Kevin Kline first rose to fame on the New York stage where he has continued to appear with 16 Broadway roles. He impressed critics and won the 1978 Tony Award for the musical “On the Twentieth Century,” which gave him a highly comedic role with pratfalls. That led to other roles on Broadway, most notably as The Pirate King in a revival of “The Pirates of Penzance,” which brought him a second Tony, this time as a lead actor. In 2017, he he would add a third Tony to his mantle for the lead character in “Present Laughter.”
Kline was 35 before he ventured into the world of film, but he did it in a highly notable way playing opposite Meryl Streep in her legendary Oscar-winning role in “Sophie’s Choice.” Streep dedicated her Oscar to Kline and Peter MacNicol since it was their eyes she looked into while giving her highly acclaimed performance.
That movie led to several others, including “The Big Chill,” “Silverado” and “Cry Freedom” before the comedy “A Fish Called Wanda” in 1988 would provide him with a victory as Best Supporting Actor at the Academy Awards. The win was a bit of a surprise since he wasn’t being predicted to win and also because the film was an out-and-out comedy, which almost never wins awards.
October 24, 2018, marks Kline’s 71st birthday. To celebrate, take a photo gallery tour of his 15 greatest film performances, ranked from worst to best.
15. CRY FREEDOM (1987)
Set in South Africa during apartheid, this film focuses on a journalist (played by Kline) investigating the death of black activist Steven Biko. The film received some criticism for focusing more on the white characters than on Biko himself, although Denzel Washington did manage to earn his first Oscar nomination (for Supporting Actor) for his portrayal.
14. FRENCH KISS (1995)
Meg Ryan was the queen of romantic comedies during this time period, and she teams with Kline for one of her more successful rom-com ventures. Ryan plays a young woman planning her marriage when her fiancée meets a woman in Paris and calls off the wedding. Despite her hatred of all things French and a fear of flying, she travels to Paris to try and get her fiancée back. On the plane she meets a Frenchman played by Kline who repulses and annoys her but in the way of romantic comedy they ultimately fall in love.
13. GRAND CANYON (1991)
Kline teamed quite frequently with director and writer Lawrence Kasdan over the course of his career. In this film the two teamed for a film that looked at life in Los Angeles and in particular the difficulties the city faced in terms of race relations
12. AS YOU LIKE IT (2006)
Branagh spent a good deal of his film career adapting the works of William Shakespeare to varying degrees of success. This film is a bit bland and doesn’t quite capture the magic of the play but Kline does quite well as Jaques. His rendition of one of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches, “All the world’s a stage..” is very well done.
11. THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE (1983)
Kline recreated his Tony Award winning role as the Pirate King in this adaptation of the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. The film version adds Angela Lansbury to the cast. This version is a bit awkward at times in its translation to film. There is also a DVD release of the original production taped live when it was in Central Park which captures the magic of Kline and the cast’s work a bit better.
10. LIFE AS A HOUSE (2001)
Kline earned a SAG Award nomination for his role as a terminally ill cancer patient who tries to reconnect with his troubled teenage son. The title is symbolic since Kline is literally building a house as well as trying to build a connection with his distant son.
9. SILVERADO (1985)
The western film had fallen on hard times in the 1980s. As the stars such as John Wayne who made them iconic had passed away, the idea of the western became an unused genre. Kasdan tried to revive interest in the film with this movie featuring an all-star cast led by Kline and featuring Kevin Costner, Danny Glover, John Cleese, Scott Glenn, Linda Hunt and Jeff Goldblum.
8. SOAPDISH (1991)
Kline has a field day as a bitter former soap opera actor who is reduced to playing dinner theater in Florida. He is rehired by the soap opera where he is reunited with the star of the show (Sally Field) with whom he has a troubled romantic past. Kline earned a Golden Globe Nomination for Best Comedy/Musical Actor for the movie.
7. DE-LOVELY (2004)
Kline received another Golden Globe nomination for Best Comedy/Musical Actor for this biography of composer Cole Porter. The film depicts Porter’s uneasy relationship with his wife Linda Lee and how his homosexual infidelities weighed on the relationship.
6. THE ICE STORM (1997)
Kline is among the ensemble cast of Ang Lee’s look at unhappy suburbanites in an affluent part of Connecticut. The film deals with marital infidelity and troubled teenagers culminating in a severe ice storm that changes all their lives. Kline goes thru a huge emotional journey in the film as a hurtful philandering husband to a sobbing regret-filled mess as the results of the ice storm bring him new appreciation of his family.
5. DAVE (1993)
Kline was also Golden Globe nominated for his dual role in this comedy where he plays the U.S. president as well as Dave, an employment agent who heavily resembles the president and impersonates him at various events. When the real president suffers a stroke and goes into a coma during an extramarital affair, Dave is asked to step in for him impersonate the president full time.
4. THE BIG CHILL (1983)
Kasdan assembled eight of the hottest new actors of the period and placed them in this film about a group of college friends reuniting for the funeral of one of their own who has committed suicide. With its Motown score the film became a big box office hit for people nostalgic for their own college days. The cast also included Glenn Close, William Hurt, Jeff Goldblum and Tom Berenger.
3. IN AND OUT (1997)
When Tom Hanks won the Oscar for Best Actor for the film “Philadelphia” playing a gay man dying of AIDS he thanked his high school drama teacher who was gay. Writer Paul Rudnick took that idea and built a film around it, only in this case the teacher, played by Kline, is not yet in touch with his sexuality and is about to get married to a woman. The proclamation that he is gay causes him a myriad of problems as the press swarms his small town in this antic farce.
2. A FISH CALLED WANDA (1988)
Kline received an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor for this heist comedy from John Cleese of Monty Python fame. Martin Landau was heavily favored to win the award for his work in “Tucker: The Man and His Dream,” and Kline has admitted he wasn’t even going to attend the awards since he didn’t want to fly across the country just to lose. He ended up being a surprise winner for his role as a thug who swallows live gold fish and loves the smell of his own perspiration.
1. SOPHIE’S CHOICE (1982)
Streep gave one of the most acclaimed performances in cinema history as the doomed holocaust survivor forced to make one of the most barbaric choices imaginable. While Streep’s work is often listed among the best performances ever given on film, her co-star Kevin Kline is often overlooked. Kline (in his first film role amazingly) manages to bring incredible charm and also terrifying rage to the paranoid schizophrenic Nathan that Sophie has fallen in love with after the war.