Character actor Richard Kind spoke with Solzy at the Movies about the upcoming film, The Magnificent Meyersons, opening in select theaters.
During the twentyish minute conversation, Kind also discussed previous work in A Serious Man, Inside Out, and Argo. The Spin City alumnus also talks about the most important lesson that he took away from his time at The Second City.
How did you learn about the script for The Magnificent Meyersons and what was it that drew you to the project?
Richard Kind: Well, I wish there were glorified and artistic responses to a question like that but when you’re a character actor, it’s they you offered me the part—I said, Yes. It’s not something that will, quote-unquote, draw you to a part. Here’s something that was interesting—you must understand I haven’t seen the movie. Okay? Because I don’t like watching movies—I don’t like watching it myself. I read the script and I thought it was terrific. When I saw the part, they offered me an older version of the dad—t he older years when he was sick and when he came back. I said, This is wonderful and I’m beautifully written, everything like that. I thought that they were going to give me both parts. I actually said, I’ll only do it if I can play the younger dad. Because that’s where the challenge is—it’s not playing one dad versus the other dad. It’s playing both and seeing what the arc of that character is from when he left and then years later when he returned. I thought that’s a really interesting challenge. I guess my answer is different than what I said. There was a real challenge that I thought I could I could face and so that’s what drew me to it. I’ve got to kind of tell you—having the opportunity to act with Kate Mulgrew, Barbara Barrie, and Ian Kahn, I thought this is just fantastic so I said, I’ll do it.
Was there any room for improvisation during filming?
Richard Kind: I’ll be honest—it’s over two years that we did the film. I’m not a man who improvisation when I’m doing scripted work. There are ways that I can put it into a vernacular that’s easier for Richard Kind to say or that I believe that the character would talk. I can’t say I improvised anything of note—no, I probably did not. I thought the script was nicely written and my part was certainly beautifully written. I really don’t like to improvise during movies. I respect what the writer has written. I’ll tell you this, every once in a while, you could put a word in, it comes out easier. But people like David Kelly on TV or the Coen brothers, they like what they wrote and they wrote it with purpose. I have learned to say the words the way that the author intended.
I have to say that I loved A Serious Man.
Richard Kind: Oh, my G-d. Can you imagine my honor of having been in that movie? It’s just one of the one of the highlights of my life much less my acting career. No matter what happens, I am in the pantheon of Coen brothers movies and truly in one of their best. I’m the luckiest man in the world.
What do you typically look for in a character while reading a screenplay?
Richard Kind: Will they pay me? Will the check is clear? What do I look for? I’ve gotta give you the easier answer is do I believe the words and will I believe the words coming out of my mouth? That’s the first thing. I have to love casting. I like to think who would be good. You read a book and you go, who would be good in this part. A lot of times, I don’t like to know who’s going to do it in the movie because then I’ll see them in the movie in my head rather than who I think. There were times when I will read a script and I’ll think, Oh, you know who would be good for this? Because I’m a realist. I know I’m a good actor but I know I’m not right for everything. There are some times when I get the part when I go I would cast me in this as they do. I try to think, am I the best person for this? And with my ego, a lot of times, I do think I’m the best person for it. When I hear sometimes that they cast somebody else, I think they made a mistake. Isn’t that hubris? My G-d, what an ego! Sometimes when I get cast, I think they made a mistake but I’ll do it.
What else do I look for? I wish I could say that I like to look for the quality of the whole script. I don’t. I like to look for the quality of the character. Is it a good role? Will it be fun? Who else am I going to be acting with? Who’s the director? It’s not just within the script—it’s the whole project. Sometimes, you read a script and you go, Well, I don’t know whether or not this is any good and then you get there and it’s so much fun. You didn’t realize especially if the director was good and you’re acting with somebody who’s really good.
I did a movie called Run and Gun—they changed the name recently (Note: formerly The Ray). It’s going to be out in October, I believe. I get to play a villain, a really horrible man. It’s such a weird type of movie but what a challenge it was to play a really bad guy. I have to admit the director was a more technical director and I would have liked some more character direction but he wasn’t there a lot to give it to me. The lead actor and I got along really well. We talked about when we were rehearsing the scenes. I asked for rehearsal before and we had a great discussion. He was helping me and I was helping him and we had a great time—just a wonderful time. I’m fortunate to have it. A wonderful actor, Ben Milliken, is the lead and he also helped produce it. It’s wonderful. It’s a weird, weird, weird actually. It’s just truly weird what’s driving me in that. But I think this movie is a little weird, don’t you?
Richard Kind: The Magnificent Meyersons. I haven’t done this for two years and like I said, I haven’t seen the movie. But I remember thinking this is a quirky, quirky movie. Certainly, my character is mentally ill so therefore, you call him quirky or you call him sick. I thought it was very interesting.
Do you naturally gravitate towards comedy projects?
Richard Kind: No, just the opposite—comedy projects gravitate towards me! I want to do dramas. I didn’t think I was that funny in Meyersons, am I?
I didn’t think so.
Richard Kind: Yeah, I’m sort of pathetic especially my scene with the kid. It’s so sad in trying to explain what’s going on and that I’m leaving. I was heartbroken doing those scenes.
What was the most important thing that you learned from your time at The Second City?
Richard Kind: How to listen. It’s how to listen and because it was live theater, I learned how to play an audience. It’s something that I really like because when you do film, there is no audience. In fact, with the audience there, you must purposefully not use them. There’s a camera and behind the camera are 40 or 50 people doing their work. You want them all to enjoy what you’re doing but you can’t worry about it, you’ve got to just be with the person who you’re acting with. Therefore, you really can listen, which is something that I learned at Second City because when you’re on stage, you are with the person—that one person on stage. But it’s theater, so there’s a third person in the scene and that’s the audience, even if they’re not laughing. You can hear them getting what you’re saying—even if you’re doing a drama, you can feel them understanding what you’re saying. I know that’s a weird thing but it’s a tool you do learn. But listening is a wonderful thing that every actor should know and be phenomenal at. And in life, I don’t do that very much. My ego won’t permit it. But on stage, you have to listen.
At what point during production on Inside Out did you know that it was a special film?
Richard Kind: I’ll tell your story. Whenever people go, What are you working on? I go The Sound of Music 2. Because you mention the name and nobody knows what the hell you’re talking about! If you say The Sound of Music 2, at least they have a reference. Of course, it’s a joke. But if I would just say Run and Gun or something like that, nobody knows about that—that could be Godfather 5 or it could be one of the great movies of all time but it doesn’t matter. People would say what movie are you working on and you say Inside Out, it means nothing to them—absolutely nothing! And look at the classic that came out of it.
I did not know how brilliant it was. In fact, talk about weird—here’s an imaginary friend talking about (inaudible) and what we have to do with them. I didn’t know what they were talking about but they would explain the scene and I just—their minds and their imaginations are so much more developed than mine. Those guys are brilliant. My G-d, they’re nice, brilliant and creative. I didn’t entirely know what it was.
During filming, while they were putting it together, I took a trip up the California coast with my three kids who are young. They’re now 19 and 16. They were much younger—we went up to San Francisco and then we stopped at Pixar Animation Studios. They were still cutting Inside Out. They showed my family the first 7-10 minutes of the movie and once you first see the first 7-10 minutes—I was not allowed to read the script, I only got my scenes—and I saw what was going on and how they set up the story, I went, This is fantastic. You could say, Oh, it takes place in their brain but I have no context for that. Then I see what the first 10 minutes are, I said, This is fantastic. That’s when I really knew what it was all about because the first 10 minutes sets up an entire world of an entire movie.
Later on, we saw a very, very rough part of the scene where I’m in the valley and I sacrificed myself. My oldest daughter, who was the only one who was really young enough to understand that I had sacrificed my life so that this young child could go on and leave her childhood behind—she must have been about 11 or 12 at the time—when it was finished, she ran to her mother and started sobbing. That’s when I knew, Oh my gosh, this is special. I think that’s about when it was. And then of course, you have two or three more voiceover sessions even after it’s completed with the animation. You keep doing it literally up until a month or two before they release it.
What do you hope audiences take away from watching The Magnificent Meyersons?
Richard Kind: I don’t know what they’ll take away. Everything I do, ultimately, I just do. I hope they enjoy. I hope they think I’m great and I hope they enjoy the movie. That’s all. That’s all you do with these things. I hope we did something that was classy and that was as good as it could be. You get a script and you try and make it. There are lots of movies that get remade and you sort of say, I hope this movie doesn’t need to be remade. A lot of times, they remake movies and you go, Why are you remaking this? The biggest one is The Heartbreak Kid. Have you seen the original movie, The Heartbreak Kid?
Yeah, it took forever to be able to find a copy. One day, it must have been 2010, I’m glancing at my Netflix queue for the films I want to watch and all of a sudden it was on streaming.
Richard Kind: Wow.
I was able to watch the original.
Richard Kind: Yeah, it’s a masterpiece. It’s written is as good as they get. It’s a movie that never needed to be remade and was remade. You go, Why?!? What I hope they take away a little bit is I hope we don’t need to ever remake this or could this have been made better? Did people like it? If people want to remake it, that means there’s something there that we did good. Even if they didn’t think it was the best, we did something. We hit some sort of nerve and a lot of times, you hope that they think about it. That they didn’t just sit and watch it and then left the theater. You hope that they maybe think about it a little bit later.
I’m lucky enough to have a part in the two movies we mentioned and are not just thought about later, they are truly pondered over. I mean, they resonate within you. You hope you get something like that—that’s very difficult to achieve. Movies like that—Argo—I have a wonderful but small but wonderful scene in Argo. It was a movie that resonates and you get to think about it when it’s finished.
I rewatched it last year early on during the pandemic.
Richard Kind: It’s an awfully good movie. It’s really is. It’s well-thought-out movie. You know what’s going to happen and yet still, there’s suspense.