
While Gold is played by Kline, Gold’s wife is played by Kline’s real-life wife Phoebe Cates.
And if you thought those kids looked a little too much like their on-screen parents to just be any old child actors – you’d be right.
The Gold children are also played by Kline’s real-life kids, Owen and Greta. Owen and Greta both went on to appear in 2005 film The Squid and the Whale.
Cates, a renowned actress, first met future husband Kline in the early 1980s at her failed audition for the part of Chloe in The Big Chill, and the two married in 1989.
1. He’s half-Jewish and half-Catholic
Kline comes from a mixed background, with a Jewish father of German descent and Irish Catholic mother.
Speaking to Irish America in 2001, Kline reflected on his diverse background. “It think it was music that brought my parents together. They shared a passion for music.
“My grandmother didn’t go to their wedding, but that wasn’t because my father was Jewish, it was because he was – unimaginable and inexcusable – divorced!”
Kline was raised Catholic and went to a Catholic school where he was taught by Benedictine monks.
“I still go to Midnight Mass occasionally and Easter services,” Kline revealed, although he did confess he’s not a regular churchgoer.
Kline also believes his penchant for performing arts came from both of his parents. “[My father] played the piano and he sang […] “But it was really my mother who was the genuinely histrionic one. She was the drama queen.”