by Ken James, Staff Writer
Academy Award winning Kevin Kline plays the lead role of Mr. William Hundert, St. Benedict’s assistant headmaster. He strives to mold each student into a well-rounded morally upstanding, ethical man. As a Classics professor, Hundert firmly believes the history of the Greeks and Romans has much to say to our present day society.
Kline has acted in numerous productions including “Life as a House” (where he earned a Screen Actors Guild nomination for Best Actor), “A Fish Called Wanda” (in which he was awarded an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor), “The Big Chill,” “Cry Freedom,” “Dave,” “Grand Canyon,” “I Love You to Death,” “The Ice Storm,” “In and Out”, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Silverado” and “Sophie’s Choice.” He is also an accomplished Broadway actor.
Everyone I’ve spoken with who have worked on bringing this film to the big screen keep referring to the passion that everyone had. What was it about this film that convinced you to take the lead role as William Hundert?
I actually read the whole thing before I agreed to do it. And I endorsed it by doing it. I’ve rarely done films [where] the ideas are antithetical to my [personal viewpoints]. **Kevin jokes about one or two that may not have been in this category**
What kind of feedback have you received from those who see this film?
I know from what I’ve heard so far from people who’ve seen it how timely it is. So “on the nose” in terms of what is happening in the corporate world. The contrast of virtue and values versus expedience and winning at all costs, which is what seems to be the pervasive mood [today].
As the main teacher in this film, what do you think The Emperor’s Club says to educators?
I think it’s saying “don’t give up. Stick with it. It’s a noble profession.” To me, I’ve always ranked teaching up there with medicine and priesthood. And especially with this character. It’s a vocation with him. It’s not a job—this is his life. And that kind of dedication is, I think, a good model.
1. How do you think you would do personally as a teacher? 2. What would you teach?
1. Ooohh… I’ve taught a little and I’ve enjoyed it. So I wouldn’t be too bad. I would like to think I’d be a good teacher… 2. Other than what I have expertise in, like acting? Oh I’d teach English, I suppose, or French, or Latin, or history.
In the film when Hundert breaks the window of the Headmasters car, why didn’t we see him make amends with the Headmaster?
I’d ask you that question… I think he completely breaks character at that moment. He goes against everything he’s taught them. I think that was the Director’s intention. I had the same question you had. The Director said that it’s great to get the audience complicit with him, even though he’s doing something wrong. It’s kind of fun. He’s bonding with the boys. He’s sort of put his ethics to the side for one moment. And then when he further breaks the rules, you’re already caught. You’ve gone with him down that road. You say “oh well, it’s okay.” And then when he does the other thing, you think “ooh, why was I sympathizing with this guy?”
That was the intention. It’s sort of a strange moment.
Why do you think Hundert doesn’t expose Sedgewick for his cheating when he has more then one chance to do so?
…he’s not a “heroic” character. He certainly falls short of his own ideas.
On more personal notes, was your education anything like what the boys in The Emperor’s Club experienced?
I had a very unusual, very privileged, fortunate schooling. I was educated by Benedictine Monks from Ampleforth Abbey in England. So the school in St. Louis [Priory School, 1965] was right along the lines of an English [education]. Father Timothy [Horner] is still there—my headmaster. When I read [the script] it reminded me of that school… the values that the school tried to imbue in all of the students. [In Father Timothy’s book, In Good Soil] he was talking about molding character, which is right out of The Emperor’s Club.
Some people would say as the Senator father says “You’re not there to mold my son.” Some people consider that an old fashioned idea. “You’re just there to teach them… just give them the facts… I’ll mold him.” Which is a hollow promise because [the Senator] never sees him. He’s molding him from a telephone call?!
When I read this, I thought it was like an homage to my schooling.
And lastly, how do you maintain a healthy marriage (to Phoebe Cates) in a town where celebrity marriages rarely last?
Well, we don’t live in this town, which may help. We live in another town.
Phoebe’s just retired to raise the children. She finds complete fulfillment in that. It’s certainly a 24-hour a day commitment. She’s never looked back. I mean, she came out of retirement for three weeks to do “The Anniversary Party” because her best friend Jennifer Jason Leigh wrote that part for her and included the rest of the family so we wouldn’t feel left out.
The thing about Phoebe is that when the kids are grown up and in college, she’ll still look 22 so she can go off and start her career then. She refuses to age.