Welcome to Random Roles, wherein we talk to actors about the characters who defined their careers. The catch: They don’t know beforehand what roles we’ll ask them to talk about.
The actor: Richard Kind studied at Chicago’s famed Second City before heading to Hollywood, and once he got there, it didn’t take him long for to start popping up in a variety of roles in movies and on television. Although most viewers know Kind’s face from his comedic work in such series as Mad About You, Spin City, and Curb Your Enthusiasm, millions now know his voice as well, thanks to portraying Bing Bong in Pixar’s Inside Out. For the time being, Kind is back in front of the camera, revisiting the ’80s in the new series Red Oaks, the first season of which is now available for viewing via Amazon Prime.
Richard Kind: Sam Myers is the father of our lead character, David, who our series centers around, and he’s going through his own emotional and marital troubles. He’s an accountant, and he wants his son to succeed in all ways, maybe even being an accountant himself, because at least you have the stability of a good life and money and income, and that’s what life is all about to this gentleman. You have to remember what the ’80s was all about. The ’60s passed them by. There was freedom and liberation in the ’60s, and these guys just missed it. They had to become responsible. And that’s who this man is. He never got to taste the fruits of the 1960s and the early ’70s: drugs, sex, all of that. You know, being a hippie, long hair… These guys were never even allowed to grow long hair!
The A.V. Club: So how did you find your way into this series? Was it an audition, or was it an offer?
RK: Okay, see, here’s the thing: When an actor is offered a role, as I was in this case, more often than not—maybe 90 percent of the time—you read it and you say, “I’ll take it.” But this one was particularly easy because the script was so good. And I have to admit that the name “Steven Soderbergh” came along with the script—he’s producing it—so you really want to say it’s good even if it’s a phone book. But it was great.
I knew [co-writer] Greg Jacobs peripherally because he worked on the Ocean’s Eleven movies with Steven, and I would come on set there because I had friends on the shoot. So I knew him a little bit, but I never knew him as a writer. Who knew his writing was so good? And Joe [Gangemi, co-writer], I had no idea. The kids on this show, I don’t know them from Adam. I think for most of them it’s their first TV show, or at least their first American TV show. But I knew Paul Reiser, and when I found out Jennifer Grey was going to be my wife… Jennifer and I go back to 1981.
So it all seemed pretty good, but this is what I’ll do. I’ll go, “The pilot was great. The pilot was wonderful. I loved doing it.” And then I’ll go, “Dear God, let the rest of this series be as good as the pilot.” [Laughs.] Because quite often the pilot is great, it gets picked up, and then the series doesn’t actually live up to the quality of the pilot. I thought the series not only met the quality of the pilot but exceeded it as the season went on. So I was thrilled about this show.
Now, if you ask me, “Why should somebody watch this show?” Look, I can’t answer that. Why would you watch Gone With The Wind? I’m telling you it’s good. Either you’re going to go believe me or you won’t. But my taste is pretty good, and I don’t love everything I do. I really don’t. I don’t love everything I do, and I don’t always like how I am in it. I’m not always pleased. This one, I am pleased on all accounts. I think it’s a pleasing show. I think it meets the criteria of what good entertainment is. It’s mature, it’s smart, it’s funny, it hits the heart, and I can’t say you haven’t seen it before, because it’s reminiscent of Caddyshack and The Flamingo Kid. But it’s its own animal, and I think it’s quite great.
AVC: From what you’re saying, it sounds like the quality is indeed up to Soderbergh standards.
RK: I think it is. I absolutely think it is. And—dare I say—I think it’s up to Amazon’s standards. I think Amazon has been churning out some pretty good stuff.
RK: You’re going way back! That was my first on-camera anything, and it was Robert Conrad and George Hamilton. I remember that our read-through was way, way, way west in Chicago. I mean, it took forever to get out there. But we go to a little restaurant that Robert Conrad’s friend owned, and lining the walls of this large room in the restaurant were TVs. The meeting was called at 10 o’clock in the morning on a Sunday. Well, why would you get together at 10 o’clock in the morning on a Sunday? You know, why not 1 o’clock or something like that? And on a Sunday! The reason why is that WGN was showing repeats of The Wild Wild West. So The Wild Wild West was playing on… Oh, it had to be on a good 18 TVs surrounding the room. And we all got together and had our breakfast and just mingled while The Wild Wild West was going on.
When the show was over, we sat down, we read the script, and when we finished, Robert Conrad—I don’t remember if he directed it, but I know he produced it. And you have to understand that Robert Conrad was the guy who said, “Hey! Knock this battery off my shoulder!” So he was a short but imposing man. And he said, “I want everybody to come to the set off book. I don’t want anybody to bring their script to the set. When you arrive on set, you know your lines.” And I was terrified. Because I was the district attorney, so I had a couple of speeches, including one really long one.
So we go, and we’re doing rehearsal, and I get up, and I speak, and I know my speech backward and forward. I just rattled it off. And when it was over, Robert Conrad looks to George Hamilton and he goes, “He’s good. He really knows his lines!” And that was “good” for them: that I knew my lines so well. But he was very, very nice to me, and I mean, it was a nothing part, but, geez, you know, I was working! I was at Second City at the time, so this was a big deal for me.
AVC: To ask a stock question, how did you find your way into a career in acting in the first place?
RK: I turned off at Seventh Avenue, and there it was. [Laughs.] And that’s my stock answer! All right, so I was supposed to go to college and to law school, but my dad’s best friend knew how much I loved theater, so we sat down with my dad and Steve Holzman and myself, and we talked about my future, and he recommended that if I loved acting, I should defer law school and try acting for a year or two. And a year or two turned into four into eight into 16, and look at me today. So I never went to law school, but I was really working a decent amount after about two years. Look, I was doing things. I was waiting tables, I was doing off off-Broadway, I toured in a children’s show, I did a lot of stuff. That is the journey. And I’ve got news for you: The journey is often more fun than when you arrive, and I really had a great time. That was New York, and then I went to Chicago and I was in Second City.
AVC: How was the Second City experience for you?
RK: I often call it the Harvard of theater. You go on stage every night, and you find out exactly who you are and what you can do. Because when you improvise, you’re often encouraged to fail. A producer used to say, “If you don’t go out there and fail, how can you succeed greatly?” And to a great extent, each night you try and push the envelope a little. At Second City, the audience would tell me what was good. I would see a lot of the parameters of what I was capable of and what I shouldn’t be doing, and you got to feel a rapport with the audience. Every night for four and a half years, I did that. It’s pretty good, you know? You go and you do the show and you improvise for an hour a night, you find out who you are.
Plus, I’ve never been smarter, because you have to be smart to do all the improvs. You’re reading the paper, you’re observing the world more than you ever did. You walk down the street and you say “hello” to somebody, and go you, “Okay, what’s funny about ‘hello’?” With everything, you’re always thinking for a bit. So it’s actually very relaxing when you finally leave Second City, because your brain can finally rest a little bit. [Laughs.] But I’ve never been smarter, and I don’t think I’ve ever been better.
AVC: So when you left Second City, was that when you headed to Hollywood?
RK: Yeah, and I got lucky from the moment I went to Hollywood. I was cast in a drama because I didn’t want people to think that I could just do comedy. I figured that, having done Second City, they’d know I could do comedy. So I acted in a Stephen Cannell show. So, yeah, that’s how I found it: I took the chance, and it sort of paid off. Of course, I still ask myself, “Where is the next dime going to come from?” And the minute I get hired for something, I still ask myself, “What’s my next job going to be after that?” The insecurity and the neuroses never leave, I think, if you’re a good actor. Much like if you’re a Jew.
So, anyway, that’s how I did it. And I have to admit, my dad paid for my first and last month’s rent—you know, the deposit on the apartment—and he paid for my picture and résumé, and he never paid for anything else. He never paid for another dime, and I never asked him for anything else. And, of course, gradually each year I’ve made more money than I did the last.
Now, in the past 10 years, that’s fluctuated whether or not I had a TV series. There’s steady income that a TV series brings, because a TV series is the only way that you can make the kind of money that you want to make in this world. Although even being on a TV series doesn’t guarantee constancy. Like, I did a show called Luck, which took about eight months to make that first season, and then we waited almost a year for the second season, so I couldn’t do another TV series. So even though I was on a series, my fortunes were still rising and falling!
RK: Clifford was a movie that, when it first came out, was not very well received, but it has become a cult classic. Totally. Have you seen it?
AVC: In the theater, believe it or not.
RK: Oh, you did? Well, then you know I worked with Charles Grodin, who is a hero of mine, and I have very, very fond memories of doing it, although I didn’t really work with him at all. He was on set once when I was there, so we really had no scenes together. We spoke on the phone in the movie. But Marty Short was great, and I didn’t really work with Mary Steenburgen or Dabney Coleman, but I happen to like the movie very much. One little thing is that when I got mad in the movie… Do you remember Fredric March in Inherit The Wind?
AVC: I do.
RK: At the end, when he’s on the stand and he’s trying get the words out, his lips are going up and down, and he just can’t find the words, and he’s so frustrated. I used that to get angry. I would move my lips a lot. If you look at what my lips look like in that versus what Fredric March’s look like in Inherit The Wind, you’ll see.
In any case, I don’t really remember that much. I do remember Marty, who… [Starts to laugh.] Marty is a ridiculously funny man. Ridiculously funny. And his heart… It’s the biggest heart. There’s nobody that’s nicer than Marty Short. However! The character of Clifford is very impish and a bad boy, and Marty is also impish and a bad boy. And he could make me laugh at the drop of a hat. There’s a scene in the airplane where he has to climb over me, and as he does—and I don’t know whether or not the phone will pick this up—he just gives a little [Blows the gentlest of raspberries.] Did you hear that?
AVC: I did.
RK: It was just the lightest buzz, just like that, into my ear. The microphone couldn’t pick it up—it was very subtle—and he would do that every time he was crawling over me. And I would start laughing. I would laugh and I would giggle. And our director, Paul Flaherty, said, “Marty, please stop that. You’re making him laugh.” And he didn’t. He kept doing it. It was horrible. Horrible. And I would laugh and laugh and laugh. Also, I don’t know if you remember when he sticks the head of the dinosaur in my nostril? He goes, “Not since Brock Peters has there been such enormous nostrils!” Or something like that. Do you know Brock Peters? You know, I think maybe he just said, “Not since Brock Peters!” But I knew exactly what he was saying.
In any case, many, many, many years later, I get a phone call, and it’s Charles Grodin. [Deadpan.] “Rich? Chuck Grodin.” [Uncertainly.] “Hello?” “Yeah, your name was given to me. I’ve written a play. I think you’ll be great in it. It’s just two people: you and me.” And Chuck and I started a friendship because he wrote this play. But he said, “You know, we were in Clifford together.” I said, “Chuck, I know we were. How the hell do you know?” “Well, your name was given to me by some that say you’re great and you’re so funny and that I’d be lucky to work with you, blah blah blah.” And I couldn’t believe it. And since then, I’ve had a good friendship with Charles Grodin. He comes over to my house, and we sit at the kitchen table to read this script, and we just sit there across from each other, and he was there for three or four hours. With stories. Just stories. We would read the play, and after a scene, he’d go, “Well, that really happened, you know,” and he would just go off on a story, and I just sat there for hours.
He’s nothing like the persona that he’s known for on talk shows. He can be prickly, but he’s not antagonistic. But he’s very truthful—very truthful—about the world, about what he does, and about who he is. And if he thinks that he deserves kudos for something, he’ll just come right out and tell you the story of what he’s done and why he deserves them. And he’s right! And it’s refreshing, because he just tells you. He goes, “You know, I go and I help these prisoners who were wrongly imprisoned. Nobody does that. But I go to the governor and I get…” And he’s going on and on about his very gracious and philanthropic work that he does. He’s a wonderful man, a great wit, so smart, and I just adore him. I adore him! And I didn’t know him at all from Clifford. [Laughs.]
RK: Oh, The Station Agent, that’s an interesting one. So I’m doing a play called The Tale Of The Allergist’s Wife on Broadway. Across the street, Tom McCarthy—who at this time was an actor, he’d never directed before—is doing a show called Noises Off with Peter Gallagher and Patti Lupone. And he was a friend of mine and we had mutual friends, and we’d go out and have a meal between shows on Wednesdays or Saturdays. And he’s talking to me about this script he’s written, and he says, “Would you read the script? Would you play a role?” I said, “Oh, my God, Tom, of course. But…” And I’ve done this a few times. “I’d like to read the scene out loud.” He’s offering me a role, but…I know I’m a good actor, but am I right for the role? If he didn’t know me and I came in and auditioned for him, would I get the role? And I don’t want to show up and do the reading and then him say, “Oh, I’ve made a horrible mistake.” Because we’re friends. So I said, “Let’s read the script.” So we went out for coffee, we had the script, and I read the scene, and he goes, “Yes! That’s perfect! That’s wonderful!” And I go, “Okay, I’ll do your movie.” So I did the movie. I knew Bobby Canavale before, and I actually knew Pete Dinklage, but not that well. I sort of got to know him much better on that movie.
And with Tom, I was lucky enough to do that movie and one called The Visitor, with Richard Jenkins, an equally good movie as The Station Agent. I had a very different role—one that, of course, he gave me—but I actually knew that I could do that one with my hands behind my back. I knew exactly who this guy was. In fact, we did two scenes: the first one, which made the movie, and a second one, which was quite great. It’s really a very good and funny scene, and very telling. It’s telling about him and about me. But it was information that we already knew, and he wisely cut it. And he called me and told me he was cutting it, and I said, “Of course, Tom, of course. Cut the scene. I totally understand.” I think you can get it on the DVD or the Blu-ray or whatever, in the deleted scenes. But I was really struck by that, that he called me.
And then he wrote a movie called Win-Win and offered me a role in that, and I did the read-through and was gonna do the scene, but then he said, “You know, you’re really great, and I’d like to make the role larger.” And he did make the role larger, but then it turned out that I couldn’t do the movie, even though he wrote it for me! He was quite upset. Truly, truly upset. But I had been offered a TV series, and it simply would have interfered with the shooting schedule. And although he got angry at me for having the leave the movie, and I think angry without cause… Well, without right. He had cause, but he should not have been angry at me: Had I said “yes” to both, there would’ve been severe scheduling problems, and then he would’ve had every reason to hate me, because I would’ve held up his production, and that would’ve been wrong. But I think he’s a wonderful actor, a wonderful writer, and a wonderful director, and I think all of that will come out in this movie Spotlight that’s coming out, which I hear is brilliant. That’s his newest movie, and I hear it’s great.
RK: Well, it’s like I said: when I get offered something, 90 percent of time I’m going to do it. You know, I don’t even remember reading the script. I read my scenes, I liked them very much, and said, “I know this guy. He’s a lovely father.” And then I probably read the script and said “yes” almost immediately. But I knew exactly who this father was. He was more of a mother than he was a father—very nurturing—and it was something I could do.
But you’ve got to understand: You don’t know how good it is until it comes out. I think Inside Out is that sort of a movie: I knew how good it was, I would tell people, “Oh, Inside Out is brilliant, it’s genius,” but nobody knows what the hell Inside Out is. After it comes out: “Oh, my God! I didn’t know it was gonna be good!” I’m, like, “Well, I’ve been telling you for two years!” [Laughs.] But you don’t know whether it’s as good as what you think it is. And who knows if it’ll do anything? Well, it was a darling at Sundance, and a lot of people really liked it. It’s my kind of movie. It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s serious, it’s truthful. Why shouldn’t it be good?
Jenny Slate was wonderful. And the director, Gillian Robespierre, was a doll to work with. Just a doll. They were very, very enthusiastic and positive about me being there. I was happy to be there. And then when it became so good and they went to Sundance… I’ll ride the bandwagon to anything! [Laughs.] I’m thrilled to be there! But I couldn’t have said, “Oh, this movie is going to be wonderful!” You don’t know if it’s going to be wonderful. You have no idea!
RK: God, I’ve got to tell you, there really are a lot of stories for that one, and I don’t know if you have the time. But they’re fascinating, so I’ll tell ‘em to you, and you print what you want. All right, I call that Unsub What Unsub, because people would say, “What’s the name of the show?” I’d say, “Unsub.” They’d say, “What?” And I’d say, “Unsub.” [Laughs.] Peter Roth, he’s the head of Warner Brothers Television now, but he worked for Stephen Cannell at the time. He was probably head of production. And every time I see him, he gives me a big hug and says, “We could’ve been big. We could’ve been big!”
So I’m out of Second City, I come to L.A., probably in September, I have an audition in October, and we go to work in January for this new Cannell TV show. Stephen Cannell goes to Brandon Tartikoff, at the time head of NBC, and says, “I have a new idea for a series inspired by Manhunter, about a team of FBI agents who chase serial killers.” And there was a show on the air called Wiseguy, and two of the guys who’d worked on that [David J. Burke and Stephen Kronish] created this show, Unsub. We get a 13-episode commitment. Tartikoff says, “That sounds great!” In Tartikoff’s head, he was getting The A-Team, the next Mr. T. “Oh, it’s a group of guys, they’re gonna chase serial killers, and David Soul is gonna be the George Peppard of the thing… It’ll be great!”
The pilot is so dark that the villain, played by Paul Guilfoyle, from the original C.S.I., is a cobbler, a shoemaker, who puts razor blades in the heels of women’s shoes so that when they try them on, they bend over in pain and he stabs them in the back of the neck with an awl. That’s the pilot! [Laughs.] Then he runs home to his mother, played by Grace Zabriski, a great actress. She’s spread-eagle in a bubble bath as her son runs into the bathroom. So you know where the son’s proclivities come from. It’s one of the most sick, twisted shows you’ll ever see. Cannell shows the pilot to Tartikoff, and in the middle of the screening, Tartikoff stands up and goes, “What the fuck are trying to do, close down this entire network?” And Cannell… We were already into our fifth show or something, so Cannell just goes, “Well, this is 13 and out.” Which it was. In fact, it might not have even been that many!
But then the next thing you know, you’ve got Law & Order, C.S.I., Criminal Minds, and all these shows about killers and what goes on in the forensic crime labs and how they find the killers–that’s what has taken over TV. But Unsub was the first one. So when Peter Roth comes up to me and gives me a hug and says, “We could’ve been big,” that’s what he’s talking about. We were truly ahead of our time.
Mad About You (1992-1999)—“Dr. Mark Devanow”
RK: I was very lucky. I went in and read for Paul [Reiser] and Helen [Hunt] and Danny Jacobson, who created the show with Paul, I talked to them, and I’d met Helen a few times. Remember, she wasn’t Helen Hunt back then. She was just an actress and she’d been on St. Elsewhere. But I got them laughing, and they really liked me a lot. And they cast somebody else, I won’t mention the name, but I remember we did the read-through and she got fired. I don’t know if she was too big or whatever it was, but when we next did a table read, Leila [Kenzle] was there. We did the table read at the house of the guy who was the head of Sony at the time. It was a gorgeous beautiful house in Bel Air, and it was on the Saturday of the riots in Los Angeles. That’s what I remember about that. But we had a great time.
I was not asked back after the first year. I started out as recurring, then I became a regular after about eight episodes, and then I was asked not to come back, which was a shame. But it was a great role and a great series. And then I did Spin City, and then I came back to Mad About You years later.
AVC: Was it nice to finally get that opportunity to revisit the character?
RK: Oh, yeah. It was great. But it was the perfect way for me to go out, because I went on a motorcycle trip and then I was gone, and it was very fun, and a very, very fun show. I do remember going to the photo shoot—you know how they have photo shoots for press, before you start shooting the show, so they can have stills and photos for TV Guide or whatever—and nobody had a name for the show. And they weren’t allowed to use the name Reiser. Even though Jerry Seinfeld had his name on his show, they wouldn’t permit Paul Reiser to have the name Reiser, so they had to come up with a new title. For a time, they were just calling it The Paul Reiser Project. All summer, you’re thinking, “What’s a good name? What’s a good name?” And one day I pull into a parking space, and I see a thing that says “Mad About You.” And I go, “Oh, my God! That’s a great name!” And I run in and I go “Guys! Guys! I’ve got it! I’ve got the name: Mad About You!” And they go [Calmly.] “Yes. That is the name of the show.” Nobody had told me. I just thought it was a sign on a post for whatever reason. So that’s how I found out it was called Mad About You.
RK: I didn’t know Larry David. I had met him once before on the golf course, believe it or not. Okay, here’s a funny story, although a lot of it is my intonation. On the Brookside golf court, there’s a particular hole—it’s, like, the 13th or 14th hole—it’s a par 3, and it’s backed up all the time, two or three foursomes waiting to tee off, because it’s a public course. So I come up to the tee, and there’s Larry sitting on a bench. If I had to film it, I could picture every angle, I remember it so well. He’s sitting on the bench, and I say, “Hi, I’m Richard Kind.” “Larry David.” And I think I knew him from Fridays, or at least he looked familiar, so I say, “Pleasure to meet you,” and—as you do—I ask, “So what are you doing?” And he goes, “I just finished a pilot for Jerry Seinfeld over at NBC.” And I remember saying, with as much disdain and superiority as any person could possibly have, “Oh, great. Great. Good for you.” Because everybody was doing a pilot, or everybody had written a pilot, and this was just one more schlumpy guy who had done that. And who knew it was going to grow up to be Seinfeld? But I remember being as condescending as I possibly could be. [Laughs.] Not intentionally. I just remember sort of schlepping him off. I don’t know why. And I don’t know why I remember it. But I do.
Cut to a few years later. I auditioned for Seinfeld a couple of times, and there was one role that I was actually given. And when I did the table read, for some reason—I do have the reason, but it’s hard to describe—I wasn’t that good. But I wasn’t right for the role, and I knew that. I knew that I was a good actor, but I pulled the wool over their eyes. I wasn’t right for the part. And so that day, I asked to be fired. I said, “I know I’m gonna get paid, and I won’t be upset, but if you want to fire me, I totally, totally understand.” And they go, “No, no, you’re great!” And I go, “I’m not. I’m not right for this.” So that afternoon Larry came down—because I knew the director, so that’s who I’d spoken to—and he said, “We think we’re going to change the part to a drunk. I think he’s going to be drunk.” And I go, “That’s great, but I didn’t audition for the drunk. You’ve got to fire me!” He goes, “No, no, you’re great!” And I go home. And that night, I get a phone call, and I’m fired. And I was replaced by somebody who was as different an actor as you could imagine. Do you know who Joe Maher is? English, fey, gray hair. And he must’ve been 40 years older than I was! So I was right that I wasn’t right, and I got fired.
Cut to Curb Your Enthusiasm. Jeff Garlin is one of my dear friends. I love him, he’s great, one of the funniest men to walk the planet. And he suggested me for Cousin Andy, at which point Larry said, “Yeah, he’s great. But he’s too famous.” And Jeff goes, “What are you talking about?” But everybody who was on the show who was a guest who was a star, who was famous, they played themselves. Well, with the exception of Ed Asner. Ed Asner was the only one, because Ed Asner dies in the episode, and they didn’t want people to think that Ed Asner had died. [Laughs.] But everybody else, if you look at the first few seasons, all the guest stars who were famous were playing themselves. So Larry said, “He’s too famous, he can’t do it.” And Jeff kept saying, “No, he’s not. He’s not too famous.” To which I concur! But Larry thought I was famous, and he didn’t like that. But he ended up hiring me, anyway, and I just loved doing it. I only did four episodes. One of them was a two-parter. Everybody thinks I did so many of them, but I only did four.
RK: One of my favorites. It died a very undeserved and untimely death. I thought the show was great. It did not end because the horses died. That’s just a fabrication. I will tell you this: PETA is an awful, awful organization. They are self-serving. I believe that they do love animals, but they don’t know how to love animals, because these horses were treated with such care and such love. Everybody on the set who worked with the horses, they loved horses more than these PETA people. PETA people, they love animals and they beat their breast about it, but horse people live and die horses. They live with them. They bunk at the stable. They talk to horses. They love them. That’s what horse people do.
The horses that we had for Luck saw a doctor every time before they worked, they were fed the best food, they were given housing that was unbelievable. It’s HBO! They’ve got all the money in the world! Each animal was treated with such respect. They’re surprisingly strong and surprisingly tender, but horses are not necessarily smart. And a horse was walking along a trail, and a bird came down, and he whinnied up and fell backwards and he broke his leg. Horses die. They just do. But PETA made a big deal of it.
The reason Luck died is because of two brilliant but crazy masters at the helm. Imagine having an ocean liner, and one captain is at the bow and the other captain is in the stern. They see two different directions, and they’re both turning the wheel of this enormous ocean liner. And David Milch had a habit of coming down to set after characters and everything had been set and handing the actors and the directors new scenes with new words that take place in a different locale. He’s crazy! He’s a brilliant mind, but the scene wasn’t any more brilliant than the scene he’d written originally. It was just different. Maybe he has ADD. Maybe a new idea just came to him. But he’s a tempestuous and mad creator. Now combine that with Michael Mann. Have you ever spoken to anyone who’s worked with Michael Mann?
AVC: Yes. Yes, I have.
RK: [Laughs.] Then you know what he’s like! And these two men were running the ship, and they hated each other. And I don’t just mean hated each other. They despised each other, with a capital “D.” David Milch was not permitted onto the set, because Michael Mann was the executive producer and could run the show the way he wanted to. David Milch was only there to create the words and the story. So although he was given free reign, he was kept under a thumb. But the thumb was that of a madman who has been known to build a million-dollar set and then say, “No, I don’t like the look of it,” and tear it down. Money, people, and time mean nothing to Michael Mann. And quite often his product is the best that movies can offer. But what they should have done was have somebody who had a tight rein on David Milch and had a tight rein on production. And this guy had a very tight rein on Milch but a very loose rein on production. And therefore it had to end.
I loved doing the character. The character was great. It’s one of the great challenges that I’ve ever been given, to stutter. David Milch’s words, they’re not Shakespearean, but they are to today’s vernacular what Shakespeare is to today’s vernacular. The poetry that David Milch writes is akin to [William] Faulkner. If you don’t understand every word or every sentence, you get the feeling of what he’s saying, and it is a testament to his brilliance that the show was as great—not good, great—as it was. And the people involved in horse racing kept saying, “You got it. You simply got it. You got the people, you got the story, you got the way they talked… everything.” And that’s because David Milch knows horse racing so much, and it was his passion.
RK: Well, that and Inside Out are the two movies I’m most proud of that I’ve ever done. I think that they’ll live through the ages. I call A Serious Man a date movie because after you see it, you’ve got to talk about it. So if you go out on a date and you don’t know what to talk about, you talk about what the movie meant to you, in much the way you talk about 2001: A Space Odyssey means to you: You can interpret it in many different ways, which is what I think they were trying for. Is there a God? Why does God play tricks on you? Why are you a moral man and all of a sudden you’ve got cancer? There’s so many levels to the movie and so much to talk about, and when you start talking about it, you find out the person, and you may go, “God, I don’t know whether I agree with this person or if I like him. I don’t like his attitude toward life!” So I really do think it’s a really good date movie.
I think it’s hysterically funny and extremely disturbing. The Coens are the best. Their movies are just great. And I want to say they’re nothing like their movies, because they aren’t anything like their movies. They’re interesting outré men who are down to earth. They’re good guys. They’re funny, they’re fun, they laugh at the world, they’re philosophical while being normal people, and I love them, and I love their movie. And they’re imaginative.
Doing the movie, with Uncle Arthur, I was affected by two people in my life who were a little bit like Uncle Arthur. One was a bartender at Second City, and one was a person who I acted with at Second City. The guy that I acted with had a physical, synaptical ailment—let’s put it that way—and he did something that I’ve only ever seen him do. And I said, “Joel, what do you think? Maybe we’ll put this in?” I showed him what I wanted to do, and he goes, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, that sounds great. You’ve got to pick a place to do that.” So I showed up at the set one day, and I said, “I think this is a good place for me to do that thing.” He said, “What thing?” I said, “Oh, you remember I told you about my friend?” He goes, “Oh, yeah, yeah. Let me see it.” And then he went behind the camera and he looked at it, and he goes, “Oh, yeah! I didn’t think that was ever gonna work! Yeah, that’ll work perfectly!” I thought he was just pandering to me, but then he was very amenable to it. He said, “Yeah, that looks great!”
So they’re very collaborative, while on the other hand—and I’ve said this to them—I think they know what the movie looks like before they even yell, “Action!” on the first take on the first day. And what is astounding is that they are two men, two different beings with different brains, who think exactly alike. Or close to exactly alike, anyway. And I think they both know exactly when they’ve written it and then when they’re filming it what it’s going to look like. And that, to me, is a simpatico that’s unbelievable. Siamese twins couldn’t turn out something like that.
AVC: Did you ever just lose yourself staring into the Mentaculus?
RK: Yeah, well, he was a despairing character. I remember doing that hotel scene and then the subsequent pool scene, I had to get myself in a place that I’m not used to, a really despairing place, and that was tough. I don’t always take a role so De Niro-esque, where you really have to lose yourself, and you’re really not Richard Kind. I wish I were a better actor and could say that I’ve done that in other things. But in that one I really had to lose myself, and it’s a wonderful character. I could never decide if he really did have pedophiliac… [Hesitates.] I mean, did he go with the young boy in the scene with him? It’s never explicitly said. There’s so many things about him. It’s just a great character.
RK: Stargate was a movie that was, when it was finished, supposed to be a disaster. MGM threw up its hands and said, “This is gonna bomb!” And then for some reason—maybe it was raining on the weekend that it came out, or whatever it was—it was a huge success. Huge! I remember going to the premiere and falling asleep. [Laughs.] I couldn’t stand that movie. I did the whole movie with my mouth open, behind a green screen, just looking at nothing.
I’ve got lots and lots and lots of stories about it. About Jaye Davidson, and about Viveca Lindfors, who played the head scientist. She was crazy. Crazy, crazy, crazy. I have a story about her, but it has to be told in person. It won’t work on the phone. But it was hilarious. I’ll tell you when I see you. I’ll also tell you the Jaye Davidson story. That one should probably just be off the record. [Laughs.]
I remember Dean Devlin, who was an actor, bumping into me at a New Year’s Eve party and said, “What are you doing next October?” This is on New Year’s Eve! And I said, “Well, I’ll probably be doing Mad About You.” Which I wasn’t, as it turned out, but that’s what I said. He said, “I’m writing a script right now with Roland Emmerich. I’ve got a great part for you.” Well, I wanna tell ya: If ever there’s a line you hear over and over again in Hollywood that you just laugh at, it’s “I’m writing a role for you.” But sure enough, the following October, Roland and Dean gave me the role. And that is a tribute to Dean and how good a guy he is, that he would keep to his word, that he would say something about it and then actually give me the role. That never, ever happens. Do you remember the series Caroline In The City? I knew the creators, and they said, “Oh, we’re writing a script right now, and we’ve got the perfect Richard Kind role!” And I didn’t get it. They said, “We’re writing it for you!” And I didn’t get it.
AVC: So who got it?
RK: Well, I know who got it, but he was subsequently fired from the pilot and was never on the TV show. It was Tom Wilson. He was the bully in Back To The Future. He’s a great guy and a great actor, too. It’s not his fault that he got fired from the pilot. But, yeah, that’s who they hired for the Richard Kind role. [Laughs.]
RK: Well, the best thing to come out of that was a paycheck. [Laughs.] That’s a joke. It was one of my best friends: George Clooney. Another actor had been hired, I came in to play his brother, they mixed and matched us, and I auditioned with him. They had hired him already, I auditioned with him, and I blew him away. He couldn’t match my energy. And they liked my energy better than his, so they went looking for somebody else. They couldn’t find anyone. We rehearsed Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. On Friday night, this actor was fired. They went to somebody else, and they called me and said, “On Monday morning, a guy named George Clooney is going to be playing your brother.” Of course, he wasn’t George Clooney at the time.
George had come to Chicago when I was at Second City. He came to town to do a play called Vicious, based on Sid Vicious’s life, and he came to Second City. He was doing rehearsals, they had the nights off, so he saw me on stage, he saw me improvise, and we went out. We played pool, we got drunk. He was a lovely guy. So I sort of remember him, but not really. So Monday morning rolls around, and here comes this guy, and he has his arms out. [Excitedly.] “Hey!” I didn’t recognize him. I had no idea who it was. And he goes, “Don’t you remember? I came to Second City, we had drinks, we went and played pool.” I said, “I… don’t remember.” But you have to remember: He was looking at me for two and a half hours, I was only looking at him when I was drunk and playing pool! So there’s no reason for me to remember him. And like I said, he wasn’t George Clooney at the time. He was just… George Clooney.
You’re usually given eight shooting days to make a pilot, to rehearse and stuff like that, and here we were with only five. And that brought us closer together, and we worked really, really hard. We would meet every night after rehearsal, we’d have dinner, we’d go over the script, we’d work. We really wanted to be good. We played brothers, and we found out that we had the same politics, we felt the same way about the world, about show biz, about movies. We talked about what we liked. And we were forced to be brotherly, and we became like brothers during that, and have remained that way for many years. So it started out like a forced blind date, but it worked out.
By the way, back then he played horrible, horrible practical jokes on me. Horrible. You know, it was my first TV pilot, it was a comedy, I’m a title character—or at least half of a title character—and I wanted to be thin, because I’ve had a problem with weight all my life, so I was on a diet for a long time. So he goes to the wardrobe department, we wore a tuxedo in one of the scenes, and he said, “Listen, every day I want you to take the tuxedo in half an inch,” so that by Thursday I’m putting the tuxedo on and I’m going, “Oh, my God! How can I be gaining so much weight?” Yeah, he had been paying the wardrobe department to take the tux in. And that was just one of many things.
[Writer’s note: Since Clooney apparently recycled this prank several years later and played it on Matt Damon, it seems only fair to also recycle Clooney’s story of what is arguably his all-time greatest prank on Kind. Please note that, although Kind isn’t actually called out by name in the accompanying video, all it takes is a quick Googling of the words “George Clooney” and “cat box” to confirm that, yes, Kind was the victim.]
AVC: You’ve been in Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind and Argo, but were there any of his films that you were going to be in but the timing just didn’t work out?
RK: Yeah, I was supposed to be in Leatherheads, but the scheduling, I couldn’t do it. And, of course, I think I should’ve played Fred Friendly, who was one of the homeliest Jews ever to walk the planet. And instead they get this great-looking Irish guy to play Fred Friendly (in Good Night, And Good Luck). Yeah, it was George. He gave himself the role!
RK: Yeah! I just saw Carol [Burnett] recently. Carol & Company was one of the best times I’ve ever had. It was like a repertory company where we would do different plays every week, in different genres. They were funny, they were serious, they were silly, they were musical, whatever it was that week. And I believe she actually liked doing it, but it was a very difficult show to because, like a pilot, you had to introduce the characters, have something happen, and then wrap up the story, all in 22 minutes. That’s why pilots are very difficult to do. And this was like doing a pilot a week. It was more like a short story, but you’re only given a short amount of time to do it. But I loved doing it. I thought it was great. And she is one of the finest human beings to walk the planet.
I remember one of the producers had been at a taping of a show called Anything But Love that I had a guest spot on. I did pretty well, and it was one of the first things I ever did. It was with Jamie Lee Curtis and Richard Lewis… and Joe Maher, as a matter of fact! But the producer was there, she saw that I was good, and she thought that I would probably be good in this ensemble. So usually when you’re going in for an audition, you sit out in a hallway, the casting director comes out and says, “Come on in!” And you come in, and they’re all sitting there with their arms folded, going, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, okay, yeah.” Not breaking a smile, nothing. So here I am, out in the hallway, waiting to go in, and out comes Carol Burnett, her arms open as if in wait to give me a hug, to say, “Come on in! I hear you’re terrific! Let’s play!” That’s how great she is. In other words, she wants me at my best. She wants me to do my best so that I can do my best for her. Most auditions are like, “All right, let’s see what you’ve got. Go ahead, do it.” But from that moment ’til we wrapped the show, she was just so positive and so gracious.
She was having a tough time because her ex-husband, Joe Hamilton, used to run her old show, and he was the bad cop and she was the good cop. And she didn’t have Joe. And it was very difficult for her to not only make decisions but also to employ them and direct them to the others. It was not a position she liked. She’s very non-confrontational. So that was tough. I also think one of the reasons we were canceled was because Burt Reynolds and Julie Andrews were her best friends, and they didn’t particularly love the show. They were, like, “What are you doing? Why are you doing this?” I don’t know whether or not they liked the whole format, but she pulled the plug on it. She said she didn’t want to do it, and it was very tough on her. But, you know, later on Julie Andrews tried a TV show, and I don’t think it lasted a season. Burt Reynolds did a TV show called Evening Shade, and needless to say, that thing has not exactly stayed in our memories. I don’t think they realized how hard it was to do a half-hour show.
But it was a wonderful, wonderful show, and Carol used to laugh about it and say, “It’s The A-Show. It’s a bad word, The A-Show.” Because it was an anthology. Like The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits or Alfred Hitchcock Presents. But this was comedy, and it had never really been done before, and I thought it was a noble try, and I actually thought it was a great and noble success. I think it only failed because she pulled the plug.
RK: At the time, that was the pilot of the season. You know, it was a pilot that you sort of knew was going to go, because it was Gary David Goldberg and Michael [J. Fox], so everybody wanted it. And Gary had done a show called Champs that was very similar to That Championship Season, about five old guys who are five old basketball friends, much like Gary has in his life. And I wanted to audition for it, and Gary said, “No, I know Richard Kind, I know what he can do, he’s not right for the show.” This is just to audition!” “No, no, he’s not right. He’s not coming in.” So I didn’t get to come in.
So then they’re doing Spin City… and Gary says the same thing! “I know Richard Kind, he’s not right for this role.” Bill Lawrence says, “I think that he is.” And Bill Lawrence is the co-creator, so I do get an audition. I see the casting director first, and I really want to do well, because I don’t want Gary to think that he made the right decision, so I work on this thing with her, and then I go in and I audition. And I said to myself, “If I get called back, the part is mine.” Because I knew I was just so right for the part. And I said, “If I don’t get called back, it’s because I’m either too tall for Michael or I’m too ethnic or for whatever reason. But I know that I’m right for this part, and if I get called back for this part, I’m gonna get it.” And I got called back. And I got it.
Oh, but here’s a funny story! The morning of the network audition, I saw my therapist, because I think, “That’ll be good, because he calms me down and puts me in the right place.” So I had a therapy session, and I told him, “I’m going into the show this morning, it’s with Michael Fox, and he’s going to be there. I’ve met Michael once before.”
So Michael came to Second City years ago when he was doing a movie called Light Of Day in Chicago, and he came and he improvised with us. And we did a scene where it was obvious he was playing the son to the woman who was on stage, it’s a scene where a mother and son are at home, and then the father enters. And the minute I entered, I said, “Hey, honey, I’m home!” At which point Michael, and I can remember in slow motion, took three bounding steps—like, running—and one, two, three, he jumped into my arms and just clasped there. The only thing I can put in your mind is David Letterman wearing Velcro and jumping onto the Velcro wall. That’s exactly what Michael looked like. One, two, three, boom: he just stuck onto me like a glove around an oak tree. Because Michael was very small—is very small—and light, and I’m 6’2” and a decent size. And I’m not the strongest man in the world, but he must have some center of gravity, and I’m a little strong, but I didn’t even have to move my foot to balance myself! There was no movement. It was very precise and pristine and clean. And he must’ve hung onto me—and I’m not kidding—for over a minute of applause and laughter. It was memorable. It was a memorable, memorable moment, and it’s still as clear as can be.
So I say to my therapist, “Should I bring it up?” He goes, “Absolutely!” So I sit down with Michael, and I say, “Michael, we’ve actually met before, in Chicago. You came to Second City, and we did this scene…” And he goes, “Richard, I’m sorry: Not only don’t I remember that night, I don’t remember being in Chicago.” Because he used to get so drunk and so high that he absolutely had no idea. So he does not remember coming to Second City. That’s how drugged up and drunk he was. But I got the role. [Laughs.]
AVC: Do you have a favorite Paul-centric episode of Spin City?
RK: There’s one moment that I remember. There was a scene where I’m accused of being a racist, and I get very neurotic about it. And I’m walking down the hall, and coming the other direction is an African-American gentleman, and there’s an inner monologue as I look at this man. You see me just walk down the hall, my lips aren’t moving, but you hear a voice-over: “Oh, God. Oh, God. Here he comes. Okay, what do you do? Do you say ‘hello’? Do you just pass him by? Do you look at him? What do you do? What do you do? Oh, God. Oh, God, here he comes!” And just as I pass him, I go [Cheerily.] “Hello, black man!” It was quite funny.
And there’s another one I did with Dickie Quinlan, the director of photography. I had a scene where I’d just gotten laid in the middle of the afternoon by Faith Prince, who played my girlfriend at the time. Cut to me walking down the hall, dressed à la Tony Manero from Saturday Night Fever, to “Stayin’ Alive.” So I’m doing that and slapping people’s hands and giving them the high sign and walking like a big man. That was very funny.
AVC: Given the part Bill Lawrence played in getting you that Spin City audition, it presumably didn’t require much arm-twisting to get you to do a few episodes of Scrubs.
RK: No, that was easy. Actually, and I mean this, I would do anything for Bill. I think he’s a great writer and a great guy. So I want to work him professionally because he writes great stuff, and I want to work for him personally because he’s a truly great man. I mean, what a mensch. And he’s a man of the people. With everybody, Bill’s, like, “Hey, whaddaya say, man?” [Laughs.] He’s just a really good guy.
RK: That’s great. That’s wonderful. I’m glad to be part of that ensemble. It’s a role that I’m really honored to play, and it’s one in which I would not have cast me right from the get-go. [Laughs.] But I’m really happy they did. I don’t know whether they want me to be more comic or more serious. I don’t know what they wanted, but I love what they write when they write it, so I’m really happy to be there, and I think I’m very lucky to be part of that. And I think it’s a gorgeous show. It looks terrific. It’s really, really good.
RK: Okay, here’s a story. When you’re doing a voiceover, you don’t generally act with the person that you’re playing with. You’re acting with somebody on the Pixar team. So I’m at a party—this is years ago—and Kevin Spacey comes into the party. I had met Kevin before, I’d done a reading of a friend’s script with Kevin, and, you know, he might know me, he might not. And I’m going over in my head what I’m going to say so that I don’t take up too much time—“Excuse me, Kevin, my name’s Richard Kind, and I just wanted to tell you that you were fantastic in The Usual Suspects…”—and then all of a sudden, there’s a tap on my shoulder, and I turn around, and it’s Kevin Spacey. And he goes, “You know, we played brothers in a movie!” And I’d completely forgotten that we’d played brothers in A Bug’s Life.
But do you know the reason why I really got that role? Because John Lasseter’s father and son are both named Paul Lasseter… and my character on Spin City was named Paul Lassiter.
RK: I loved doing Cars, too. I was absolutely thrilled to do that. I’d never done that before: Edie McClurg and I played husband and wife, in this one we did record that together, we spent about three hours in the booth, and we never got called back in again. Everything they needed, they got. We did it all in one afternoon. Bing Bong took eight or nine sessions, Van took one.
AVC: Full disclosure: My wife and I took our daughter to see Inside Out, and I’m pretty sure all of us wept openly at some point during Bing Bong’s final moments.
RK: I’ll tell you, please look at the screenplay someday, because that is as intricate as North By Northwest. It is so intricate, the things that happen, the places they go. For instance, I don’t know how many times you’ve seen it, but in the beginning when they’re showing Riley growing up and she’s drawing on the wall, do you know what she’s drawing? Bing Bong. And when you see that he cries and his tears are candy, you go, “Oh, that’s very funny,” but then later on it’s used as a plot point. It’s not just a joke, it’s a plot point. It’s quite a brilliant movie, and they are so loyal to the precepts of psychology and psychiatry and emotional development. Believe me, they work hard on that stuff, so hard, throwing out stories and plots to make it as good as they can. You know, it was supposed to be Fear and Joy that go off, not Sadness and Joy, but they threw it away. They even had a lot of it animated, but they threw it away to make the best movie they could.
AVC: You mentioned earlier that you spent a lot of time telling people how great Inside Out was going to be before anyone ever actually saw it. Was there a particular moment when you knew definitively how affecting the movie was going to be to people?
RK: Well, first of all, the whole time I was there, I’m thinking, “This is brilliant. Am I the only one who thinks it’s brilliant?” [Laughs.] But then I’m also wondering, “Will this play? How do you introduce the world of Riley, that this is taking place in her brain, and how do you introduce those characters?” Well, if you look at the first six minutes of that movie, they set up a world that is as intricate as the rules of Monopoly. It is so intricate yet so accessible. I was in shock at how brilliantly they set up the world. They set up the emotions, they set up the human characters and their lives, and then these are the imagination lands and this is the land of family… These are concepts we’ve never heard before, this is a new world, and they do it so simply and economically and brilliantly. And all of sudden the opening is finished, and then there’s the credits, and then the story starts. It’s spectacular. Spectacular storytelling.
But I knew it was as good as I’d thought it was when, a year ago summer, I took my family on a trip up the coast of California. We started in L.A., went up past San Francisco, and—needless to say—we stopped at Pixar, because it’s one of the great points, and I was lucky enough to bring my kids there. So we go in, we take the tour, and then we sit down and we see the first 20 minutes of the movie, which was the only part that had been mostly animated at that time. So we watch it and it’s great, and then we’re walking down the hall, and we see a monitor where they’re doing some editing and stuff, and somebody comes and goes, “Oh, this is the scene where you’re down in the valley! Do you want to see it? It’s not completely finished, you’re going to see some sketches and stuff like that.”
So my three kids go in, we’re all watching, and he says, “I’ve got a good feeling about this one,” and then she goes up and he disappears and dies… and that’s all they had, so they turn it off. And there’s silence. And I look at my oldest daughter—who was 12 at the time—and she’s starting to cry. And she’s crying. And then she just turns to her mother and collapses into her arms and cries. And that is when I knew the movie was going to be as touching and resonant as it was. And I had the discussion, “Do you think she’s crying because her dad died or because Bing Bong died?” And I really do believe it was because Bing Bong died. I think they cut about 40 seconds out of that scene, because it was just too heavy. It was too much. And yet it still holds as much emotion as it does. But it was even harder hitting in one of the versions that I saw.
So it’s good. It’s really, really good. I am beyond proud of my association with Pixar, which is five movies now, that I know them, that I call them my friends, that they call me part of their family, that I know the genius of Pete Docter and John Lasseter. And I am as honored as honored can be to go down in history in that fashion. I’m just a lucky man.