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So Familiar
Richard Kind – that guy from…everything
By Kate Morgan

If you don’t know Richard Kind’s name, you’d probably recognize his face. Even if you can’t quite place that, you definitely know his voice. He’s had more than 200 roles in movies and TV since the mid-80s, and he says he can tell how old a fan is (and, often, where they live), based on what they recognize him from. 

“If they’re 18 to about 26 or 27, they’ll know me from ‘Scrubs,’” says Kind, who appears next month at the Katz JCC Festival of Arts, Books and Culture. “Which is funny, because I only did four episodes of that show. People who are in their 50s watched ‘Mad About You.’ People in the part of the country between Ohio and Nevada know ‘Spin City.’ Jews in New York City know me from ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm,’ and Jews everywhere else know me from ‘A Serious Man.’”  

And as far as his voice – well, everybody knows that, thanks to his turn as Bing Bong in Pixar’s “Inside Out.” The character – protagonist Riley’s “mostly cotton candy, part-cat, part-elephant, part-dolphin” imaginary friend – commands the film’s most poignant scene. It’s the role Kind says will be at the center of his legacy; that, and his role as Arthur, the loser brother of the title character in the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man.  

“I think those films go beyond entertainment,” says Kind, 61. “I think they’ll have a lasting impact. Of the work I’ve done so far, those are the things that will be my legacy. But there are also things I’m proud of just because I did them or because I had a great time doing them.”  

Richard Kind appeared on Netflix’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”

The Trenton native is proud of his work in the Amazon original series “Red Oaks,” despite the fact that “nobody saw it.” The show’s three seasons are part of the entertainment renaissance Kind believes we’re currently living in.  

“I think right now is the golden age of TV,” he says. “The streaming stuff is all spectacular. These shows are making 10- to 12-episode seasons, and the budgets are five times what they used to be. The deep pockets of Amazon and Netflix mean real artists and independent filmmakers are seeing their vision realized.”  

Kind’s vision for his own career has been realized, too, at least in part.  

“When I was a kid I’d lie in bed and think about being a movie star,” he says. “I had three goals: I wanted to work with Woody Allen, be in a Stanley Kubrick movie and be in a [Stephen] Sondheim/[Hal] Prince musical. Well, Kubrick is dead, and I’ve turned down two Woody Allen plays because I didn’t like them.”  

As for the third, in 2003 Sondheim and Prince reunited for “Bounce: A New Musical,” which starred – you guessed it – Kind. If that comes as a surprise, you should know the stage is Kind’s first love. He remembers catching the train to Manhattan as a young teen, where he practically devoured Broadway shows.  

“My dad would drop me off at the Trenton train station,” he says. “I’d go get tickets and see a matinee, then hang out at the Drama Bookstore or something before seeing another show at night, then catching the late train back.”  

And it was on stage at Chicago’s famed improv comedy theater The Second City where Kind honed his craft.  

“I did Second City for four and a half years. I was on stage every night except Mondays and Christmas Eve,” he says. “You do it that much, you have to get better. I was just lucky. I was lucky I got in, and lucky I learned. I am not your typical Hollywood actor. I’m a really good actor, but I wasn’t always this good. I got hired a lot, and I worked a lot, and I got better.”  

Kind talks about money in a way most famous people do not. In fact, the way he talks about money, work, family obligations and everything else might make you think he’s just another middle-aged guy from Jersey. Only, he isn’t. 

“I’m a character actor, and character actors don’t make a lot of money,” he says.  

“I call myself the Costco of acting: it’s working in bulk. Sometimes I have to turn down work I’d love to do because it won’t pay the bills. And today I took a movie I don’t particularly want to do – in fact, I hate it – but it’s a paycheck. The minute I get a job I worry about the next one. Maybe those fears are unfounded, but they exist. And maybe that’s because I’m a neurotic actor, or maybe it’s because as I become older the parts become slimmer and smaller.” 

The biggest reason you know Kind as the guy from…well, everything? His kids: a 16-year-old and 12-year-old twins.  

“Katharine Hepburn said an actor should never be married or have kids,” he says. “It’s an ego-driven profession. Anyone who gets up and says, ‘HEY, LOOK AT ME!’ isn’t normal. But an actor has a kid, and no matter how egocentric you are, all of a sudden they’re person No. 1. Now you have to sacrifice for your kids: I can’t do that job in Australia – I have to do this piece of garbage for the money so my kids can go to school.”  

Don’t misunderstand him. Kind’s a straight shooter, but if you think he’s complaining about his job, his kids (a “smart, empathetic, loving” bunch whom he raves about) or life as a Hollywood actor with no shortage of work, you’ve got it all wrong. 

“To be honest, without knowing it, I ended up with the kind of career I dreamed about having,” he says.  

“Am I the kind of actor I wanted to be? I don’t know. But the career I wanted? Oh, absolutely. I used to talk like I wanted this, and then I got it, and it was all fate, and it is all amazing. It’s the luckiest guy in the world who goes to work and loves what he does, and I can’t live without it. I love doing this. This is playtime. I’m an adult whose job is to play pretend.” 

The other thing Kind plays is golf, and so this last part is the most important: “Pine Valley is the greatest golf course,” he says. “So anybody out there in South Jersey who’s reading this and wants to invite me to play Pine Valley – I’ll buy the drinks.”


Richard Kind will appear at the Katz JCC Festival of Arts, Books and Culture on Nov. 17. Get more information at katzjcc.org. 

October 2018
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