Where you've seen him: If Jack Kehler looks familiar, you've probably caught him in one of about 100 television and movie appearances. Like all great character actors, Kehler slips in and out of comedic and dramatic roles with ease, doing consistently remarkable work. He also appears frequently on the L.A. stage, primarily with the Oxblood Theatre Company.
His best-known role: The Dude's landlord in The Big Lebowski. But aren't those Coen Brothers fans a little frightening? "They've never been scary to me," said Kehler, laughing. "I was at a Bob Dylan concert recently, and a young man approached me and asked if I was in the film. When I said yes, he started screaming, 'Oh, my God. This and Bob Dylan in the same night.' It was very cute; he knew all my lines and everything." Another time a young woman came up to him at a café and said her friends had frequent screenings of the movie, at which they act out the parts. "She wanted to know if I was interested in coming to watch it with them one night," said Kehler. "It's kind of a little phenomenon for me because the movie didn't do so well even though I think it's really terrific."
Soon to be known for: Stealing scenes in the film Love Liza, playing the loveable, if slightly dense, friend to Philip Seymour Hoffman's despondent widower. Kehler knew director Todd Louiso through Louiso's wife, actor/playwright Sarah Koskoff, a founding member of Oxblood. "Todd and Philip really pushed for me. I wouldn't be in it if it weren't for those two," said Kehler, who loved working with both of them. "Philip has this deep commitment to doing good work and taking great chances. He's got a great ambition within reason. A lot of young actors seem to do things beyond their reach just because they can. But he attains the things he's striving for."
How he got his start: Kehler was waiting tables in New York at the age of 24 and decided on a career change. "I made a list of four things I liked and felt connected to, even though I didn't know how to do them. One was theatre." For the record, the other three were writing, playing guitar, and woodworking. "At times I thought I was starting too late to have a real career, but then I realized Vincent van Gogh didn't pick up a paintbrush until he was 27," said Kehler.
His big break: In 1982, he was admitted into the prestigious Actors Studio. "That was so thrilling to me. I felt like I had gotten a Ph.D.," he recalled. But he wasn't getting much paid work until he moved to L.A. "I came out here for two weeks to do a reading of a play, and while I was here it became apparent you have to live here for the business," he stated. "As much as I love New York and I miss it every day, I wasn't supporting myself as an actor there." He stayed in L.A. to star in a play. On his second night performing, he was seen by an agent, who signed him immediately.
His dream collaborator: Paul Thomas Anderson. "I love Hard Eight and Boogie Nights," raved Kehler. "Hard Eight is as close as you can get to perfect."
His best experiences: Kehler cites I Love You to Death as one of his favorite film experiences. He also enjoyed working on Love Liza and had high praise for the entire Hoffman family, including Philip's brother Gordy (who wrote the script) and their mother, both of whom he met at Sundance. Dudley Do-Right was another great experience, even though the final product was less than spectacular. "Everyone involved with it just felt so bad it turned out so awful," said Kehler.
His worst experience: Kehler had a rough time on one of his first films, Michael Cimino's Year of the Dragon. "There was a lot of hollering on the set," he said. "I just think people can get what they want without screaming."
What's next: Kehler is off to Rome for a week to film Under the Tuscan Sun with Diane Lane. He's also hoping to get back onstage with Oxblood sometime next year. "I think theatre out here is terrific. When people ask for advice, I tell them to do plays. People come and see them. It's a win/win situation because even if they don't come you're bettering your craft."