Kevin Kline stars as Howard Brackett, a teacher who may or may not be gay, in the comedy In & Out.

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Saturday, September 13, 1997

Skeletons in the closet

Straight cast members of In & Out share their hidden desires

By JOHN COULBOURN -- Toronto Sun

 NEW YORK -- It's a movie about being gay -- but it's also about accepting, and being accepted for, who you really are.
 Of course, no one has any expectation that any of the cast of In & Out -- a truly impressive line-up that includes Kevin Kline, Tom Selleck, Joan Cusack, Matt Dillon, Bob Newhart, Debbie Reynolds and homegrown supermodel Shalom Harlow in her film debut -- has a major personal announcement to get off his (or her) chest. But it turns out that most of them have a few hidden desires. Hidden, in most cases, despite their best efforts.
 Which ties in well with the wonky and ultimately delightful storyline of this movie (opening Friday), written by Jeffrey's Paul Rudnick and directed by Frank Oz, of Muppet fame.
 Inspired by Tom Hanks' Oscar acceptance speech for his performance in Philadelphia, it's the story of a smalltown English teacher who is `outed' by a former student in much the same manner as Hanks revealed his former teacher's sexuality to the world.
 But where Hanks' former teacher was gay, In & Out's teacher, played by Kline, isn't -- or at least he hasn't realized it yet, despite his taste for poetry, his obsession for Barbra Streisand and his love of disco music.
 And in the wake of his very public outing and the storm of media attention it spawns, Kline's character, goaded by a gay TV reporter played by Selleck, jilts his bride (Cusack) at the altar and begins to come to terms with his sexuality.
 For Kline, the role offers a chance to further showcase his comedic range -- a skill that has already earned him an Oscar for his performance in A Fish Called Wanda.
 "My agent sent me the script, I liked it, I met with Paul Rudnick and (producer) Scott Rudin and signed on," he says simply.
 What drew him, of course, was the comedy.
 "We are players," he reflects. "We have to play. But if it looks like you're goofing your way through Oedipus Rex, then you've probably gone too far."
 But what he discovered is that, in addition to his comedic and his dramatic skills, he's got a major talent as a hoofer as well.
 Kline does a show-stopping dance routine to background disco music that is one of the highlights of the movie.
 The actor-cum-dancer is obviously pleased with his work and delighted with early audience reaction to it.
 "I loved doing that," he says. "I found it great fun to do. I love dancing and I love music and I can't sit still. I'm one of those people in a restaurant, when there is muzak (who will say), `Oh, I love that song,' in the middle of a conversation."
 For Cusack, the release of In & Out is sure to further her reputation as one of the most gifted comedic actresses of our day -- and she admits that it's becoming a bit of a box.
 "I don't feel trapped in it, because I really enjoy it," she says of her comedic niche. "But yeah, I'd like to do more serious roles. That's the great thing about being able to do theatre."
 Mind you, there isn't likely to be a lot of theatre in Cusack's future in the next little while. She and her husband, a Chicago-based lawyer, are the proud parents of an eight-week-old baby boy named Dylan.
 "My next project is trying to get him to sleep through the night," she says, pride and fatigue mingling in her smile.
 For Cusack, the child is all part of a plan that took her back to her native Chicago a few years ago, far removed from New York's stages and Los Angeles' film industry.
 "I decided I wanted to get married and have a kid and I wanted to meet a civilian," she explains. "The payoff was I was able to meet a great guy and settle down. The trade-off, for me, was worth it."
 Selleck has made a few tough choices in his time, too -- like walking away from a successful TV series, and then later, walking away from a multi-picture deal with a major studio.
 But those choices seem to be paying off, even the little ones, like tackling a guest role on Friends, despite advice to the contrary.
 "The professional advice I got was: `You can't guest on a sitcom! They'll think you've come crawling back,'" he says laughing.
 So one can only imagine what kind of trip his advisors laid on him when he told them he was going to go against his macho image and play a trash-TV reporter, and a gay one, to boot. After all, this is the man whose sexuality was fodder for the tabloids a few years ago, before he married and became a father. He even got into trouble when he tried to defend himself.
 "If the press wants to perceive it as anti-gay to say I'm married and I have a kid ..." he says, trailing off with a shrug.
 Still, despite such apparently mitigating considerations, he leapt at the chance to do In & Out anyway.
 "It sounded like fun," he says. "And it scared me, which is a good reason to do something.
 "Actors need to take risks. You have to stick your neck out far enough to be bad, in order to be good."
 And while he's proud of the risks he's taken, he's disturbed that he's not allowed -- thanks to an industry that is inclined to pigeon-hole actors according to type -- to take as many as he'd like.
 "Why does nobody ever ask me?" he says rhetorically. "I would have done this part 10 years ago.
 "It's disturbing," he continues. "If you can afford to make choices -- and I can, more than I used to -- and nobody allows you to make them, it can be frustrating."
 With all due respect to gays, it seems that everyone has closets they're fighting to get out of -- or into.
 KISS 'N' TELL: By now, surely the whole world knows that one of the more memorable moments of In & Out is a kiss between Selleck and Kline, from which NOW's John Harkness will, no doubt, avert his gaze.
 Here's what Selleck had to say about Kline's lipwork: "He's either the best man I've kissed, or the worst -- and I may never find out which."