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star struck

Reading between the Klines

Whether it is a musical, comedy or drama, Kevin Kline is equally at home.

By Chris Betros

When you are a good singer, it's not easy to sing badly. That's what Kevin Kline had to do in De-Lovely, a musical biopic about legendary songwriter Cole Porter (1892-1964). "He wasn't a very good singer, so I had to drop down a bit," said Kline who sang live during filming rather than lip-synching, which is the norm in musicals. "I don't really think of myself as a singer, though. I'm an actor who sings when he has to."

Kline, who studied music for two years at New York's famous Juilliard School, has distinguished himself on the stage as well as in comedy and dramatic roles on the screen for the past 25 years in films such as The Big Chill, A Fish Called Wanda (for which he won an Oscar), Chaplin (as Douglas Fairbanks), The Wild, Wild West (which he'd rather forget), and The Emperor's Club. Remarkably, this is the 57-year-old star's his first visit to Japan. "They never asked me to come before," he said with a shrug.

De-Lovely is one of Kline's more ambitious projects. Directed by Irwin Winkler, it focuses on Porter's complex sexuality as much as the great composer himself. Unlike the 1946 Cary Grant film Night and Day that glossed over Porter's homosexuality, De-Lovely tackles it head-on. "I don't think he thought it was much of a big deal. It's a unique love story, one in which sex is taken out of the equation," Kline said of the composer's relationship with his wife Linda (played by Ashley Judd).

Kline said he prepared for seven months, practicing the piano so he didn't have to look at his hands when he played. Then he had to try and get inside the head of Porter, considered one of the holy trinity of 20th-century American composers along with Irving Berlin and George Gershwin.

"Porter was a very social man, but also a very private one," said Kline. "There is not a lot of TV footage of him, apart from some appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show, so I studied a lot of photos. I didn't want to impersonate him, but rather capture his spirit and somehow make it my own characterization." To appeal to contemporary audiences, Winkler enlisted Elvis Costello, Sheryl Crow, Alanis Morissette, Natalie Cole and Robbie Williams to perform some songs. "They did a great job," said Kline. "They embraced the essence of Porter's style with a fresh interpretation."

De-Lovely is Kline's third drama in a row, but he hasn't given up comedy. "Growing older hasn't made me less funny," said the actor who has just finished a remake of The Pink Panther (with Steve Martin as Inspector Clouseau). "You'll let me know if I'm too serious, won't you?"

Photo credit: Chris Betros

 

 

 

the scene

Levis Red Ribbon Night

Denim fashion brand enlists youth music stars at WOMB to promote AIDS awareness in Shibuya

Clockwise from top left: Levis staff on stage with Sora3000 (R) and a representative of the Japanese Foundation for AIDS Prevention (L), Message boards encouraging AIDS awareness, Rapper Miss Monday , Sora3000; Sphere of Influence

Photos courtesy of Levis

 

 

q&a
Akihiko Yamashita

Photo credit: Mayumi Higashioka

An animation director on Howl's Moving Castle, the latest release from Hayao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli, Akihiko Yamashita has been working on anime since the early 80s. Yamashita also worked on Spirited Away, which won Miyazaki the Best Animated Feature Film Oscar in 2003.

Why did you become a film animator?
When I first saw Hayao Miyazaki's Castle of Cagliostro, I was only a high school student, but it had a profound influence on me. I think it's the best animation ever, and it's probably the biggest reason why I became an animator. The fact that Miyazaki made it when he was my age made me a bit depressed.

What's your relationship with Miyazaki like?
He is like a father, a very strict father. He teaches me-everyone-about life.

What was it like making Howl's Moving Castle?
My body was in pain from being glued to the desk from morning till late at night. But when it was finished and I saw it for the first time with music, I cried. The music is amazingly beautiful.

Did you get any days off after Howl was finished?
Yes. Lots! I went to Italy with my wife for eight days. I hadn't taken more than three days off straight in the last five years, so it was very relaxing.

What's your favorite movie?
The Seven Samurai. Takashi Shimura is the best actor ever. He doesn't look he is acting. I don't think any Japanese actors can act like that any more. As for foreign films, I like The Poseidon Adventure. When I was a kid, my parents didn't let me stay up to watch it so I snuck a peek at the TV from my bedroom door. I was so touched that I cried. About 20 years later, I watched it again and amazingly I was even more touched.

What are you working on now?
I'm making three short animated films to be showed at the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka.

Which Ghibli character is most like you?
Kodama, the forest spirit in Princess Mononoke

Which animation do you watch the most?
Tom and Jerry

Read our review of Howl's Moving Castle. MH


Would you like to comment on this article? Send a letter to the editor at letters@metropolis.co.jp.

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