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The Big Knife - Broadway

Bobby Cannavale stars in the revival of Clifford Odets' Hollywood drama.

Richard Kind on Playing ‘Men of Power,’ Including His Tony-Nominated Role in The Big Knife

Richard Kind on Playing ‘Men of Power,’ Including His Tony-Nominated Role in The Big Knife
Richard Kind
Tony nominee Richard Kind explains why he is drawn to larger-than-life characters.

Tony nominee Richard Kind could come up with a dozen versions of’s Role Call. He’s been a sitcom regular (Spin City, Mad About You, Curb Your Enthusiasm), an animated voice performer (Cars, A Bug’s Life), and has starred in musicals (The Producers, Sondheim’s original Bounce) and scads of plays in theaters across the country. Did we mention feature films and TV dramas? The credit list goes on and on. Now that this in-demand actor is in Tony contention for Roundabout’s revival of Clifford Odets’ The Big Knife, we decided it was high time to ask Kind to single out six of his favorite roles.

Role That Is the Least Like Me
“I like larger-than-life parts, and [film studio chief] Marcus Hoff in The Big Knife is certainly that. I have just two scenes in the play, but they’re exciting for the audience because it’s impossible to predict where the character is going. I come in as a teddy bear, trying to help Charlie [the movie star played by Bobby Cannavale], and then I explode into a guy who is obviously misogynistic. He has this grudge against his wife, who tried to destroy him. The bile and disgust that I express! He’s not like me at all, and that’s a wonderful thing to play. Bobby has a line about Marcus: ‘He twists my head like a doll.’ I rev up to the meanness, and the audience gets to experience that. Bobby takes such pride in doing a great job, and he is so, so happy for me [as a Tony nominee]. Working with him is the greatest.”

Role That Was Small But Sweet
“Walter Burns in The Front Page [2007, Williamstown Theatre Festival] is another man of tremendous power. Those roles are my favorites because I’ve got a big voice and a presence that is more suited to theater than it is to screen, although in the past 10 years, I’ve learned how to focus that and make it smaller and more intense. When people think of The Front Page, they think of His Girl Friday, with Cary Grant [on screen] all the way through. The play has 140 pages, and can you guess when Walter Burns shows up? Page 100. It’s not a huge part, but once you enter, everything happens around you. Walter is that guy. He runs a newspaper and hundreds of people answer to him; he controls how people perceive Chicago. It really was a kick to do.”

Role I Wish Had Lasted Longer
“It’s a tragedy that the HBO show Luck [2011, as Joey Rathburn] was taken off the air. Much the way that Odets and Shakespeare wrote people who speak with eloquence and not really in a normal vernacular, that’s how [creator] David Milch writes. It wasn’t how we mere mortals talk; it was modern poetry set in the world of horse racing. I played a jockey agent who had a stutter, which was a really interesting take—that a man with a good heart would have to wheel and deal in a cutthroat business. Jockeys are athletes, and the horses are too, so it was a challenge to convey how precarious and mercurial both the humans and the horses can be. The show became more famous for having horses die, but the dealings of [animal rights groups] were despicable.”

Role That Was a Lost Soul
“I’m very proud to have been in A Serious Man [2009, as Arthur Gopnik], a masterpiece that was so beautifully done. The Coen brothers will go down in history as the greatest filmmakers Hollywood ever had. I played Michael Stuhlbarg’s brother, kind of a nerdy misfit philosopher. I remember thinking it was a good role, but when I went up to Minneapolis for a reading of the script, everyone was saying, ‘Oh my god, aren’t you thrilled you got this part?’ I had no idea of the resonance this guy would have. I tend to see roles as a collection of scenes; I don’t always realize the importance the character may have in the finished story.”

Role That Was the Biggest Workout
“Max Bialystock in The Producers [2004 on Broadway; 2012 at Hollywood Bowl] is a man of great hungers and great desires. He’s sort of like Zorba, a man full of appetites who teaches [Leo Bloom] how to live. Whenever people talk about acting, they say, ‘What does your character want in this scene?’ Max wants everything, and not just like a normal person: He wants women, he wants money, he wants success; everything he longs for is oversized. I worked so hard and had such a good time doing that show, I lost 30 pounds! It was a delight.”

Role That Was the Most Fun
“The one play that I would like to bring to Broadway is Romance by David Mamet [2010, as the Judge], which I did at Bay Street Theatre [in Sag Harbor, NY]. Our cast was beyond compare, including two of the actors in The Big Knife, Reg Rogers and Joey Slotnick. Most of the roles I’ve mentioned have been ensemble pieces, and it’s like playing tennis with great players who hit the ball back hard. The Judge is another role with a great arc. He starts out very sober, talking solemnly about a group of world leaders coming to town. All of a sudden his [allergy] medication kicks in, and he goes so crazy, he strips down to his underwear. It was like riding a drug-induced roller coaster—just a wonderful role in a great farce. Mamet prides himself on doing comedies, and this is one of his best.”

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