Film Scouts Interviews

Kevin Kline on "The Ice Storm"

by Glenn Myrent

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Cannes, May 13, 1997

Kevin Kline (KK): Ang's film is more like Chekhov in a way. It's one of those plays where you're laughing and crying at the same time. It's a very interesting hybrid - it's all inclusive. If art is the way of showing us who we are, comedy we can laugh at ourselves, and tragedy we can feel for ourselves. They're both the same point - it's just two different sides of the same coin, and when I watch it, I experience it as the same thing. As Hamlet says, to wax even more pretentious, to hold a mirror up to nature. Anyway, it's just a mirror. When we go to movies or plays, it's not just to escape, to be diverted, but to look at the human condition, to look at ourselves at our worst in a comedy or at our most noble in a tragedy.

Q: How was it working with Ang Lee?

KK: He's very shy yet very passionate. He's very pensive on the set. He's thinking about the movie and whether we had time, and the budget, to get the shots he had planned. Trying to make it all happen with a limited budget and the constraints of time. In other ways, he's like other directors. He encourages the actors to contribute, to invent. He likes good acting and is very supportive. He doesn't do like some foreign directors, using actors as puppets. You're just a pawn to do their bidding. He really likes the actors to contribute. But he casts them because he has something in mind. He rehearses. In fact, here's a distinction, he gave us all a notebook this thick of research about the 70s. Music, he gave us CDs to listen to, total immersion into the period, magazine articles, pictures of advertisements to get a feeling for the period. He also asked us to do homework. He gave us a questionnaire to fill out about our character which gave a whole history - all their lives leading up to that moment. How Janey and I met. What was Joan Allen's character's name? my wife!? (laughs) Elena. Thank you. How Elena and I met. No director has asked me for that. And he asked us all to turn in our homework, actually. And I've brought mine with me to Cannes. I finally finished it. I kept saying, I'm almost done, I just need some more time…

Q: You're going to get marked down because you turned it in late !

KK: That's right. I had an incomplete. Hopefully I'll now get a grade.

Q: Ang seems to be a man who is confortable with manners. And that's what he's done in all of his films. He's deconstructed all of these worlds where people channel their true selves through whatever the codes have to do with manners. Your character seems to be the one character who is most ill at ease with the fact that some form of chivalry has been chucked out. Is that what you liked about your character or did it make you perversely dislike him?

KK: You can't dislike him. You have to put yourself in his shoes and understand his dilemma. You have to have compassion - you can't put yourself into a morally superior position to him. You can't send out vibes to the audience, "This isn't me, I would never do that ! He's a loser ! I'm a winner." It's hard to work that way. What I love about Ang and his other movies, and what I assume it will be like with this one, which was validated in the doing of it, is he's interested in the social pressures. That there's a certain code of behavior and how man is at odds with that, whether it's the social constraints of 'Sense and Sensibility,' and these people seething with these passions and they can't say it until that last scene where she says 'I love you.' Here in this film, these people are at a "key party", just sweating and trying to be hip and do the hip thing. He's having this affair because suddenly society says, your needs are important, the me generation, he's looking for some quick fix of intimacy. And probably that's what Janey is looking for too. But she's finished with that. It didn't solve the problem of her ennui nor his. But he's searching. What I like about the character is that he's conscious of this dilemma. And he is sort of formal. There's something kind of patriarchal - whether it's pretentious or not, he sort of fancies himself as a solid kind of patrician tradition and now he's like, "Oh no, I can be an adolescent again." Sexual permissiveness. He's lost his moorings and is trying to find himself. It's conforming with social pressure and man's basic nature &emdash; where those two things rub up against each other &emdash; that Ang is interested in. When I asked him to tell me about the Key Party, that's a weird scene - he said "I'm interested in the people not knowing what is appropriate behavior." The sex in the movie is all bad sex. Bad sex. It's not erotic. It's not about sensationalizing sex or titilating the audience. He's interested in the emotional life of what is really going on.

Q: Why does when your character is "caught" by his daughter in Janey's house, why doesn't she say, "hey, dad, why are you here?" He goes into the Father Mode and starts lecturing her for being there.

KK: Yeah. I know. He's come from that aborted tryst himself. He offers the excuse that - "I followed her on her bike and found her in the Flagrante Delicto - it's not for her to question. He's the father. It's a great situation. And then the wife asks him, what were you doing? He says I was just returning a cup to their house. He wants to be caught, like gamblers really want to lose, they say. He's - I don't think he's conscious of it, in a way he could be caught. He wants to connect again with his wife, but he doesn't know how. He just doesn't have the means. Everyone is trying to connect in the movie but no one is connecting. There seems to be all this missed chances, like in Chekov. He's in love with the wrong person and this inability to communicate.

Q: {asked by a journalist NOT connected with Filmscouts} Could you identify with any part of that?

KK: No, no, me? No. I'm completely enlightened and I have no problems and I'm way above all of that. Of course. It's the human condition. Here I am trying to communicate with you and you're asking me this inane question, like, can I relate to that? Yes, I can relate to that. I'm sorry I'm so angry now. I'll have to up my medication. Yeah. Can you relate to that? It's the struggle were all involved in, trying to find the meaning of our life and trying to express ourselves. Grapple with our destiny.

Q: Did you find this role more satisfying than say a more comedic role like in A Fish called Wanda?

KK: It's satisfying in a different way. It's not as much fun on a day to day basis. But when you get to see it, you see how Ang put the film together, which I find remarkable. It's very satisfying. It's a different kind of satisfaction than for example reducing an audience to hysterical laughter and making them feel good. But in a way, it's great to see an audience as I did last night - it's a very emotional experience and to be part of a film that moves an audience, it's as satisfying in a different way.

Q: Since you were not a 13 year old in 1973, you were a young adult, where do you see your character 25 years later?

KK: Where would Ben be today? I would like to think that Ben is conscious enough and curious enough that he would be still searching, to not do EST or whatever was available to him in the 1970s but do whatever to find himself. He will have evolved. He would be a bit better now than during that period. I can only assume as myself, how we've all dealt with surviving the 70s. how we're reacting to it. It still reverberates now. I don't know what you think, but I find that the 70s were the first time that the notion of being hip became paramount. I think we're still in or at the end of that period. I'm optimistic that the approach of the millenium will somehow bring a new era."

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