It’s a gorgeous spring day in Manhattan, which seems to have both actor Kevin Kline and writer-director Lawrence Kasdan restless. Though they’re sitting next to each other on one side of a large table in a hotel conference room, they take turns hopping up to glance through the blinds at the sunny weather outside.
They’re here to talk about “Darling Companion,” which opened Friday in limited release. It’s Kasdan’s first film since 2003 and only his fourth since 1994’s “Wyatt Earp.”
But Kasdan, first into the room, is already telling stories about Kline. On the relatively low-budget comedy-drama, the cast would be retrieved from its hotel each morning in a van and, Kasdan says, as they were driven to the location, Kline would start a monologue that seemed endless.
“Kevin never stopped talking and he was hilarious,” Kasdan says. “The cast loved him. Although, once in a while, Diane Keaton or Dianne Wiest would say, ‘Can’t you shut him up?’”
Kline, entering the conference room, quickly defends himself, saying, “It was some bizarre altitude sickness. Really, I was so jazzed just to be working with these people. And we were all in this big van, like we were on ‘The Big Chill.’ So I had a captive audience. Although I was told to shut up a lot by Dianne.”
“Darling Companion,” which opened Friday and was written by Kasdan with his wife, Meg, pictured above, is about a married couple – played by Kline and Keaton – whose marriage is tested when the husband loses the wife’s dog. It’s the sixth film on which Kasdan and Kline have collaborated since Kasdan made his directing debut in 1981 with “Body Heat.” Indeed, as Kline reveals, they met for the first time when Kline auditioned for the “Body Heat” role that ultimately went to William Hurt.
“What I liked about Larry is that he’s so real – that’s what made me love him even when he didn’t hire me,” Kline says. “He was so unpretentious.”
“He wasn’t right for ‘Body Heat’,” Kasdan says. “But I was quite taken with him. When we started casting ‘The Big Chill,’ he was the first person I wanted to see.”
Since then, they’ve made five more films together: “Silverado,” “Grand Canyon,” “I Love You to Death,” “French Kiss” and now “Darling Companion.”
“At this point, we have a wonderful short-hand,” Kline says, adding with a chuckle, “We don’t speak. We text.”
“Experiences pile up,” says Kasdan, who has three Oscar nominations for screenwriting. “I may not have gotten wisdom over the years, but I have gotten experience. Things become less daunting; the whole conversation is easier. It’s always hard to make a movie – so it’s great when you go in the morning and see a face from your past and you know it’s not going to be any harder than it has to be.
“I also like the fact that, with Kevin – and with the rest of this cast – it wasn’t about the extra things, like the trailer or makeup or hair and wardrobe. We have difficulty at times getting to a place we can agree on but we’re all working hard. It’s not about ego or some old gripe. You know you have great tools at hand. For me, Kevin has played a cowboy, an Italian, a Frenchman, a lawyer, a doctor – he’s able to do anything and be funny doing it.”
Says Kline, “I love the way Larry writes and directs. I love how he trusts the actors. We have similar senses of humor and he teases me mercilessly. The bottom line is that I trust him, which is probably what an actor needs in a director. I’m comfortable enough working with him that I can say, ‘Well, I really feel strongly about this.’ Like the white pajamas in ‘I Love You to Death.’”
In that 1990 comedy, based on a true story, Kline played an amorous Italian, whose angry wife (Tracey Ullman) hires a pair of dimwits (William Hurt and Keanu Reeves) to murder her unfaithful husband. In the film’s funniest scene, after Hurt and Reeves supposedly have shot a drugged Kline while he was passed out in his bed, Kline comes walking out, slightly loopy but seemingly unfazed, wearing a pair of white pajamas which, when he turns around, reveals a large bloodstain on the back, though he gives no evidence of having been shot. Kline thought the white pajamas were too obvious; Kasdan convinced him otherwise.
“Bill Hurt could not stop laughing when we were shooting that scene,” Kline says. “He kept cracking up. And he’s not exactly your giddy actor on the set. Bill Hurt is not Mr. Silly.”
Kline and Kasdan were part of a reunion of the cast of “The Big Chill” at a tribute to the film at this year’s Santa Barbara Film Festival.
“Thirty years after the film was made, all the jokes still played exactly right,” Kasdan says. “People related to it exactly the way we hoped they would 30 years ago.”
Says Kline, “I related to it more than ever. It was almost prophetic, in its predictions about what celebrity culture would become. I was surprised at the teenagers in the audience who said they loved the movie. But it’s about friendship and generation and growing up. That’s why it still holds up.”
“When something you’ve done keeps going like that, well, I’m thrilled and delighted,” Kasdan says. “It’s a shock – and a delight.”
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