The first time I saw Justin Kirk perform he was naked! Of course, to be fair, I should note that all of the performers were naked. It was 1995 and I saw Kirk and a stellar cast, including Nathan Lane, John Glover and Anthony Heald, in the Tony and Drama Desk Award winning play, “Love! Valour! Compassion!” One thing that stood out about Kirk (no pun intended) was his bio in the Playbill in which he noted, among his credits, that he was “Michelle Pfeiffer’s dead brother in WOLF.” If truth be told, it was actually a PICTURE of Kirk portraying Ms. Pfeiffer’s dead brother but still, to say your first film starred Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer does look good on a resume.
Since then, Kirk has worked steadily, in both film and television. His real first feature was the film version of “Love! Valour! Compassion!” in which the entire cast, less Nathan Lane and Anthony Heald, recreated their roles. Lane was replaced by Jason Alexander while Stephen Spinella subbed for Heald. He has also appeared in popular television series like “Everwood” and had a recurring role in the Showtime series “Weeds.” He can also be found occasionally on the Emmy Award winning “Modern Family,” where he plays Mitchell’s boss, Charlie Bingham. He can also be seen in upcoming episode of the new show “Blacklist.”
On the big screen, Kirk has appeared in “Angels in America” (made for HBO), “Vamps” and can now be seen in the recently opened “Last Love.” Mr. Kirk took some time out of his schedule to sit down with me and talk about his new film, working with James Spader and how his photo got screentime.
Mike Smith: I’m not sure if the rep told you when I scheduled this interview but I had the great opportunity to catch you in New York in “Love! Valour! Compassion!” And if I didn’t say it then, let me say thank you for signing my Playbill.
Justin Kirk: Wow! That’s going back some. Talk about déjà vu…I just did an episode of the “The Blacklist” with…not one of the original cast but in the second string…an actor named Richard Beacon. I hadn’t seen him in 18 years. And I just got a text from Stephen Bogardus, who was in the original cast. I’ve managed to keep in touch with all of those guys over the years.
MS: Can you give us a brief introduction to your new film, “Last Love”?
JK: Sure. Well, an introduction from my perspective is that Michael Caine and I are an angsty father and son. It’s a movie about some lonely people trying to reach out to each other.
MS: What attracted you to the project?
JK: Well, right off the bat you’ve got Michael Caine…that’s a tough one to turn away. (laughs) I enjoyed the writer/director’s (Sandra Nettlebeck) first movie, “Mostly Martha.” I was a big fan of it. It was a great script. It all just came together and I decided I’d better haul my ass to Europe for a couple of months.
MS: You’ve done a lot of film and television work. Do you have a preference? And do you have to prepare for a role differently for film vs television?
JK: Not really. I think in this day and age the lines between the two are blurring. A lot of people will probably see “Last Love” on the same box they watched “Weeds” on. The difference pretty much is that in television there’s a different script every week…you don’t necessarily have your characters beginning, middle and end when you sign on to do the job. You don’t know what it’s going to be. Other than that it’s pretty much the same. They turn on the camera, look at the other actors and try to remember who the person is that you’re playing…what they do…and start talking.
MS: Do you know yet if you’re going to be back on “Modern Family” this year?
JK: Wow! Thanks for asking (laughs). I did two episodes for this year. The first has already aired where I hit on Haley. That was a lot of fun. And then there’s one more that hasn’t aired yet. That’s been a good one over the years. They usually have me back at least once a season or so. It’s not a bad show to be a part of.
MS: One of the things I remember most about you and “Love! Valour! Compassion!” was that in the Playbill you’re claim to fame was that you were Michelle Pfeiffer’s dead brother in “Wolf.” You’re actually just a PHOTO of Michelle Pfeiffer’s dead brother. How did that come about?
JK: (laughs) Someone actually sent me a shot of that scene and I was shocked at how young I was in the picture. That came about because I was doing a play on Broadway and the costume designer for the show, Ann Roth, is also Mike Nichol’s costume designer (NOTE: Oscar-winner Roth has designed the costumes for all of Mike Nichol’s films since “Silkwood”). I had never met him. One day she told me that she and I were going to take a ride about 45 minutes out of town and take some pictures. And later on, there it was in the movie. It pops up on the screen and Jack Nicholson says, “Nice face.” I rode that one for awhile! And then years later I worked with Mike Nichols on “Angels in America” and I continually had to remind him that I had worked with him before. He was fairly unaware of that. (laughs). But you know, you never know where things like that will lead.
MS: That’s like Bruce Willis trying to convince Paul Newman on the set of “Nobody’s Fool” that they had worked together before because Willis was one of the galley members during the courtroom scenes in “The Verdict.”
JK: Really? I didn’t know that. That’s a good piece of trivia.
MS: What else do you have coming up?
JK: I just did a pilot for FX called “Tyrants.” We’ll see what the life of that one turns out to be but it was a pretty crazy experience in Morocco. I just got home yesterday from doing an episode of “The Blacklist,” which is a hot new show with James Spader. That was a lot of fun, being a bad guy. And that should air fairly soon…they have a fast turnaround there because the show is doing very well so they have to make them quickly.
MS: I think it’s because of the characters he plays but I’ve always imagined James Spader would be the worse person you could ever want to spend time with. But having just said that I’m guessing James Spader is pretty cool.
JK: He’s super cool. I’ve been a fan of his since I was a teenager in Minneapolis and went and saw “Sex, Lies and Videotape” at the local art house. He’s been for me, and a lot of my generation of actors, much like Michael Caine. When the opportunity came to work with James I was like, “I’ve got to go act with Spader for a second!”
MS: That’s really all I had. Thanks again for signing my Playbill. Everybody at the stage door was mobbing Nathan Lane when you came out so I don’t know if I got to say thank you.
JK: (laughs) That’s great. I’m glad. Maybe we’ll get the chance to do it again in the future.