Kevin Kline Brings Cole Porter to Life in "De-Lovely"

Kevin Kline Ashley Judd De-Lovely
Kevin Kline and Ashley Judd star in "De-Lovely". Photo © MGM

Irwin Winkler’s stylized musical, “De-Lovely,” spans the course of 40 years in the life of American composer, Cole Porter. Following the course of Porter’s life and career, the movie travels from Paris to New York to Hollywood and features over 30 Cole Porter songs.

While directing Kevin Kline in Life as a House, Winkler got the idea of casting him in “De-Lovely.” “Kevin gave a wonderful performance in that film, and I was very happy with our working relationship,” says Winkler. “He’s so incredibly talented, and he’s an actor willing to take risks. As we worked on the script, I knew we had to have him as Cole.”

After Kline signed on to the project, director Winkler knew he had the right actor in the role. “We got incredible commitment from Kevin,” says Winkler. “He worked on this project for almost nine months, honing his piano skills, working with a voice coach – he was a consummate professional, and turns in a stunning performance as a result.”


How important was Cole Porter’s music in your life?
Growing up, it was something I heard my parents listening to along with Gershwin and predominantly classical music. They loved those writers, too. It was something I just grew up with. I couldn’t distinguish a Gershwin song from a Cole Porter song if you’d asked me when I was in high school, but then I saw a couple Porter musicals when I was out in college and had been studying music and could appreciate much more what his contribution was to the American song - the art of American songwriting. And now I am him (laughing).

Were there more musical numbers of yours that wound up getting cut?
I sang ‘You Do Something To Me.’ It was great. It’s a crime that you didn’t get to hear that.

How hard is it to work on a production number and have it cut?
It wasn’t that good. I was sitting at a piano singing it at that Venice party. And then Elvis Costello jumps into “Let’s Misbehave.” It was just too much. It’s not a production number, it was me just singing. It’s easy, like I would do at a party. I totally related to Cole Porter’s magnetic pull to any piano that was in the room, which he was famous for doing, as was Gershwin. You couldn’t drag them away from a piano. I recently ran into Elaine Stritch who said that she was at a party with Cole Porter. You could throw out any song title and he would do a parody of his own song. Not only his own lyrics, but he could do parody versions of it. I used to do that until I finally realized how obnoxious it was. I’m much more comfortable, if there’s a piano in the room, I just sit there and mostly play it. I didn’t sing.

Does a great artist have to be selfish?

Was Cole Porter ruthless?
In a way. I think, yes. I think it’s part of that heritage or that tradition of the creative artist trying to reconcile the insanity and ruthlessness of the artistic process with living a sane and socially acceptable existence. There’s something subversive about that whole process that I think the movie sort of explored, his prodigious sexual promiscuity and that enormous appetite he had, hedonistic appetite for sensual pleasures of the flesh, food and drink and cigarettes and music and beauty and art, beautiful men, beautiful women, beautiful art. Had he not had that appetite and that energy to sustain that appetite, he would not have been the artist he was.

Was he gay or did he just love sex?
Yeah, I think if it was a biped with a pulse… no, but I think he was gay.

But he remained married.
Yeah, and I think in the last couple decades, it’s been politicized now so that I think a lot of gays would say, “Well, come on, you can’t be both. There’s no such thing as bisexual. He was gay and he was a hypocrite and he should have come out.” He did have sex with women and a lot of my gay friends have had sex with women, so I totally believe the story that he wouldn’t try to… I’m not here to tell you that there are famous gay composers, songwriters, actors, writers who had children. This is not news. So yeah, I think he was gay.

How different are the disciplines of song and character?

Is it hard playing gay?
No. I just think of all the men as women.

Did you learn anything on “In and Out” that applied to this?
Yeah. Don’t kiss a man who hasn’t shaved. This was different because I had the big kissing scene with Tom Selleck, which took about two days to shoot. But this one was different because there was that endless shot in the bar, and I ended up having to kiss some guy in the bathroom, whom I’d just met. We should have lunch or get to know each other. But you know what? It’s really easy.

Was it hard playing old?
That is the real challenge because I’m so young. It’s hard because there are so many clichés that you have to avoid and it’s so easy. I’ve seen old men in their ‘70s come to audition, [and it’s like], “Why are you doing an old man voice? You’re 75 years old. Use your own voice.” Because there are certain conventions and clichés. I’ve seen children actors and suddenly when the camera roles, they start putting on a children’s [voice]. You are a child. You don’t need to play child. So in the same way, playing a homosexual, playing an old man, playing a musician, there’s a zillion clichés that we’re all used to. And I guess any actor’s job is to A, avoid those and B, find an interesting truth about not just being old but being Cole Porter old, looking at your life with some critical removed perspective. What’s that like? And it’s about the specificity of playing the situation and avoiding the realities.

Did you find any Cole Porter song that resonates with you?
There’s a lot of good ones. Because I’ve been asked this question now and so I’ve actually thought about it, someone quoted to me earlier today what Alan J. Lerner said about Porter, which was that of all the American musical writers, no one could write passion like Cole Porter. You could write a love song, but Cole Porter wrote passion. And it’s those passionate [songs], a song like ‘So In Love,’ “Taunt me and hurt me, deceive me and desert me, I’m yours ‘til I die.” That’s like operatic. It’s not ‘Send in the Clowns.’ It’s not ironic, and at the same time, there are hundreds of others that are all along the spectrum of the degrees and varieties of love. I love the, “Most gentlemen don’t like love, they just like to kick it around. A squeeze and a tickle, it’s all just a fickle male.” Funny, brilliant songs about love. Looking at the index of his songs, songs that begin with Love or that have love in the title abound.

How is “Pink Panther” going?
It’s fun. A lot of fun. Steve [Martin’s] very funny.

Who makes who laugh?
We usually go and find a third party to make both of us laugh. We’re just not that funny. No, I think we make each other laugh.