Life as a House directed by Irwin Winkler, written by Mark Andrus, produced by Winkler and Rob Cowan, with Kevin Kline, Kristin Scott Thomas, Hayden Christensen and Jena Malone. 123 minutes. A Winkler Film production. An Alliance Atlantis release. Opens Friday (October 26). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 122. Rating: NNNthere have been very few great performances by male actors this year. Sexy Beast's Ben Kingsley and Memento's Guy Pearce have turned heads with solid performances, and hopefully Will Smith will knock us out as Muhammad Ali this December. Add to this too-short list the work of Kevin Kline in Life As A House.
Kline is probably America's most versatile actor. A classically trained performer whose first love is theatre, he's carved out an impressive film career. No one milks a laugh with such aplomb -- just check out his Oscar-winning turn in A Fish Called Wanda. And he astounds with the depth of his dramatic work -- Sophie's Choice and The Ice Storm come immediately to mind.
In in his latest film, director Irwin Winkler's melodrama Life As A House, Kline stars as George Malone, an architectural model builder who loses his job and discovers he has terminal brain cancer. With only a few months to live, George decides to take charge of his troubled teenage son (Hayden Christensen) and rebuild his house by the ocean.
"This is one of the best parts I've ever had," says Kline. "I count one other, in terms of the juiciness and the way it hits important life-and-death issues, and that's Sophie's Choice. Well, also Dave in a way, in terms of being about a guy who goes on a really amazing trip, however implausible it may seem."
Kline arrived in Toronto during this year's Toronto International Film Festival to talk about the film even though he was battling a severe case of food poisoning. He looked wan and thin after losing 15 pounds for the role -- "any more and you'd be thinking about the diet I was on and not the character," says Kline.
You can see Kline pushing against the script's more sentimental moments. His instincts are always right, but it's a tough fight for an actor who gives off such a likeable vibe.
"I'd ask Irwin, "You don't feel sorry for me, do you?' And he'd say, "No, you're still a schmuck.' That's the best compliment, when people say, "I really didn't like George.'
"Doing this movie, plus Chekhov in Central Park this past summer, has spoiled me," notes Kline. "My poor agent -- I look at scripts and cringe. Eventually I'll lower my standards to do another film," laughs Kline before suddenly turning serious. "Actually, I hope to keep my standards high, be demanding and not waste my time. I want to do another silly comedy, to be sure, but I want it to be well written."
Many of Kline's films pop up on TV regularly, and I ask him if, when he sees himself on TV, he ever stops to just enjoy the moment.
"Sometimes it's fun. I'll be flipping through the channels and see myself and guffaw, and my wife will say, "Yeah, so go on.'
""But honey, it's on now, people are seeing me, I'm live, out there.' And she'll say, "Give me the clicker.'"
Life as a House directed by Irwin Winkler, written by Mark Andrus, produced by Winkler and Rob Cowan, with Kevin Kline, Kristin Scott Thomas, Hayden Christensen and Jena Malone. 123 minutes. A Winkler Film production. An Alliance Atlantis release. Opens Friday (October 26). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 122. Rating: NNN