Acclaimed actor Kevin Kline enters and takes a seat on the left-hand side of the stage.
IU President Michael McRobbie steps up to the podium to give his welcoming remarks, explaining exactly where Kline’s career started — Indiana University.
Kline came to IU as a concert pianist and said that he found himself surrounded by musical geniuses at the Jacobs School of Music who had been playing since early childhood.
Kline enrolled in an introductory theater class, and it was there that he found his love for acting and switched his major to theater.
Kline returned to Bloomington on Monday and received an honorary doctoral degree, which is the highest honor a university can give, McRobbie said.
“We are extremely proud that it all started here,” McRobbie said. “I am privileged to welcome you back to Indiana University.”
After graduating in 1970 from IU with a degree in theater, Kline enrolled in the Juilliard School for two years.
He then joined John Houseman’s Acting Company, which allowed him to appear in classic stage works in New York.
“It was a chance to do what very few American actors have the opportunity to do,” Kline said.
Playing in a wide range of roles and characters in the acting company helped Kline prepare for his later career, he said.
What is thought of as the ?beginning of Kline’s professional career, his role in “The Pirates of Penzance,” came at an early time in the actor’s life, but it almost didn’t happen at all.
The play was set to be performed outdoors in Central Park and was free for all audiences, and Kline was at first hesitant to sign on.
As Kline rode his bike through Central Park to return the script to his manager, he suddenly changed his mind.
It was such a beautiful day, he said, so he thought he might as well sign up to play the part.
“I had no idea it would establish me and be such a hit,” Kline said. “There was this free-wheeling fun of being in front of an audience that didn’t pay a cent. It was a party every night.”
After two performances, the production was moved to Broadway, where Kline performed the play for nine months.
Two years later, Kline moved from stage acting and appeared alongside Meryl Streep in the 1982 drama “Sophie’s Choice.”
“To this day, I cannot believe I was cast in it,” Kline said.
Kline loved the character Nathan, who is the main character along with Sophie.
“I would kill to play this part,” Kline told the director. “I love this part.”
Kline was never asked to audition but was instead offered the part by the director because of his passion for it.
The next year, Kline was offered the role of Harold Cooper in “The Big Chill.”
Before accepting the part, he called Streep to seek advice. She told him to do it because the character was a ?regular guy, which was incredibly different from his role in “Sophie’s Choice,” who was a “psychopath,” Kline said.
“There’s a long story behind everything I’ve done,” Kline said. “It usually starts with me turning it down, being talked into it and then winning awards.”
One of those awards came from Kline’s appearance in “A Fish Called Wanda.” This 1988 comedy tells the story of four different people who come together to commit armed robbery until they try to double-cross each other .
Kline won the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his portrayal of Otto in the film.
Getting involved with this movie was also a process for Kline, who met with the writer John Cleese about an idea for a film he had.
“I never thought he’d write it, but he did,” Kline said. “We went to Jamaica for 10 days and just worked on my part, reading through scenes.”
The improvisations and work got put into the script of the film and helped develop it to win an Oscar.
After his ceremony Monday, Kline attended the sold-out screening for “A Fish Called Wanda” at IU Cinema.
In honor of his degree, IU Cinema launched a month-long film series.
Seven films were set to play this month, but with three films left, the series is near completion. “A Fish Called Wanda” was the fourth film in the series.
Kline has released a film nearly every year, sometimes even two or three. On top of that, he is also still involved with theater and stage?productions.
Choosing which productions he wants to be a part of is a simple process.
“It’s a combination of ‘this role scares the hell out of me’ and ‘I also know I can kill at this, I can nail this, I can do it right,’” he said. “The best roles are the challenging ones that you can do justice to.”
Kline’s next role will be in a drama called “Ricki and the Flash,” once again alongside Meryl Streep. The film tells the story of an aging rock star who tries to get back in touch with her kids.
Although he may not know his next role, Kline will work to make it his own, channeling his first acting inspiration: a graduate student in the theater department he worked with while at IU.
“I used to imitate what I thought acting was. It wasn’t coming from me,” Kline said. “He got me to think about it. You can be an artist. You can be the author of your work.”