Kevin Kline and Lawrence Kasdan, actor and writer/director, respectively, have known each other for 32 years now.
They met when Kasdan, making a name for himself in Los Angeles as a go-to screenwriter (Steven Spielberg went to him for Raiders of the Lost Ark, George Lucas for Return of the Jedi), was looking for the lead for his directorial debut, the neo-noir Body Heat.
"I was seeing people in L.A., but there were all these incredible stage actors in New York," Kasdan remembers. "There was Kevin, and there was Christopher Walken and John Heard. It just went on and on, it was an amazing time."
Ultimately, Kasdan cast another New York stage actor, William Hurt, opposite Kathleen Turner. "I didn't think Kevin was right for Body Heat," the filmmaker explains. "But I knew that we were going to work together. And when I went on to The Big Chill, he was the first person I wanted to see."
And how did Kline feel about hearing he wasn't the right guy to play a sleazy and not-altogether-competent lawyer who falls for a femme fatale?
"Yes, I agreed," Kline says, jokingly. "I had to convince Larry, 'Look, I'm really wrong for this, and here are the reasons why … .'
"Actually, Larry, in retrospect, don't you think I could have played it?"
"Oh, of course," Kasdan responds.
"Thank you. It would have been different, but I could have gotten through it."
Kline gets through Kasdan's latest endeavor — the director's first since 2003's Dreamcatcher — quite well, thank you. In Darling Companion, which opens Fridayat the Ritz Five and Rave Motion Pictures at the Ritz Center/NJ, Kline is an all-work, no-play back surgeon, long married to Diane Keaton. The couple has a grown daughter (Elisabeth Moss, from Mad Men), and, after discovering it abandoned on the side of a freeway, they have a grown dog, too.
It's the disappearance of the pooch, in the hills of Utah, that sets Kasdan's sprawling ensemble piece in motion. Mark Duplass, Richard Jenkins, Sam Shepard, Dianne Wiest, and Ayelet Zurer are all on board, helping to hunt for the missing mutt, or not helping, as the case may be.
Shot for less money and less time than Kasdan is accustomed to — it's the 63-year-old director's first non-studio production — Darling Companion offers a rambling meditation on marriage, family, friendship — and the way a funny, furry, four-legged creature can insinuate itself into your life.
"About seven years ago, my wife and I rescued a dog from a shelter in Los Angeles," Kasdan says, sharing a speakerphone with Kline in a New York office recently. "A couple of years later we had him in Colorado, and we had to leave him with a friend while we went to a wedding. They were hiking — as the dog always did, that's what we do in Colorado — and a guy on a mountain bike came by, scared the dog, our friend chased after him but he couldn't find him.
"Our dog just disappeared."
Happily, three weeks later, the dog, Mac, was found — seven pounds lighter, muddy and messy, but all right.
And Kasdan and his screenwriting partner and wife, Meg, found the idea for Darling Companion. In the film, it is Keaton's character who bonds with the dog, while Kline's remains too busy with his work, and too wrapped up in his world ego, to really care. And so when the dog runs off into the trees under Kline's character's watch, there's a lot of blame to go around.
In real life, however, Kline says he would be anything but indifferent.
"Yes, I am a dog person," Kline says. "I grew up with dogs, we have a dog, we've had a dog for 12 years, who is sort of ailing now, as older dogs do. But yeah, he's our darling companion. I love dogs."
So Kline had to tap into his "inner jerk" to play this guy convincingly.
"I had to dig deep to find that part of me that was self-absorbed and narcissistic, but I found it, I channeled that," he says, proudly. "It's not that he doesn't love dogs, it's just that he's too preoccupied. He does love his work … his career is who he is, I think, and he's lost his way a little in terms of his priorities, inclemently, over the years and tears of marriage ... . And these adventures that we go through in the search [for the dog] is something of a learning experience for him. He's not a changed person, as in many Hollywood films — 'Oh, he's transformed!' But he's on the mend at the end."
Next up for Kline — he thinks, if the financing comes together — is the new one from Charlie Kauffman, the intensely nutty writer behind Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and the writer and director of Synecdoche, New York.
It's called Frank or Francis, and it's said to be a musical, and a satire of Hollywood, built around a feud between a director and a blogger. Kline will star with Elizabeth Banks, Catherine Keener, Nicolas Cage, Jack Black, and Steve Carell.
Next up for Kasdan — he's polishing the screenplay now — is an adaptation of Harlan Coben's latest thriller, the bestseller Stay Close. It's about a photojournalist, a suburban mother with a hidden past, and a homicide detective, all linked by an old crime. Much of the story takes place in Atlantic City, and Kasdan is hoping he can shoot in New Jersey, tax credits willing.
"It's very dark," he says, referring to the story, not the state.
Jason Segel, gourmet chef. In The Five-Year Engagement, which opened to good reviews but not-so-good box office last weekend, Jason Segel's character is a sous chef at a hot, haute San Francisco eatery. He fusses over fusion cuisine, artfully serving up to-die-for dishes.
But serious cooking, like serious swordplay or horseback riding, is something the actor had to learn.
"I've lived alone for a long time, so I've definitely done like the bachelor chef stuff," he reports. "I'll take whatever's in the fridge and whip up a pretty good meal. But a lot of times it involves Fritos and old American cheese."
So Segel had a two-week crash course at a top culinary school, to make his kitchen scenes believable.
"I learned some fancy cooking and chopping skills," he says. "There were no Fritos involved."
Contact Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or email@example.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at www.philly.com/onmovies.