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No One Has Range Like Richard Kind

The clown prince among character actors should be a household name

Years ago, I heard a showbiz anecdote from a late-night TV writers room. The staff was working up a segment and realized that they might need a cameo appearance by a funny, semi-recognizable actor to make it work. Eventually, the name Richard Kind came up. Only trouble was, they’d have to book him for that afternoon — would he be available on such short notice?

“Oh, he’s available,” one writer deadpanned.

The joke wasn’t that Kind ever really wants for work. IMDb gushes that he “continues to redefine the term character actor,” and he’s done so in dozens of TV shows and movies going back to the mid-1980s, the quintessential “guy who was in that thing” simply because he’s been in so many things. I think the late-night writer was alluding to Kind’s dogged work ethic — and a runaway momentum that means he’s up for anything. In a recent HuffPost profile, Kind pointed out that he’s “never had a breakout role,” but the result is a kaleidoscopic universe of Richard Kind, one that contains multitudes rather than some single, trademark performance. Honestly, it suits him.

His recent turn as Rudy Giuliani in Bombshell, a movie about the Fox News sexual harassment scandal, feels exactly on-brand: at once unexpected and marvelous. As director Jay Roach says, it’s not a casting based on looks, per se, but an ability to inhabit the manic former mayor of New York in Tri-State Area Scumbag Mode. (Kind, like so many underrated luminaries of our time, hails from New Jersey.) But as he also seems to move freely between the realms of art and true life, he also has a story about shaming the real Giuliani for pulling out his phone to check the score of a Yankees game during a Broadway show where they were seated close together. This in turn recalls a scene from Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David’s HBO cringe-com, where Kind — as Larry’s cousin Andy — complains that he can’t see what’s happening in a production of The Producers from behind a Sikh man wearing a dastar. 

As cousin Andy, Kind is perfectly irritating in a way that no other actor could achieve, lending total gusto to the worst imaginable opinions (such as his take that “there’s no good Chinese food in L.A.”). But if he’s utterly believable as a rude theatergoer, it may have something to do with his long, distinguished stage career, which includes a 2013 Tony nomination for his portrayal of movie studio executive Marcus Hoff in a revival of the Clifford Odets play The Big Knife. When he’s between Hollywood projects, he treads the boards on Broadway and off, in crowd-pleasing favorites including Funny Girl, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Kiss Me, Kate.

These pop credits mirror his run through multiple generations of TV comedies, from offscreen lines in 21 Jump Street and sketch parts in The Carol Burnett Show to main ensemble or recurring roles in Mad About You, Spin City and Scrubs. He even brought some levity to otherwise dramatic fare. Arguably the greatest piece of Kind trivia is that he plays an Earth scientist in the 1994 sci-fi thriller Stargate and then a human from the Pegasus galaxy in the spinoff series Stargate Atlantis, making him the only actor to play different characters in the movie and TV sides of the franchise. Absolute legend status.

Kind’s unique voice and cadence are themselves a sort of institution, such that they’ve turned up both in wholesome Pixar films (Inside Out, Toy Story 3, A Bug’s Life) and the risqué cartoon circuit — he’s done 26 episodes of American Dad and is unforgettable as the loud, browbeating, digestively afflicted Marty Glouberman in Big Mouth. His trademark prattling bluster has also allowed his his poker buddy Hank Azaria to spend years impersonating him.

Yet just when you think that Kind has made it all along the go-to guy when you need a major putz spectrum, he turns that energy inward for a bracing jolt of pathos. A Serious Man, which when all is said and done may rank among the crown jewels of the Coen Brothers’ oeuvre, builds incredibly from the desperate relationship between Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg), a professor whose life is unraveling, and his mentally ill brother Arthur (Kind), who is even more down and out than he is. Kind plays Arthur as a pitiful obsessive, some helpless eccentric, only to then explode with resentment at Larry in a moment of agony. For as little as Larry has left, his blessings far outstrip Arthur’s. 

It’s hard to imagine a conventional star with the range — let alone the humility — to do all that Kind does, across so many formats and within so many tones. As he’s not an A-lister, his appearance is typically a sweet surprise, as though he fulfilled a need you didn’t realize the movie had. Still, here’s hoping that in the years ahead, some director figures out the leading-man potential he’s always had, and we get a Richard Kind opus that resembles the sum of his long-ago perfected craft. After decades supporting his peers onscreen and on stage, it’s high time those folks returned the favor so Kind can hit his highest mark yet. Even if it’s not a big-budget blockbuster, he’s bound to go above and beyond. I do have one suggestion… 

At the very least, you know he’s not getting canceled for bad tweets. Give it some thought.