Welcome to Random Roles, wherein we talk to actors about the characters who defined their careers. The catch: They don’t know beforehand what roles we’ll ask them to talk about.
The actor: John Kapelos got his start on the stage, treading the boards at Chicago’s Second City and learning his craft from some of the theater’s greats, including the late John Candy, but it’s in front of the camera where he’s had the greatest impact as an actor: He’s been a regular face on TV and in films since the 1980s, and based on his filmography, there’s no reason to suspect that he’ll be slowing down anytime soon. If there’s an era of Kapelos’ career that’s become the most iconic, though, it’s the time he spent working with the late John Hughes, appearing in three of the writer/director’s classic films: Sixteen Candles, Weird Science, and The Breakfast Club, which celebrates its 30th anniversary with a new Blu-ray reissue of the film that’s in stores now.
Sixteen Candles (1984)—“Rudy”
The Breakfast Club (1985)—“Carl”
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)—“Russian Cab Driver” (scenes deleted)
The A.V. Club: How did you first cross paths with John Hughes?
John Kapelos: I was in Chicago, working at Second City. I had a wonderful agent who’s retired now—her name is Harrise Davidson, and she’s a lovely lady—and I had a meeting with her when movies were starting to be shot in Chicago. She really liked me, and there was a certain zeitgeist in the air, and I said, “I really want you to send me on film auditions. I want to get into the movies.” And she said, “Well, there’s this movie coming up called Sixteen Candles, but they really don’t have anything in it for you, although there is this part of this guy who’s supposed to be obnoxious and blah blah blah.” And I think the way John had originally thought of that part… You know, there were the nice WASPs, which was Molly’s family, like Paul Dooley and Carlin Glenn, and then there were the bad WASPs, which was our family. But when they saw me, I think they morphed it into the Ryszczyks and made them more, like, quasi-ethnic, of some sort of unknown derivation. [Laughs.] Italian, Jewish, Greek, Mafia, whatever. They’re kind of an amalgam, right? A comic amalgam.
So I had this meeting with Jackie Burch, and I went in and auditioned for Hughes, and I remember it was a freaking great audition. I mean, I don’t know whether I was particularly good, but there was a lot of connectivity between the two of us. I had been on countless auditions, but that one was great. Also, it was one of my first film auditions, and in them days, as my uncle would say, I went in and actually met the director. There was no video camera or whatever. It was just me and the director, me reading for him. Nowadays you meet with the casting person, they video it, they send it… Meeting somebody in the flesh is still a very, very good thing, because energy happens. So, anyway, that’s how that happened.
And after Sixteen Candles, John said, “I’m doing this movie The Breakfast Club, and I’d like you to do it.” But then I was working in New York, off Broadway, at the Village Gate with Second City, and I remember reading in the trade papers that The Breakfast Club had started “lensing” in Chicago. And I thought, “Oh, dammit. I’m not on board with that one.” But then I got a call the next day, saying that John had shot a couple of days with Rick Moranis as the janitor, didn’t like it, and wanted me to come in. And it was a straight offer. So I went, “Uh, yeah!” [Laughs.] And then after that I did Weird Science, of course, but then I was actually in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, but I was cut out of it entirely.
AVC: What was your role in Ferris Bueller?
JK: I was the Russian cab driver who drove them all around downtown Chicago.
AVC: Has any of that footage ever shown up on a DVD or Blu-ray?
JK: [Matter of factly.] No. John really coveted—and probably also destroyed—a lot of that stuff that he didn’t want to see the light of day. I saw Molly [Ringwald] last week and we had a lovely conversation, and she mentioned that there is apparently a cut of The Breakfast Club that John’s widow has, the one and only cut that’s expanded, that will apparently never see the light of day.
AVC: It’s been said that you and Paul Gleason didn’t necessarily approach your parts from the same direction.
JK: Well, Paul and I had different styles and were different ages, and also… [Starts to laugh.] He was very Method-y. And not that I’m not—I’m an actor, and a studied actor—but I also came up in Second City, so at that moment there was a lot of improvisation, and he and I had a bit of a clash of styles, and maybe of personalities. Ironically, we ended up becoming friends—I attended his funeral, and I had a great deal of respect for him—but at the time, there were a few moments where it wasn’t entirely… [Hesitates.] Not that it wasn’t working, because it actually worked on camera, but it was just that there was friction between us. But, you know, it wasn’t like it was, “Screw you!” “No, screw you!” It was subtle. And he usually got ruffled by me more than me by him!
AVC: I’ve heard that the “50 bucks” line threw him.
JK: Well, the “50 bucks” line freaked him out because he was employing what I would call an old live-TV trick. If, let’s say, the cue line is, “Open the door,” then you’d go, “Well, you know, if you go over there and put your hand on the handle, if you just take your hand and move the handle, then you can open the door.” So what he’s done is, he’s bought himself about 25 seconds instead of just saying, “Open the door.”
And in the scene, he’d sort of stretch it out. “Well, Carl, you know, these files are… they’re of a sensitive nature, and…” So he was going on and on, and I’m waiting for my cue line. So finally, after about three or four takes of this, Hughes just comes up to me and kind of conspiratorially whispers in my ear, “Just ask him for 50 bucks. Cut him off.” So I cut him off: “Fifty bucks.” And the look on his face on his shot is him going, “WTF? What did you just do?” And that’s real surprise. And once they yelled, “Cut,” he started coming after me a bit, so I put my hands behind my back and said, “Hey, you can take your best shot. Turn on the camera, I’m more than happy to go to court!” [Laughs.] But it never got that far.
So there was tension, yes. But, honestly, it wasn’t a bad tension. You know, we exploited it. It wasn’t, like, Lily Tomlin working for David O. Russell [on I Heart Huckabees]. It wasn’t ugly. It was good. You know, there are lots of moments on The Breakfast Club where I think that the zeitgeist of the moment was always utilized to help fuel the film. And I think that’s one of the reasons that the film still has a resonance. Good movies capture that.
AVC: How were the kids to work with, given that they were all more or less on the rise at the time?
JK: They’d been working together for awhile when I came on the scene, and I literally slept in the janitor’s office in the high school and stayed apart from them. Judd [Nelson] was probably the closest in age, maybe Ally [Sheedy] after that, and they were not teenagers. So on the day when they’d have to shoot my close coverage, they’d come around to me, and then they’d put in the stand-ins. Because I think Molly was 17, and Anthony Michael Hall was underage, too, so they’d have to attend school. So the way they did the shooting—and still do with kids—they did the kids’ coverage when they could, in the morning or the afternoon, whenever they’re not in school, and then they came around and did my coverage and put in their stand-ins. So they were kind of their own unit, you know? And John had sort of drawn a lasso around them and made them kind of work together. It was a little like coming into a high school class that’d been in session for awhile, and you’re the new kid. [Laughs.]
That said, there really wasn’t much need for me to interact with them off-screen, so I didn’t feel like I needed to force myself on them and be their friends. But I remember having a nice, long walk one day with Ally Sheedy and really personally enjoying it and connecting with her. But they’re all nice. Molly, we talked about it the other day, how she was 17 and scared, you know? The pressures on them were pretty immense. Judd and I had this sort of jocular relationship, and Anthony Michael Hall I knew from Sixteen Candles, so we were buddies. And we still are. He’s a good, good guy.
AVC: Are you surprised that The Breakfast Club has become such a seminal film of the ’80s, or did you get the feeling even then that it was going to hit home for a lot of people?
JK: Well, not entirely surprised. The thing about it that is really nice to see is that, yeah, it was a big hit at the time, it went up into orbit, and it stayed in orbit. A lot of things don’t age well. Look at a film like Rebel Without A Cause. There were a pile of teen movies made in the ’50s, but what resonated? And I think the thing that Rebel Without A Cause had—and that this film has—is that it didn’t condescend to teenagers. Most films that I grew up with in the ’60s condescended to kids. So, no, I’m not entirely surprised. But I’m pleased.
I’ve said this in other interviews, and I’ll say it to you: I have friends of mine whose kids, at various ages over the last 30 years—they’re slobbering little children, but then all of a sudden I get a call from some 14-year-old. [Adopts awkward teenage voice.] “Uh, hi, my dad said I could call you because I just saw this movie The Breakfast Club?” All of a sudden, kids are, like, “You’re really cool, Uncle John!” And I’m not kidding you: I said this in an interview that’s on the Breakfast Club site, but I get letters from kids saying, “I played Carl in the William Howard Taft High School production of The Breakfast Club.” [Laughs.]
So I think I’m surprised that the film is growing in stature over the years. Even in the last 10 years, it’s actually grown even more. And I think that’s because it doesn’t condescend. That, and adolescence is eternal, right? There’s always going to be a new crop of teenagers who are going to be pissed off at their parents and pissed off that they’re being shunted into these roles in life that they don’t want to play.
Weird Science (1985)—“Dino”
The Deep End Of The Ocean (1999)—“George Karras”
AVC: To wrap up the John Hughes portion of our conversation, your scene in Weird Science is definitely one of the more iconic ones.
JK: [Laughs.] “What’s a pretty woman like you doing with a malaka like this?” Well, I gotta say, I pissed off Greeks, particularly in my family, for years to come, because I popularized the word “malaka,” which hitherto had not been known outside of the community. It’s basically “jack off,” you know? Masturbator. So I remember my mother was not pleased at the time. She was, like, “Oh, John, couldn’t you have used a better word?” There’s no better word, Mom!
AVC: You were obviously a professional improviser at that point, thanks to Second City, but was it difficult for you to keep a straight face in that crowd?
JK: To be honest, I’m so selfish about it wanting to be in the movie that I can sort of submerge my laugh and just enjoy it. But the most difficult time I’ve ever had to not laugh on-screen was when I did Seinfeld with Michael Richards. When Kramer was doing all that shit at the bar—“Well, here’s to feeling good all the time”—and he drinks a beer with a cigarette in his mouth and gets bonked on the head with the bar? None of that stuff was in the script!
So Larry David came up to me and said, “What you’ve got to do is make sure that you don’t break up, because Michael’s going to do stuff that’s going to come out of the blue, and if you break up, it clears the tape, and we can’t use it.” So what I did—and if you ever watch that sequence, you’ll see it—my stage-left side was downstage, and that was basically my camera side, so what I did was, I bit the inside of my left cheek when he was doing the stuff, and I just bore down hard. Because I’m usually not the straight guy. I’m sometimes more the funny guy, depending on the situation. But in this situation, I had to make sure that I just didn’t know what the fuck he was doing, and at the end of the evening, when I went home, I had taken a chunk out of the inside of my cheek. So that was perhaps one of the most difficult times.
But there are times when you’re working with great actors—like Steve Martin or Richard Gere, even—where you fall into these moments where, like, you’re an audience watching them. And then you realize, “Oh, shit, I’m in the movie with them!” [Laughs.] And then you have to sort of pinch yourself and go, “Uh-oh, I have to be present here!” It happened with Michelle Pfeiffer [in The Deep End Of The Ocean]. It was, like, “Oh, wow, I’m actually in a movie with this beautiful woman, and she’s fucking incredible, and… oh, man, now I have to say something!”
Thief (1981)—“Mechanic #3”
AVC: If IMDB can be trusted, your first credited appearance on camera was in the lofty role of Mechanic #3 in Michael Mann’s Thief.
JK: Well, I mean, that’s if you want to go by IMDB. Mechanic #3… I was up for Mechanic #2, but I didn’t get it. [Laughs.] No, but that was an inauspicious start. Michael Mann, who I like, and I was working with Del Close in that, if you know who he is. The guru of improv. We were doing something called “The Numbers,” which was a prison game where we were sort going, “Your mama’s so fat…” I didn’t know what the hell this game was, but I was trying to play it, and they’re trying to get me to do it, and we were shooting this sequence, and I’ve got to say, when they started rolling the camera, I could barely speak. I was so nervous.
It was the same when I did Tootsie: when they said, “Action,” all I could think of was, “Billions of people are going to see this,” and it totally paralyzed me. But when I did the TV series Forever Knight, I did, like, 48 episodes of it, and I got so comfortable in front of the camera that nowadays it’s, like, “Oh, there’s a camera there? Oh, right, of course…” [Laughs.] No, to be honest with you, I’m always aware of where the camera is. That hasn’t gone away. But acting time is like flight time: You can work on a simulator, you can rehearse, but unless you’re really in front of the camera or on a stage—that’s when you really learn how to work it.
But, yeah, Thief was my first—well, if you really want to know, I did this anti-VD movie in 1973 when I was a student in high school, where I got to make out with a girl. I say it was an anti-VD movie—I don’t think there’d ever be a pro-VD movie—but what I mean to say is that it was, “Use protection or don’t engage at all,” or something. But it was pretty early on, and I got to make out with this girl that was, like, two years older than me. They put a camera on a track and circled me. I’ve never seen the movie, and I don’t know that it ever saw the light of day, but if it did, it was one of those films like they show in high school. And then I did some films in college, and I remember working with this director that wanted to shock me so that I’d give him an expression of shock, so he poured scalding hot water on my arm during the take. He splashed it on me. He got his expression of shock, but I also got, like, second-degree burns! [Laughs.] So I’m glad those movies aren’t on IMDB! And I did several home movies with my brother and sister, but we’ll take Thief as the first one.
AVC: So was acting something you always had an eye on pursuing as a career?
JK: Well, you know, if my parents were alive, they’d giggle to you, “John was an actor since day one!” [Laughs.] So maybe I had it before I was consciously aware of it, yeah, but there was a time in my public school days when I realized that I really liked doing it, and then when I got into high school, I got into Guys And Dolls and was Nathan Detroit and had the classic “bitten by the showbiz bug” moment. It was, like, “Wait a minute: I can get out of class and I can be popular and I can get girls and I can get applause? Where do I sign up?” I mean, what’s not to like about being in the school show?
AVC: How did you end up at Second City? Did you just have the idea to audition, or did someone suggest it to you?
JK: I was in the University Of Ottawa and saw the road company of Second City, and I really fell in love with that. And then the next day, I fell down some stairs and broke my arm and ended up dropping out of university, hitchhiking to the west coast of Canada, and working on an oil rig for about eight months. I sort of had a falling-out with my family—I was rebellious—and I ended up working at a record store, pricing albums. I remember pricing Steve Martin’s Let’s Get Small—like, thousands of them—in this shop in Vancouver, and I had a crummy little apartment. It was a bad time. Fun adventures, but also sort of horrible.
And then when I came back to Toronto in May of 1978 after having sort of a rapprochement with my father and mother—they weren’t too pleased that I did this whole sojourn out West—I had this big meeting with my dad where I said, “I want to be an actor,” and he said, “Okay.” My dad was a lovely guy. I had great parents. But he was a conservative shopkeeper, and he said, “Look, I don’t know how to help you as an actor, but if you want to be an actor, give it a go for a year. Get a job. And if you don’t get a job, then we’re going to reevaluate and you’re going to go back to school.” And I thought that was a fair thing.
The next night, I was in Toronto, I’d gotten this crummy apartment, and I went to Second City, because I’d remembered the touring company, and the improvisations were free. Well, that night, John Candy, Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara, Gene Levy, a guy named Peter Torokvei, and Steve Kampmann, they did the improvs. And I think I went to the improvs for the next three months. Every night. And not only that, but I started doing workshops the following week, then I became friends with the actors backstage, after the show, at the bar. I had a revelation: “I want to do Second City.” This happened very rapidly. They were shooting SCTV, and I volunteered to become an extra, because they took kids from the workshop, so you can see me in the early SCTVs. I steal water from John Candy, dressed as an Arab, in the Bob Hope Desert Classic, and all this stuff. I’m very young, but I’m in there. So that’s where I met the producer Bernie Sahlins.
My mom was an American, so when I was pricing records in Vancouver, I remember calling her up, saying, “Mom, can you help me get my U.S. citizenship?” So with that in mind, I met Bernie Sahlins and said, “I’d like to audition for Second City Chicago.” He said, “Are you ready, kid?” I said, “Yeah, I’m ready. I’m ready!” So he said, “I’ll give you a call.” So I gave him my phone number, and he never called! So I called my parents a couple of weeks later and said, “I need to take a Greyhound bus to Chicago, because I’ve got a job offer at Second City.” Which was entirely an untruth. [Laughs.] So my dad—God rest his soul, I love him—gave me his credit card, and I took a Greyhound bus to Chicago and surprised the hell out of the Second City people, including Bernie.
But they said, “Okay, you can audition,” and the story’s much longer than this, but basically I auditioned with this wonderful guy named Mike Hagerty—we’re friends to this day—and they offered me a job. So I called my mother up, and I said, “Hey, Mom, I got the job!” And she said, “I thought they already offered it to you.” And I said, “Uh, yeah, but I had to sort of secure it…?” And she said, “Well, there’s an envelope here from the U.S. Consulate.” I said, “Open it!” It was my passport. Goodbye, Canada. Hello, world! And Linda Ronstadt’s Living In The U.S.A. was No. 1 the day I moved to the U.S.! [Laughs.] I never looked back. You know, John Candy was a huge influence on me and a loving, wonderful teacher. A great dude. I miss him terribly.
AVC: You mentioned him earlier, but how influential was Del Close for you?
JK: Del Close by that time was more myth than man. And he was great, but he had a difficult time at Second City. He and I had got along personally, and I learned a lot from him, but I’ve gotta say that he, uh… [Long pause.] You know, I can’t exaggerate: There were things about him at that time where people were having some difficulty about him. And it was perhaps mostly because of his proclivities. And we’ll leave it at that.
But Bernie Sahlins, the producer of Second City, was a big influence on me. And Fred Kaz. And Joyce Sloane, another producer of Second City, was a huge protector and a different sort of influence, helping with my career and career guidance. And Del was in there. But I have to say that Bernie was a big influence. And Fred was as well, because I was and am very musical. In fact, we’re mixing “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” right now. I covered it for my new album. So Fred’s still in my life on a daily basis. They all are.
I remember Del saying to me backstage one day during the summer of the big Dallas cliffhanger, “I don’t know who shot J.R., but I know who shot up J.R.” And I was, like, “Oh, great, Del, thanks.” Because he and Larry Hagman used to do heroin when they did The Nervous Set off-Broadway in 1959. I was, like, “Oh, really? I want to hear this?” [Laughs.] The first day of workshops… I’m, like, 21, and they made us do workshops with Del. He goes to the edge of the stage, he takes off his clothes, and he’s there with this brown underwear on that used to be white, and his body is like a moon landscape with pock marks from where he shot heroin. And he teetered at the edge of the stage, and he said, “This… is my track suit.” And like Jesus Christ at the end, he spreads his arms out, and then he does a dead drop off the stage. And we all scramble to catch him, which we did. We’re all holding him by pieces of skin and hair, and as he’s, like, an eighth of an inch from smashing his head on a table, we caught him. And he looks around, with everything hanging out, and says, “Now… I can trust you.” Yeah, okay, Del. [Narrating.] “Dear Mom and Dad, today I met a member of the counterculture…”
AVC: You know, to date, I have never been let down by asking anyone about Del Close.
JK: [Laughs.] Oh, I’ve got more and more stories about Del, believe me. He was, uh, certainly somebody you could react to.
Nothing In Common (1986)—“Roger the Commercial Director”
AVC: I noticed that one of the guys you worked with on Thief was someone you worked with again in Nothing In Common: Bruce A. Young.
JK: Oh, yeah, Bruce! Man, I haven’t seen Bruce in a long time.
AVC: Was he also part of the Chicago Second City scene? Is that how he ended up in those films?
JK: Bruce was, I think, Steppenwolf or Victory Gardens. He wasn’t Second City. You’d have to look at his pedigree. He could’ve been Goodman. But the thing about Bruce is, not only was he funny and talented, but he was also a versatile improviser and actor. So he could do both. But he wasn’t Second City. When I was there, Second City wasn’t too integrated. There were a few black actors, but… Hey, it was rough enough for a Greek to make it there: They were all Irish and Jews! [Laughs.]
AVC: When you worked on Nothing In Common, did you get an opportunity to interact with Jackie Gleason?
JK: Jackie Gleason was on the set for one scene I was on, and he actually depended on a sound cue of mine, so that was thrilling for me. Because he actually had to walk in after we exit the scene with Tom Hanks, where I say something like, “Ringo Starr’s a grandfather, for goodness sake,” and I have to leave. And when Tom Hanks dismisses us from his bullpen, Jackie Gleason sort of wanders into the shot, looking for his son.
He’d show up to work in the morning, his manager and his wife would be talking to him as he’d saunter onto the set, and just before he’d sit down, he’d say, [Does a Gleason impression.] “Ladies and gentlemen, let’s go to woik!” And then at the end of the day, the AD would walk up and say, “Mr. Gleason, it’s a wrap,” and he’d show him the sign-out sheet, and he’d sign his name. And then he’d get up and say, “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s been a pleasure.” And with that, he’d walk away… and I’d just go, “Wow…” You know, there are a lot of people who were pinching themselves. And I was one of them. That was one of my few encounters with show business royalty, and it was wonderful.
Internal Affairs (1990)—“Steven Arrocas”
JK: Oh, yeah, I loved that movie. I met with Mike Figgis here in L.A. and did an audition for him, and sometimes you get a sense of how it goes, sometimes you just never know, but that was a good audition. And it’s funny that you should pull that particular film up, because Figgis—like Hughes, Ulu Grosbard, and maybe three or four others I’ve worked with—is really an actor’s director, and he’s one of the most intensely great guys I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. I’d love to work with him more. I wish he made more movies. But he’s totally fucking jazzed when he works. He totally takes the words off the page.
That scene where Katherine Borowitz plays my wife—that’s John Turturro’s wife in real life—where he’s feeling up my wife underneath the table, that’s got to be one of the creepiest scenes I’ve ever been involved with, and I felt like it was real. I was in it. I was really in it. We shot that, by the way, at the Hollywood Roosevelt [Hotel], in the Cinegrill. But that scene… I can count the number of times on one hand that I’ve experienced something like that. I mean, I worked with Garry Marshall on Nothing In Common, and Tom Hanks and I improvised a scene in that movie, and that’s one of those moments where it just came alive, too.
Plus, I got to work with John Alonzo, who was the cinematographer on Internal Affairs. I mean, that was a great experience. Looking back, I have to say that I’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of great people. Unfortunately, a lot of them are gone. But I look back and, yeah, I have had a really great career! [Laughs.]
AVC: John Alonzo is definitely a notable name. He worked on a number of classic films.
JK: Didn’t he act in a Sam Peckinpah film? He was an actor, too, in a couple of movies. But he was also a cinematographer, and he did a lot of stuff. He did Chinatown, which is my all-time favorite.
AVC: I don’t know if he’s in any of Peckinpah’s movies, but he’s in The Magnificent Seven.
JK: That’s right. He plays a Mexican, doesn’t he?
AVC: His character’s name is Miguel. In regards to Internal Affairs, we talked to Xander Berkeley for this feature, and he too had nothing but raves when it came to working with Figgis. In fact, he specifically cited how Figgis allows for a lot of improv with dialogue.
JK: Oh, I love Xander! And, yeah, Figgis—like Garry Marshall—he insisted that you not worry about the words. Because sometimes writers or writer-directors can get nuts about words, but you know and I know that it’s the thought process behind the words that motivates the words, that conveys real communication and meaning. So they’re always encouraging you to think, and a lot of screen acting is thinking. Watching somebody think what they’re saying, how they’re going react, what they’re going to do. That’s why you have wonderful actors like Robert De Niro, where some of their best work is when they’re not saying a thing. Like in The Godfather Part II, when he comes home with that pear. After he’s been fired and he refuses the food, he comes home, and she goes, “Ah, what a lovely pear!” And when he looks at her, in that moment when he looks at her, he conveys more love, and you understand that guy and how he feels about his family more than anything in the world, in that one beat. And those are the moments where you’re, like, “Goddammit, if I could only have that…” [Laughs.]
But in Internal Affairs, that’s the sort of thing that Figgis is getting at. Now, it’s very ’80s. There’s a lot of dated fashion stuff and whatever. But it’s a film noir, in a way, regardless of whether it’s shot in color. And I think Richard Gere is fucking brave in that movie, because he was playing against type in that movie, and he was not afraid to become an evil motherfucker. You know, he’s bad in that movie. When he strangles Billy Baldwin, there are shocking moments in movie history, and people are trying to out-shock one another in films or whatever, but that is a truly evil moment. And then way he talks to Andy Garcia about his wife and all that stuff. It’s, like, “Oh, man, you’re just bad.” But I loved working with Richard. He was great.
Dead Like Me (2003)—“Angus Cook”
JK: [With a Scottish brogue.] Oh, man, that was great. Well, first of all, I got to work with Mandy Patinkin, and Mandy… [Laughs.] Everybody says I look like Mandy Patinkin. He’s one of, like, three or four people where people say, “You look just like him!” And then I’m standing next to him, and I’m nothing like him! Plus, he’s a tenor, I’m a baritone.
It was fun, but it was a bizarre show. But a good one. I’ve been lucky: I’ve been in a lot of good shit. [Laughs.] But Angus Cook was fun, and I liked getting to work with the special effects on that. Oh, and I liked working with the little blond girl. What was her name? Ellen Muth. She was nice.
Psych (2013 and 2014)—“Tom Swaggerty”
JK: Well, the guys couldn’t have been nicer on Psych. And they were huge Breakfast Club and John Hughes fans, so there were all these cryptic things that they were doing in all their episodes. I think they actually did a Breakfast Club episode. Or a Brat Pack episode, anyway. James Roday, he just couldn’t have been freaking nicer. And I’d worked with Dulé Hill before, because we’d done a movie in Vancouver together before [Whisper], so it was an easy fit. It’s always good to work where you’re wanted. The times I’ve been where I wasn’t wanted—that’s just never a good experience. But Psych, that was fun, and then they asked me to come back again. I also went and did Afternoon Delight right after, so, yeah, that was a really good time for me all around.
Afternoon Delight (2013)—“Jack”
JK: Afternoon Delight is a film by Jill Soloway, who created, developed, and wrote the show Transparent. She won Best Director, Dramatic at Sundance in 2013 for Afternoon Delight, and then she did Transparent for Amazon. She and I were friends from Chicago. She—along with her sister, Faith—started The Annoyance Theater. And she and her sister also did The Real Live Brady Bunch. So she did a lot of things in Chicago, and then she also went on to write on Six Feet Under. So I knew Jill from way back then, and we were friends, but we’d never really worked together. And then… we worked together. [Laughs.] But she was really sweet to offer me the part in Afternoon Delight, and I was excited to take it.
AVC: What did you think when you heard that she was developing Transparent as an Amazon series?
JK: Well, knowing that it comes from Jill’s life… I guess her father is actually going through this transition, so she started doing this thing called “Sit ’N’ Spin,” I think, which is a thing here in Los Angeles, and I think it’s on NPR, maybe? But she was just out there at this place in town where they do it, one of these hip theaters or coffeehouses or whatever, and she just started talking about what was going on. And I think just from those monologues she hit upon doing this show, which shows you that if you’re creative, which she really is, if you don’t limit yourself to a computer, a desk, and a network pitch, that you can develop stuff.
I’ll truncate this by saying that Jill—not necessarily stylistically—is kind of the heir to the John Hughes thing, insofar as she’s a real original, and she’s not afraid to speak with her voice. That was really Hughes’ forte. So much stuff is derivative, you know? For every original bang, there are 40 echoes… or 40 thousand echoes! And I’m not exaggerating when I say that, when originals happen, they try to capture that lightning, and for the most part they squash the original, and the imitators take their place. It happens in the music world, it happens in television, it happens in everything. File that under “nothing is original in Hollywood.” Hollywood eats their own, and Hollywood recycles everything. I’m not necessarily cynical. It just seems to be the way it is. [Laughs.] But with that said, you look at the Beatles, and there were many people that copied them, but some of them were actually kind of good! So the boom can sort of beget some nice boomlets.
But Afternoon Delight was a lot of fun to do. I did this scene with Kathryn Hahn and Juno Temple, and it’s, uh, a sex scene. [Laughs.] That was a lot of fun. And it’s kind of a pivotal moment in the movie. If you haven’t seen the film, it’s kind of… It was fun to do. And it was hanging it out there. Literally. And Transparent, working with Jeffrey Tambor was kind of amazing, because if you haven’t seen Transparent, you have something in store, because the guy is just believable. You really just go, “Yeah, okay.” Like, my character, it’s a situation where I am at a bar having lunch, just leaving, and there’s this table of attractive women, and I walk past them, and I go, “Hey!” One of them particularly catches my eye, and I start chatting with her, and sitting with them is Jeffrey, but as a woman. And I recognize him as a guy I used to be friends with at the golf course, in suburban Illinois. We used to hang together on the weekends, and our wives knew one another, et cetera. And it’s, like, “Does Ellen know about this thing?” And he goes, “Oh, she’s well aware,” and it’s a very awkward scene. But it’s also one of those scenes where—I guess it actually happened, right? And at the beginning I kind of wanted to laugh at him, both as the actor and as the character sort of working it through, but then I realized that the way he was playing it with such dignity didn’t allow me to do that. It was a cool moment. Like I said, if you haven’t seen it, it’s worth checking out.
The Boost (1988)—“Joel Miller”
Defenseless (1991)—“Jack Hammer”
JK: Defenseless is a movie I did with Barbara Hershey and J.T. Walsh, who’s since passed away but was a great actor. It’s not a successful movie, I don’t think.
AVC: Still, you can’t go wrong with J.T. Walsh. More commenters have wished that we could’ve done a Random Roles with him than probably any other actor.
JK: Oh, yeah. He kicked ass in everything he did. Man, oh, man. There was something incredibly imposing, frightening, and real about him. But he was funny, too. He was really wonderful in the movie The Big Picture, with Kevin Bacon, where he plays the studio head. [Laughs.] He’s such a psychotic and sociopathic guy. I mean, really, it’s very, very funny. And it’s like all studio heads are: cajoling and, at the same time, threatening.
AVC: So why didn’t you think that Defenseless worked?
JK: Well, first of all, Martin Campbell directed that, and he’s a hell of a director. He’s gone on to make some Bond movies and a bunch of stuff. He’s one of the directors of the day. And I don’t think it’s a bad movie, per se. I just don’t know whether the script held together. Also, I don’t think it’s really seen much light of the day. Maybe it’s waiting to be rediscovered. Maybe it’s going to be on TCM when they do that Barbara Hershey fest. [Laughs.] I’m not being facetious! There’s a lot of American cinema that’s lying in wait. But it just also goes to the point that someone said to me, “Wow, what does it feel like to be in such a great movie like The Breakfast Club?” And I sort of said, “Well, there are a lot of great movies I’ve done that haven’t made it,” but the answer really would be, “What’s it like to have been in 64 bombs?” Right?
AVC: What is that like?
JK: I don’t know what that’s like! [Laughs.] I mean, I don’t know whether I can really get the feeling of that! You just do what you do. Like, The Boost was a good movie that I did with James Woods and Sean Young, directed by Harold Becker, a Hemdale movie, written by Darryl Ponicsan based on a story by Ben Stein.
But that film was interesting in all the offstage antics that happened with Jimmy Woods and Sean Young, because… Well, they just had a lot of strange stuff happen. But the movie’s out there, and I really liked playing that part. But you don’t know what’s going to hit and what isn’t, right? People still watch that movie and think it’s good, though. And I think it’s interesting. I mean, it’s a James Woods movie. When Turner Classic Movies visits “James Woods: The Antihero/B-Movie era,” he did, like, eight or nine movies there as a leading man that were pretty good.
AVC: He was pretty great in Salvador.
JK: Yeah, that’s with… [Witheringly.] That other guy.
AVC: Jim Belushi?
JK: Yeah. Uh, yeah, we don’t talk about him.
AVC: Suddenly I’ve never wanted to talk about Jim Belushi more.
JK: He won’t talk about me, I don’t talk about him. [Laughs.]
The Minor Accomplishments Of Jackie Woodman (2006)—“Ken”
JK: Oh, that was fun: the executive who’s a bit of a dick. [Laughs.] Yeah, basically, he comes in and rewrites everything and tells the writers what to do, changing it all around. That was fun. I wish that series had more legs. Laura Kightlinger was fun to work with. We shot that in downtown L.A., or just by the 101, over by L.A. Center Studios, where I also shot Law & Order: Los Angeles and I just did this thing for Disney. But The Minor Accomplishments Of Jackie Woodman, that was for IFC, I believe, and I shot three episodes, I think? But they were all placed in the office, the executive suites where she’s dealing with the suits of her show, and I was glib. I’ve actually been in situations like that, so I knew that character very, very well.
I used to have a show at NBC with Brandon Tartikoff, and we used to go to what we called Thursday Morning Prayer Breakfast Meetings, where producers would be around a table—and I was a producer—and basically he’d go through with his garden shears and cut up your show. You’d have to give him a progress report in front of everybody of what your show was like, and he’d say, “Okay, change this, change that, make the black person white, make the gardener Hispanic, make the house in the Bronx now up in Alaska… and fix it by Tuesday!”
AVC: Well, now I have to ask what the show was.
JK: That show was called Monterey Jack. And it never made it to air. It was about a single parent who was a music booker, and his wife had gone off and become, like, Madonna, and he was left at home watching the kids. They’d started out in a band together, she went off and became a superstar, and he’s got a 7-year-old son that he’s raising, so he runs this music-booking business in Chicago that, if you wanted to get a hundred flautists to play “Smoke On The Water” at noon at Buckingham Fountain, you’d get it like that. [Snaps fingers.] He could get anything you wanted. And it was a very cool show, but at the same time they had a show about a father who had a young daughter, and he was a musician. And that show—Blossom—went, and my show didn’t. So it’s forever part of the ghosts of TV past.
AVC: Amazingly, the pilot isn’t even listed on IMDB.
JK: Yeah, we shot a pilot, but it was never marked down in that way, I guess. Strange. But there are maybe four or five things I’ve done like that. I don’t know whether the show Glory Days, which I developed for NBC, is on there.
AVC: I remember a show called Glory Days, but I don’t think that’s the same one.
JK: No, it’s not, because we had to change the title of ours to Small Victories, because of that other show. And I hated the fucking title. [Laughs.] Small Victories? Can you imagine? It’s like saying “Diminutive Penis”!
AVC: What was the premise of that one?
JK: It was about two guys from Chicago that owned an apartment building together and were married to two sisters. It was pretty much like The Honeymooners. [Laughs.] But one was Greek-American, like me, and the other guy was Irish, and they were always having these theistic battles about the Orthodox church and the Catholic church. And they were both sort of blue collar guys with aspirations to be other things. It was a fun show. He wasn’t involved, but the company was Embassy, which was Norman Lear’s company. But he had left by then.
The Late Shift (1996)—“Robert Morton”
JK: Well, that was HBO. And that was working with Betty Thomas, who’s a Second City alum, so that was groovy. And that was working with John Michael Higgins, who’s a real darling and a great actor, and the late, great Steven Gilborn. It was working with fucking Bob Balaban and Reni Santoni and Ed Begley. Drop the “Jr.” He’s Ed Begley now. He’s earned it. Yeah, I really, really enjoyed working on that movie. There was sort of the zeitgeist of doing that at the moment, and it’s funny now that it’s, like, TV history. We’re in the 21st century now, with Jimmy Fallon and whoever. But it was still fun to do it. And I loved playing Robert Morton, although… [Starts to laugh.] I was a bit overweight at the time, and Morton said something to The Daily News to the effect of, “They got some fat guy to play me!” And this is in the days before internet, but still, my agent got ahold of it, everybody got ahold of it, and I was really, really freaking hurt by it.
Well, one day, I get a phone call, and it’s Robert Morton. And he was a mensch, and he apologized to me. A very, very lovely apology. He spoke to me directly. There was no secretary saying, “Hold for Robert Morton, please!” It was, “Is John there? Hey, John, this is Bob Morton.” And we’ve become Facebook friends, and I see him in Malibu, and I say hello to his parents and his family and all that sort of thing. So I have nothing but praise for the dude. [Laughs.] Seriously! That’s one of those stories in Hollywood that… I mean, for somebody to do that, that was above and beyond. I mean, I was hurt, but I certainly didn’t expect him to call me. And you know what? I don’t think I’ve ever told anybody that story before.
JK: This is one of my most favorite film experiences, period. We shot that in Nelson, British Columbia. Fred Schepisi is the Italian… Sorry, he’s an Australian director of Italian derivation. [Laughs.] But he’s a really amazing, wild Australian. Ian Baker was the director of photography. And, of course, you know Steve Martin. It was like working with Charlie Chaplin. The good Charlie Chaplin. The young Charlie Chaplin. Schepsi said that we should watch dailies, so he had a theater where dailies would arrive two days after, because we were of course shooting on film, and we’d all sit in the movie theater: Shelley Duvall, Fred Willard, Steve Mittleman, Damon Wayans, Rick Rossovich, Daryl Hannah, Kevin Nealon… everybody. We’d all be there, just watching the dailies. And it was very, very smart of Fred to do this, because basically he got us all to be in the same movie together. Who did I leave out? I’m trying to remember everybody’s names: Max Alexander, Matt Lattanzi… oh, and Michael J. Pollard! [Does a Pollard impression.] Yeah. Michael J. Pollard. Yeah.
There’s a funny moment—and you can print this—where we were about to come out of this café late at night, and it was a long shot at night where we’re sort of just sauntering out, and they use it as this sort of romantic shot from the movie. But Steve goes out, and then Michael J. Pollard is supposed to go out, and then I’m supposed to go out, but just before, I say to Michael, “Hey, Michael, will you just hang for a moment? Let me go out there and just stand, and then I’ll walk off, and you just hang for a moment.” And he says, “I don’t hang for nobody!” [Laughs.] I mean, I don’t even know what I was asking for—more screen time, I guess—but he basically put me in my place. I’ve never told that story before, either, but Fred Willard and everyone else was standing around when it happened and just laughed: “No, man: I don’t hang for nobody!”
He’s a strange, wonderful little cat. I mean, he was C.W. Moss! It was one of those moments for me where it’s, like, “I can’t believe I’m working in a movie with this guy!” I was 11 years old when Bonnie And Clyde came out, and it’s a fan-fucking-tastic movie. I just worshipped that film, like I did a lot of movies at that time. I just loved movies. But to work with the guy that played C.W. Moss in Bonnie And Clyde, it was, like, “Wow…” And he was a good friend of Warren Beatty! Michael doesn’t drive, by the way, so every now and then I’ll see him walking around L.A. and give him a ride.
Nick Knight (1989) / Forever Knight (1992-1995)—“Det. Don Schanke”
AVC: You were in the original Nick Knight TV movie, and then you returned to play the same character when the Forever Knight series finally took off a few years later.
JK: Yeah, it was like repeating a year of high school: I shot the same thing here in L.A. for Nick Knight that became the pilot for Forever Knight in Toronto, but with an entirely different cast and crew. [Laughs.] But I did it here with Rick Springfield, with Farhad Mann directing, and for whatever reason, it didn’t go anywhere—it was supposed to be a CBS series—but then they sold it to what CBS was at the time calling “Crimetime After Primetime,” which was when they were showing, like, Silk Stalkings and shows of that ilk. We did 48 episodes up in Canada, and it’s still got a tremendously dedicated fan base. There’s a Forever Knight page, and the fans will follow me on social media and still ask me stuff, God bless ’em.
AVC: Well, Forever Knight was pretty much the only vampire game in town at the time.
JK: Yeah, and I played the human outsider you always get in these shows, who says things like, “What the hell’s the matter with you? Why don’t you eat a meal?” You know, because the guy’s a vampire, but I don’t know it. I worked with Geraint Wyn Davies, who took over for Rick Springfield as Nick Knight on the series. My character’s name was pronounced “skanky,” so there was a lot of fun with that, but I said, “Yeah, it’s Polish, from Chicago.” The show took place in Toronto, but I sort of played him like a Chicago guy, because that was just my wheelhouse, you know? I really wanted to play the Chicago guy, but that’s also how I thought the character worked. That was a good franchise for me. It was fun to just crack wise. I just loved doing that, and I’d infuriate my keepers by rewriting everything! [Laughs.] But that was just the way I did it.
Like I said, I don’t know why it didn’t go in L.A., but once it got reincarnated in Canada, I got to write and direct episodes, and that was good for me, too. But overall—and I mentioned this earlier, because I credit this directly—it was a perfect second stage to having done Second City. My brother and I did calculations on it, and I think I did something like 8,000 shows. But when you work eight years at Second City, doing five years at the main company where you’re doing eight shows a week, and then you do 48 episodes of a TV series, what happens as an actor is that you learn how to act on the head of a pin during the stage part of it, and then with a series like that, you get comfortable in front of the camera. I mean, if you want to know the Inside Baseball shit, that was probably one of the most exciting aspects of my craft to me: When I did Forever Knight, where I’m going, “Wow, I’ve got all this camera time,” and given the opportunity to figure out cameras and scenes and this and that.
Having done movies up to that point, and I’d done a lot of them by that point, it wasn’t that I wasn’t savvy about the camera, but spending that much concentrated time in front of it really, really solidified that experience, and henceforward it was just part of my toolbox. I don’t if that makes any sense, but there’s a technique to film acting that’s very specifically different than stage acting, and getting a chance to really understand the camera, to work with it that much, and to be able to understand shot structure and all that sort stuff in a way so that it’s almost second-nature… I mean, it was invaluable.
Queer As Folk (2005)—“Don”
JK: Okay, well, first of all, like Transparent, it was a different sort of vibe, you know, because you’re working on a show that’s predominantly gay. A lot of gay cast members, gay themes—this was all kind of a new-ish thing. Another notch on the belt, so to speak. But I play a straight producer who sees this guy on the evening news and, kind of like Queer Eye For The Straight Guy, he recruits him to kind of be his gayer-than-thou person, but then he turns out to be not as gay as I want him to be, so I have to sort of try and coach him to be gayer. [Laughs.] But it was actually quite relevant subject matter, and it was actually kind of cool, because it was making a statement—like they’re saying, “Jump for the camera and be more fey!” I felt like those episodes were making a relevant point, so I enjoyed the show and the character.
JK: Oh, well, that sort of grew out of the seed of nothing. [Laughs.] They asked me to come in and read, and I did for a character who I’d say was more of a background guy. He was a character who was sort of hanging behind Mike O’Malley. There was one day when I had one line, I think I was in the episode for, like, one scene, and I guess the director thought I was an extra or something. I had to deliver this line where I come in the car and say, “Your boss is here,” or whatever it was, and the director comes up to me after I delivered my line, and he said, “Hey, you’re pretty good!” It was like he thought I was an extra who’d gotten a one-line upgrade. “Hey, that’s pretty good, the way you’re delivering that line!” [Laughs.] I went, “Thanks!” But I think at some point somebody hipped him to the fact that “yeah, he’s acting in the show, too,” and he went, “Oh. Oh!”
And what happened was that the more I started speaking, the more they gave me. They started writing more for me, my part started growing, and they built my part up, and then they killed me! But, you know, I got to work Graham Yost, with great directors like Michael Dinner, John Dahl, and Jon Avnet, and, of course, with Tim Olyphant, and with Walton Goggins and Mary Steenburgen as well. So it was cool.
AVC: And they might’ve killed you off, but at least you can’t say you didn’t go out with… No, I’m not going to finish that sentence.
JK: [Laughs.] Oh, but they were so excited to tell me. It was, like, “Hey, John!” [Laughs.] First of all, Graham Yost is a real gentleman. He’s Canadian. His father had this show when I was a kid called Saturday Night At The Movies, on TVOntario, which was sort of the public-broadcasting station, where they’d show old movies. So he was a real part of my cultural firmament growing up, and then I realized, “This is his son!” But, anyway, Graham calls me up, like a gentleman does, and says, “Listen, John, I just want to let you know: Next Tuesday, we’re going to be killing off your character.” I said, “Oh.” But he said he learned way back when an actor showed up on set and didn’t know she was going to be killed and went into freakout land that he had to do this well in advance, and since they practically bludgeoned everybody on that show, he had a pretty full call list on a daily basis!
So, yeah, I enjoyed working on Justified. Working on shows in present day, the technical aspect that was kind of interesting to me is that now that they’re shooting on hard drives, these guys are shooting four or five cameras at a time sometimes. Now that they’re dumping them onto hard drives, there’s no limit to how long a take can be, so sometimes they’re doing two or three minutes takes. So the technical learning curve is important. I mean, shooting eight episodes of Justified in 2012, 2013, was much different than doing Forever Knight on 16-millimeter in the early ’90s.
Doctor Detroit (1983)—“Rush Street Dude”
JK: [Bursts out laughing.] [I was] nervous. Scared. A stupid part. Michael Pressman, a lovely guy, directed it, and I believe he also directed an episode of Justified!
That was, like, the third or fourth film I’d done, I think. It was on the street, on Rush Street, in the middle of the night. I had this bizarre street-dude outfit on. And Dan Aykroyd was totally weird as this character. [Laughs.] And that totally sort of freaked me out. But it was an early experience of shooting street theater, and it was daunting! I haven’t seen it in years. I wonder what it looks like. I know I must look silly.
AVC: Every time I notice it on Netflix, I want to pull the trigger, but I just can’t bring myself to do it.
JK: Don’t. [Laughs.] Do not.
My Man Adam (1985)—“Mr. Rangle”
JK: You know, there’s another movie. [Hesitates.] You’re not going to ask me about Inside Adam Swift, are you?
AVC: I don’t know what that is, actually, so I guess not. But if you’d care to tell me about it…
JK: I don’t know whether it was even released as that, but it was released as My Man Adam. It was with Raphael Sbarge. I think one of the Cartwright sisters was in it—Veronica, maybe?—and Dave Thomas.
AVC: Should I ask you about it? Chris Elliott was in it, too.
JK: What I’m saying is, don’t pull the trigger on watching that one, either, my friend, because it is one major stinker, I’ll tell you. Wasn’t Roger Simon the director?
AVC: And the writer, too.
JK: Yeah, you know, there’s an example, man—’80s comedy—it doesn’t always hold up.
AVC: And yet he wrote The Big Fix. How does that happen?
JK: How does it happen? It happens because sometimes you’re up and sometimes you’re down. I do think that failure begets success sometimes, but it’s often looked upon in Hollywood as not a good thing.
The West Wing (1999)—“Seymour Little”
JK: I was a labor negotiator, I got to work with Martin Sheen briefly, and I wish I had more, but that’s all I can say about that. I mean, the character was hard-nosed. I wish there were more scenes. Aaron Sorkin came up to me and corrected me on a word. I think I had said a pronoun incorrectly or something. I mean, he’s really that specific. And it’s him coming up to you. That I remember. But I had a lovely chat with Martin Sheen, particularly about Emilio [Estevez] and The Breakfast Club, and I said for him to say “Hello,” and we shared a few funny reminiscences. He’s a really lovely guy, Martin Sheen. He was really warm. But, you know, it was, like, a day. I wanted more on The West Wing, dammit! [Laughs.]
Head Office (1985)—“General Sepulveda”
JK: That’s Ken Finkleman, right? Ken’s a Torontonian. He named the character after a street in Los Angeles. [Laughs.] I said, “Where’d you get the name ‘Sepulveda’?” He goes, “It’s Sepulveda Street! I used to live near there!” I said, “Oh, okay.” I could’ve been General Pico or General Wilshire!
Actually, I played two parts in that movie. I play the part of a host of an armament fashion show. [Laughs.] That was fun to do. I mean, it was a satire. This is another ’80s movie that didn’t go anywhere. But, man, did it have a cast: Judge Reinhold, Jane Seymour, Danny DeVito, Rick Moranis, Richard Masur…
AVC: And Michael O’Donoghue.
JK: Michael O’Donoghue! What a black hole of personality he was.
AVC: You know, by law, if you have a Michael O’Donoghue story, you are required to tell it.
JK: [Laughs.] I just remember meeting him ever so briefly, because I didn’t have a scene with him. I just came to the set. And Eddie Albert was on the set, too. So it was Eddie Albert and Michael O’Donoghue, and it was like matter and anti-matter. That’s all I can say. Michael O’Donoghue would just sort of slink to the chair when he was ready to shoot, and I had nothing to say to him, but I thought, “Wow, what a vortex of negative energy!” I mean, I was thrilled with his genius. Everybody knew who Michael O’Donoghue was. But then my mother happened to visit the set, and I got my picture taken with Eddie Albert, and I was taken away from Michael O’Donoghue. So that’s the extent of my Michael O’Donoghue story.
AVC: Still, it was worth it for the matter/anti-matter comparison. That’s beautiful.
JK: And it’s true! I mean, Eddie Albert—he was the guy from Green Acres! Although I just remembered, he said something funny to me and Judge. He said [Does Eddie Albert impression.] “Y’ever take showers, John?” I go, “Yeah, I take showers.” “The next time you’re in a shower, urinate. The uric acid will loosen up the calluses on the bottom of your feet.” And then they said, “Action!” [Laughs.] And all I could think about was what he just told me. “Is he kidding me?” But it turned out he’d said it to Judge Reinhold first!
AVC: It’s like something Peter Graves would’ve said in Airplane!
JK: Yeah! “Do you ever take showers, Joey?” [Laughs] I was like, “Are you kidding me? The guy from Green Acres is telling me to take a piss in the shower?”
Off Beat (1986)—“Lou Wareham”
JK: Actually, Michael Dinner directed that, and Michael Dinner also produced Justified.
AVC: Well, there you go.
JK: Yeah, Michael and I have talked about it. And Joe Mantegna, I worked with him on Criminal Minds, and Joe was in Off Beat, too, so we had some stories. And Chris Noth played my brother in Off Beat. It was his first gig out of Yale Drama School. Oh, and I got to be picked up one morning! This is memorable for me, because I was living in New York, but in the limo with me was Herman Munster! What’s his name? Fred Gwynne! And we got to ride together, and he was a loft artist. He was so different than the guy who was on camera. He was, like, a Jackson Pollock-type loft artist! I loved working on Off Beat. I loved working in New York. And as you’ve got to see by this point, I love working in the movies. [Laughs.] But Off Beat was a great experience because I got to work in New York, and then there was Jacques D’Amboise. I had sort of a strange little part.
We’re Talkin’ Serious Money (1992)—“Marty ‘The Greek’”
Platypus Man (1995)—“Vince Jeni’”
Everybody Wants To Be Italian (2007)—“Steve Bottino”
AVC: Is there a favorite project that you’ve worked on over the years that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved?
JK: There was a really nice movie I did called We’re Talkin’ Serious Money, with Fran Drescher, the late, great Dennis Farina, and Leo Rossi, directed by Jimmy Lemmo. I haven’t seen that movie in years, but it was before Fran really broke, it was before Dennis broke with Get Shorty, and I think the movie has a lot of good moments in it. There’s a movie I did recently [in 2008] called Everybody Wants To Be Italian that was kind of cute. But there are reasons that things don’t work, right? So when I say they didn’t get the love, I’ve been in enough that have gotten the love where you see it and just go, “Oh, okay.” I mean, I wish some films would’ve hit more. And when I hang up, I’ll probably think of 10 things that should’ve gotten more love. [Laughs.]
I’ve done a lot of strange projects. I did Platypus Man, with Richard Jeni. I was really saddened by what happened to him. And, you know, there are situations where you thought, “Man, that could’ve gone another way, it could’ve gone really good,” but it didn’t, and the project went south. I worked with John Mendoza on a project once a long time ago. I mean, there’s a lot of stuff that you do because it’s like pickup games of baseball. There’s lots of nights where they close the lights down, you’re getting bitten by mosquitoes as you’re walking home with your buddies, and you just forget about those games, right? But you do it because you get a call, you suit up, and you show up. Some of them get lost in the mists of the time, but accumulatively these experiences help you. I try not to live in the world of “what if?” because you can go fucking crazy.