Kevin Kline and Lawrence Kasdan Go to the Dogs in 'Darling Companion'

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Lawrence Kasdan has written such blockbusters as "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Return of the Jedi" and "The Bodyguard." But as a director, he's known for more grounded films like "The Big Chill" and "Grand Canyon." Those films both starred Kevin Kline, the Oscar-winning actor who segues effortlessly between broad comedy ("A Fish Called Wanda") and searing drama (his debut film, "Sophie's Choice").

Now the pair are bringing their sixth collaboration, "Darling Companion," to theaters this week. In the film, Diane Keaton plays Kline's wife, who takes in a stray dog her daughter finds on the freeway. Like all of Kasdan's films, this simple set-up leads to revelations about human relationships, enormous amounts of pathos, and surprising humor. For the record, both star and director are owners of rescue dogs. Kasdan's pup is named Mac, he's a mutt upon who "Darling Companion" is based. Kline's dog is named Joe, and he's not sure what breed he is. "I've had five different veterinarians tell me he's terrier or Italian greyhound or all sorts of things," Kline notes. "I think he's probably the product of an extraordinary gangbang."

Back Stage: When did you two first meet; I heard it was when Kevin auditioned for "Body Heat"?

Kevin Kline: It wasn't an audition so much as a debacle. But yes, I read for him. I read with Jill Eikenberry.

Lawrence Kasdan: Who I adored! I saw a lot of different people for that part. You know, you never mentioned that before.

Kline: Yeah, well, that's who I blame for me not getting the part! (Laughs.)

Back Stage: Was it a good audition?

Kasdan: Oh yeah. When I met him, I thought, I've got to work with this guy....Just not on this!

Back Stage: So you brought him back to read for "The Big Chill"?

Kasdan: We did two complete readings, one on each coast. Phoebe Cates [Kline's future wife] was actually in the New York reading with Kevin. And Peter Riegert read the part Jeff Goldblum ended up playing. I could have done 10 readings, they were so many great actors.

Kline: At one point there was a discussion where I said, "Can I also read the part of the TV actor and the People Magazine writer?" Because nothing had been cast.

Back Stage: I was wondering about that—was Harold the only role you read for?

Kline: I had my eye on the funnier roles. This guy was just so normal. In retrospect, having just done "Sophie's Choice," it was good to play a regular guy. But Larry said, "I want you to read Harold for this reading." And then he cast me in it. I'd never done anything like it; in theater, my characters were very different. It was hard to play a regular guy.

Back Stage: You've done so many films together and in a way, Kevin character seems to represent you. Was that intentional?

Kasdan: Yes, I wanted to be much taller, good looking, and have that deep voice.

Kline: I paid a lot of money for this voice.

Kasdan: You should be the voice of a car commercial. I'm surprised you're not.

Kline: Remember when Jimmy Stewart was doing Campbell's soup commercials? I always remember my mother saying, "Why is he doing that? He's taking those jobs away from actors who make their living doing voice over! He doesn't need the money!"

Kasdan: She's gone now, Kevin.

Kline: She would never forgive me. She would roll over in her urn.

Back Stage: So how did Kevin become your guy?

Kasdan: He made me laugh. He always made me laugh. He was funny, he got what was funny in the scripts, and I liked being around him. He's good company. He's great on a set, other people like working with him. When he's there, the level goes up. It's a wonderful thing to be part of.

Back Stage: Kevin, I've heard that you didn't consider Lawrence's scripts comedies at first.

Kline: No I didn't. When I read "Big Chill" and even "Darling Companion," they just seemed honest and truthful and about the human existence. I knew there was wit and something comedic but I wasn't slapping my knee reading them.

Kasdan: When do you slap your knee? I mean, you really do that,like in private?

Kline: Yeah. My wife is always yelling, "What's all that knee slapping going on?" "I'm reading a really funny script." "Well, keep it down!" I've really badly bruised myself at times.

Back Stage: Lawrence, "The Bodyguard" was the first script you sold, even though it was years before the movie was made. It's proven to have an enduring appeal, with talk of a sequel, a remake, a stage musical.

Kasdan: That's not talk, that's happening. It's going to open in December in London. It's going really well.

Back Stage: Is it cast yet? Because Kevin can sing, you know.

Kasdan: One of the things I said, because I own the stage rights, is that I don't want the bodyguard singing. The playwright, Alexander Dinelaris, did a brilliant thing. They're at a karaoke bar and she makes a bet with him that if he loses, he will sing. So he sings one karaoke song;it's totally believable and really great. Heather Headley is playing Rachel Merrin, she's a big talent. She was in "Aida."

Kline: The Verdi "Aida"?

Kasdan: No, the Elton John one. I didn't know there was another. (Laughs)

Back Stage: What do you think is the secret to its enduring appeal?

Kasdan: I don't know. It's funny, it was on last night. I came home, turned on the set, and it was on. John Shanley is a friend of mine and he said, "'Bodyguard' is my favorite of your scripts." And I didn't really like the way the movie turned out that well. Now I'm liking it a lot more. But I said, 'Oh yeah, that's your favorite one?' And he said, 'Yeah, it's something about his willingness to die for her and the fact they can't be together.' That's all Shanley type stuff, you know. Impossible love.