Though it’s mostly in English, “My Old Lady” is not Kevin Kline’s first French film. In “Queen to Play,” he spoke the language fluently, opposite legendary French actress Sandrine Bonnaire. (And of course, he played a stereotypical French pseudo-stud in “French Kiss.”) But in “My Old Lady,” he’s an American who mangles his limited knowledge of the language, playing a malcontent displeased that his late father’s Parisian apartment is unexpectedly populated by an old tenant (Maggie Smith) and her daughter (Kirstin Scott Thomas).
Was your experience with French films or playing French how you got involved with this.
I was sent the play by a very nice, misguided French producer, because he thought I could speak French well enough that I could do it in French. I begged to differ. Years went by and I was in Paris. It was the weirdest thing. I’m doing press on “Queen to Play,” and I’m with friends at the Cafe de Flore, where Sartre invented existentialism. I go upstairs to the men’s room and I see Israel [Horovitz, the writer-director] and a couple other people. Israel said, “You know, we were just talking about you.” They were talking about who should play the lead in the film and someone said, “Kevin Kline.” And then I just appeared. Israel thought it was staged.
Your character hasn’t remotely settled down, despite being in his 50s.
I’ll say. I’d hate to be late 50s and being nowhere. He’s still wrestling with demons he should have reconciled with 30 years before. Part of the story is that even though you could be in your 50s or 60s or 70s or 80s, contrary to what kids think of people that age, they don’t have it all figured out. In the last 10 years I’ve embraced more and more the sensation that I’ll never understand everything. I accept that. I won’t understand most things. I don’t understand how we think. Any good movie is about how we think. Monty Python is about how we think. But we’re still figuring things out. We know nothing.
This is a silly question to ask, but at this point do you get intimidated working with someone like Maggie Smith?
Maggie’s just a gal. She gives great foot rubs. Look,I just did a movie [“Last Vegas”] with Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas and Morgan Freeman, none of whom I’d ever worked with. I’ve seen them in all kinds of things, but you get to set and you’re reading through the script and you realize, “Oh, they’re actors, and we’re all friends. I can’t be in awe of them.” I can’t be in awe of Maggie Smith. She’s playing an old lady who’s living in my apartment. In between takes I’d ask her about doing “Othello” with Olivier, and I’d hear these great stories about Gielgud and [Sir Ralph] Richardson. But you realize she’s pretty good, then I must be pretty good too, because I’m in a scene with her. And she agreed to do this scene with me! So I must be doing pretty okay!
Bonus: On the inexplicable American title of his French film “La Joyeuse,” namely “Queen to Play”:
It means nothing. I asked my chess coach, who worked with me on the movie. It’s called “La Joyeuse” in French, which means “The Player.” I asked him if “Queen to Play” was a chess term. He said it wasn’t. Well, you could say "Queen to Play" is the title of all my films. I’m a drama queen and I’m here to play.
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