King Kevin returns

Don’t call him stupid. Call him Dr. Kevin Kline.

The man who brought us the clueless criminal Otto from “A Fish Called Wanda” and has famously portrayed Shakespearean kings, pirate kings and presidents, among many other classic characters of the stage and screen, made a triumphant return to Indiana University Bloomington this afternoon, earning standing applause for a new honor to accompany his Oscar and two Tony Awards.

Kevin Kline displays his newest honor -- an honorary doctorate from Indiana University.

Kevin Kline displays his newest honor — an honorary doctorate from Indiana University.

“It all did start here,” Kline said upon receiving an honorary doctoral degree from his alma mater and the place where he launched a remarkable acting career still going strong in its fifth decade.

That was just one of several memorable lines the living legend shared during his post-degree conferral Q&A session with Jonathan Michaelsen, chair of the Department of Theatre, Drama, and Contemporary Dance, who led the audience through a retrospective of Kline’s most well known (and a few lesser known) roles and allowed Kline to reminisce fondly about his days as an IU student. 

Of note, Kline said:

  • “The American Olivier,” as he was famously dubbed by New York Times theater critic Frank Rich, “hated” Shakespeare in high school. Then he took a Shakespeare class at IU, where he became fascinated by the Bard and learned to really focus on the true meaning behind Shakespeare’s lofty language.
  • He got his acting start in the “small” T300 classroom, located in the University Theatre Building.
  • As a student, he was inclined to mimic the masters, asking himself how actors like Marlon Brando or Jimmy Stewart would approach a particular role. While studying at IU, he quickly learned how to be the “author of your own work.”
  • Improv contributed to the success of “A Fish Called Wanda,” for which he won the 1988 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. As an IU student, he honed his improvisational talent while performing sketches at the Owl, a one-time Btown coffee shop, and at the neighboring Brown County Playhouse. (Kline will appear at a special screening of “Wanda” this evening at IU Cinema.)

Kline will remain in his old stomping grounds tomorrow for a master class with IU theater students. He’ll also get to spend time with his friend and fellow actor, IU Professor Robby Benson, who was instrumental in bringing Kline back to Btown. Then it’s on to yet another challenge.

But he won’t be able to leave IU too far behind. In a few weeks, Kline will begin filming a new movie, starring opposite another recent IU honorary degree recipient: Dr. Meryl Streep.

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