Kevin Kline takes on Errol Flynn and 'My Old Lady'

Kevin Kline, who stars as Errol Flynn in 'The Last of Robin Hood,' calls him 'a slippery character'
'I wanted to stretch him in every direction he could be played,' Israel Horovitz says of casting Kevin Kline

Veteran playwright Israel Horovitz believes no actor is capable of doing it all. Except for perhaps Kevin Kline, who, Horovitz observed, "can do really a lot more than most actors can do."

Kline has won an Oscar for supporting actor for his comedic turn in 1988's "A Fish Called Wanda" and two Tony Awards for musical comedy for 1978's "On the 20th Century" and 1981's "The Pirates of Penzance." And since making his feature debut in 1982's "Sophie's Choice" as the troubled Nathan, Kline expanded his repertoire to include dramas ("The Ice Storm"), westerns ("Silverado") and even animated comedies ("The Road to El Dorado").

So when Horovitz was casting the male lead in the film adaptation of his play "My Old Lady," which opens Sept. 10, his only choice was Kline. "I wanted to stretch him in every direction he could be played," said Horovitz, who makes his feature directorial debut with the film that also stars Maggie Smith and Kristin Scott Thomas.

The 66-year-old Kline was also the "obvious" choice for filmmakers Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland to star as the aging swashbuckler Errol Flynn in their period drama "The Last of Robin Hood," which opens Aug. 29.

"He has not only an uncanny resemblance to the movie star but also the physical prowess, the graciousness of manner, the mischief, the smarts and the wit," they said in a joint email interview. "How many actors today have derring-do? It had to be Kevin."

Ironically, Kline was pursued especially early in his career to play the Australian star of "The Adventures of Robin Hood" in various projects.

"People said I looked like Flynn," said the actor, who seemed to be in great spirits despite recovering from knee surgery as he talked recently by phone from his home in New York. "I was offered a miniseries, but I said I don't want to do an impersonation."

But the Flynn Kline portrays in "The Last of Robin Hood" certainly isn't in the swashbuckling form of his classic films. By 1957, the 48-year-old Flynn's hedonistic lifestyle has taken its toll on his health, career and private life. Flynn had recently separated from his third wife, Patrice Wymore, when he met an ingenue named Beverly Aadland who was working on the same lot as the actor. He thought she was 18 when in fact she was just 15.

The two quickly became a couple, and Aadland's ambitious mother, Florence, who once had aspirations of stardom, not only encouraged her daughter, she chaperoned the two. Flynn had told the press Aadland was his protege, but when he died in 1959 at age 50, there was a media frenzy when the true nature of their relationship became known.

Two years later, Florence Aadland wrote the lurid, tell-all book "The Big Love" about Flynn and her daughter.

Susan Sarandon stars in "Robin Hood" as Florence, while Dakota Fanning plays the precocious Beverly.

"He was a slippery character to be sure," said Kline of Flynn. "He was a very mysterious character and certainly had some issues. These days they would say he was a sex addict."

That Flynn was having an affair with a teenager, said Kline, was "pretty icky. It's a little like Roman Polanski if he had stayed with the girl."

Kline watched every movie and read books about Flynn, including his autobiography, "My Wicked, Wicked Ways." He took a complex view of an obviously flawed but talented man who could be the life of the party.

"I heard a wonderful interview with David Niven, who said he was more fun than all of my other friends in Hollywood put together," Kline recalled. "I just tried to act him and find something I could marry myself to make it real and immediate and alive."

Kline was fascinated with the film's "study of the celebrity madness of our culture" and that Florence Aadland took the term "stage mother" to a whole new level. Ironically, said Kline, Beverly Aadland wasn't all that ambitious and seemed to love Errol "not because he was 'Errol Flynn.' She loved his humor and his spirit. She was wild and fun as he was."

Mathias, the character he plays in "My Old Lady," has a lot in common with Flynn. "His life is a mess like Errol Flynn's but a very different kind of messy," said Kline. "He's laboring under many misapprehensions and very angry."

Down on his luck and struggling to maintain sobriety, Mathias travels from New York to Paris when he inherits an apartment from his late estranged father. But when he arrives, he finds there is an elderly woman (Smith) living in the apartment with her daughter (Scott Thomas). Mathias learns that his apartment is a viager — an old French real estate system in which he can't sell the apartment until Smith's Mathilde dies.

"It's a very funny premise," said Kline. "He shows up to inherit an apartment, and there's an old lady living there. It sounds like a very comedic premise, and then there are all of these surprises. It's a little bit of everything."

Kline had dinner once with Smith when he was making 1990's "I Love You to Death" with Joan Plowright. "She is very, very dear friends with Joan," said Kline, who admitted with a laugh that Smith never remembers their first encounter.

"It was thrilling," he said of working with Dame Maggie. "She filled in a lot of gaps about theater lore in the days of Olivier and the National Theatre — just wonderful stories."

Kline first met Horovitz more than 40 years ago when he was an acting student at Juilliard. But "My Old Lady" is their first collaboration.

"We started to do these readings when he was adapting the play into screenplay form," said Kline. "We would spend hours together. Sometimes we would meet and just talk through the film."

"I made significant changes based on what Kevin could do," said Horovitz. "He could play the piano, so I have the guy playing the piano."

One of the film's most charming moments is when Mathias encounters an opera singer on the banks of the Seine rehearsing and begins to join in the aria.

Kline didn't have a clue he would be asked to sing. "I knew he was going to have to do that, but I didn't want to tell him," said Horovitz. "We just let it happen in the moment. I thought it was delicious."

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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