Q&A Kevin Kline

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A Oscar-winning actor who can move effortlessly from sensitive guy (The Big Chill) to absurd eccentric (A Fish Called Wanda), Kline is flying his freak flag high again as playwright Henry Harrison, a penniless social escort to wealthy widows, in The Extra Man. Kline spoke to TIME about cross-dressing, Shakespeare and the global sock crisis.

The filmmakers said they immediately thought of you for this part — a broke, outlandish social sponge. Were you flattered?
Who wouldn't be flattered? Funny, they told me they wanted me because I was a man of the theater. I'm enraged.

Your character's dance is so odd and fantastic. Is it part of your morning routine?
I skipped it this morning because I had a very full day. Actually, it's not. I'd be in the hospital. My character basically moved whatever he felt was rotting. So we just assumed everything was rotting. I did the dance for like three or four minutes, and you see about 30 seconds. Maybe it will be in the DVD in the entirety. Dance is the best exercise there is.

I thought Thigh-Master was the best exercise.
What is that?

Suzanne Sommers sells them on television, for stronger thighs.
I see. I feel a degree of mastery over my thighs as it is.

Your character uses dark paint for socks to save money, have you tried that?
I have not. I have never been that far down. But I love my character's inventiveness.

It would actually solve the worldwide one-missing-sock crisis.
Exactly. But rather than paint, why not just wear different colored socks? What is this uniformity of sock color? I may try to introduce that as a trend.

I'll push that in the piece.
Okay, but I want a piece of the action. I want everyone to send me the other sock they are not using.

Done. Your costar, Paul Dano, dresses in drag. What's the appropriate on-set compliment?
What do you say? 'Nice teddy?' You don't want to say, 'Jesus, what has happened to your career?' You want to be encouraging, but there is even chagrin at getting complimented for wearing women's clothes. I've dressed as a woman a couple of times on film. And I have to say I make an extraordinarily ugly woman. Hideous. Even clean-shaven.

If I was an aspiring drag queen, what advice would you have for me?
I'd say go for individual style rather than following fashion. Because clearly you have issues that are unique to you that you need to work through. But hey, I'm for socks of a different color; it's a gateway move that could lead to cross-dressing.

You play Edwin Stanton, Lincoln's secretary of war, in Robert Redford's The Conspirator. That's serious facial hair.
I have seen Civil War movies that become about bad facial hair. So we did a modified version of the Edwin Stanton beard. There are two to three pictures of Stanton and we can assume in between those shots he trimmed his beard. And that's the one I give you. I think Mr. Redford eschewed the idea of too much beardage.

Is it your beard or the prop department's beard?
No, it's me. It's different. It's so different that Woody Harrelson visited the set and I was talking to Mr. Redford and he came over. And after five minutes I said, "It's me — Kevin." He didn't recognize me. Roger Ebert said that when I do comedies I wear a mustache and when I do drama I don't wear a mustache. Interestingly, you'll see in "The Conspirator" that that changes. Wait a minute. It's a beard, but no mustache. Never mind. But I did do a part in an Ivan Reitman comedy with no facial hair.

You've done Shakespeare so many times. What's your dream Bard project?
I've always wanted to play Othello. And I have only done Hamlet twice. One really can improve the third time around.

Could you make it a happy ending this time?
It is a happy ending, because everyone's so sick of him grousing for four hours. They are happy he's dead. Hamlet's last line is, "the rest is silence." It's almost to assure the audience that I'm shutting up now.