Interview – Richard Kline

richard for articleFor some, acting is an artistic form of expression that comes naturally. That could be said by Queens, New York native Richard Kline, who caught the acting bug at an early age and has not looked back since. Widely recognized as the unforgettable character of Larry Dallas on Iconic American sitcom Three’s Company, Kline has attained a professional career in television, film, and theater that spans over four decades now. Spending an amazing eight seasons as a key star alongside John Ritter, Joyce DeWitt, as well as Suzanne Somers, Priscilla Barnes, Norman Fell, and Don Knotts on Three’s Company, the series still attracts viewers of all ages. Kline, humbled for the chance to be a part of the history, has never rested on his laurels, going on to star in many feature films, countless television shows, including most recently FX’s The Americans, built a career in theater, and even holding acting classes. The resume runs far and deep for this funny man with a distinctive delivery, and recently we had a chance to sit down with him to talk his career as actor, his time on Three’s Company, his love for theater, as well as much more. – You have been involved in entertainment four decades now. In that time, you really built an extensive resume in television, film, and theater. First tell us, what inspired you to get involved in the arts?

Richard Kline – It was probably because my sister, who is 3 years older than me, took ballet lessons. My mother dragged me to her ballet lessons, this is a psychological answer (laughs). It’s because probably I wanted to gain attention. When I went to camp as a 7 year old, they had dramatic programs in camp and I did some stuff in camp. I did some Indian lore, which was writing about American Indian dances and some lip-syncing to some records at the time. I had the bug at an early age, it only blossomed in junior high school. You always have a mentor who steers you on the right path. I had a great teacher in junior high school, in Jackson Heights, Queens, who cast me in several of the shows there. That’s pretty much when I realized that I wanted to be an actor. – That is very interesting. Have you always had a knack for Comedy? Was that something that came natural to you?

Richard Kline – Yes. I have a private class in NYC, but I also occasionally teach a workshop in a casting venue, it’s a 4 week sitcom class. I tell the students there, I am going to be honest with you, some people are natural comedians and have natural timing, and a lot of people don’t. Which it is not to say that you can’t learn certain comedic skills. I would have to say that I, for some reason or another, in my DNA, there is a funny streak.

richard sunshine
Richard Kline in The Sunshine Boys from 2014 at Connecticut Repertory Theatre – Like you said, for some people, it comes naturally. You clearly had a knack for that through the years, judging by your roles. You have had quite a few roles, especially in television; the Love Boat and, of course, Three’s Company. Do you enjoy working on the television platform?

Richard Kline – An actor will tell you that, A, they enjoy working, period (laughs). Then B, if you are a good actor, you have the ability to work in all forms, not just television, but in theater and movies. I personally prefer the stage, I like the live audience situation, and I like the process of stage production. That process is a longer rehearsal period to discover things about the role, about the play you are in. Whereas, when you do television, when you do a sitcom, you sit down Monday morning with a script, then you are shooting it on Friday afternoon. A movie or a television Drama like The Americans, which I’ve done on FX, you get the part maybe the night before or two days before, then you shoot it out of sequence and you are done. It’s a long day, but you are done. The process is not as exploratory as it is on the stage. – Right, that makes sense. On the stage, you get that reaction, and one can imagine, as an actor, you probably feed off that in your performance.

Richard Kline – Yeah you do, you are energized by it. Obviously, some audiences are better than others (laughs). In the last 4 decades, as you’ve said, I’ve been in shows where one night you get the laughs, and the next night you don’t. That’s part of the game. It’s like you are a quarterback for the Denver Broncos and you are old and you have a younger brother with the New York Giants, sometimes you throw a few interceptions. – (laughs) That is true. Petyon Manning won the super bowl and he went out on a high note.

Richard Kline – He sure did. He went out on a medium note, so did Cam Newton because that was maybe the most inept Super Bowls we’ve seen in awhile. It was good defense. It is like in baseball, if you have the pitching, look at the New York Mets. Nobody picked them to be anywhere near the World Series last year. The pitching carried them until Mr. Cespedes came over and energized them. Pitching wins ball games. – That is very true. Unfortunately the Mets could not close the deal. They had so many opportunities to win that World Series. They should come back strong in 2016.

Richard Kline – The Kansas City Royals had been there before, the year before they almost won it from the San Francisco Giants, and so a little bit of experience helps.

2015 MLB World Series New York Mets & Kansas City Royal promo
2015 MLB World Series New York Mets & Kansas City Royal promo – That is the thing I think a lot of people are hoping for this year, that the Mets are going to be the Royals of 2016.

Richard Kline – ESPN has the power rankings and the Mets are number 2 of all the teams in both the American and the National league, you know who is number 1? The Chicago Cubs. – Well it should be an exciting season in the National League for sure. You spent 8 seasons a part of Three’s Company as Larry Dallas, an unforgettable role. That is an impressive run. Do you have fond memories of the show?

Richard Kline – Yeah sure, that was an actor’s dream, to have steady employment for 8 years. To also work on a set where it was so friendly and so funny, John Ritter set the tone for the show and rehearsals. He was so gracious and so outrageous. He and I were both Jerry Lewis fans. At a moment’s notice, we would break into some antics, dueling Jerry Lewis’ each other. A testament of how friendly and what a good working atmosphere the set was, over the years I’ve had some actors come up to me and say, “When I did your show you guys were so gracious.” I tell them that’s good to hear and it’s true. We had a great time working on that show.

The cast of Three’s Company in a promotional photo, 1978
THREE’S COMPANY – Cast Gallery – August 28, 1978. (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)FOREGROUND:JOYCE DEWITT;JOHN RITTER;SUZANNE SOMERS. BACKGROUND:NORMAN FELL;RICHARD KLINE;AUDRA LINDLEY – It looked like it from watching the show, you could just see it; it bled through. Eight years is a long time for a television show. Most do not make it 2 seasons. What do you think was the key to longevity?

Richard Kline – Not only do I not know the key to longevity, with the exception of the fact that the show was funny and they loved John, they loved the girls, and me and Don hopefully. What’s astounding to me is it’s still running in reruns, and internationally too. Who would think the show was going to be available 32 years after it went off the air? It is insane. What it does is, it introduces the show to a subsequent generation. My sister-in-law, who has kids, say “I love Three’s Company.” They started watching it in the ’90s, it’s so bizarre. – Those are some of the things you could never foresee when you are working on something. It really has become a piece of American sitcom history, and one of the most legendary shows. It was clear to see on screen that you and John Ritter had a great chemistry. Larry was Jack’s partner in crime. You guys were friends, and the friendship developed as the series developed. What was it like working alongside John Ritter for so long?

Richard Kline  – The great thing about working with John was that I would feed off his brilliance and he would feed off my semi-brilliance, we just gave each other stuff. I tell people that between working with him and working with Bea Arthur on Maude; I did three Maude’s before I did Three’s Company, it was like being in the graduate school of Comedy. With Bea Arthur, her timing was insane, she was just a brilliant comedian. John’s physical comedy and way around a line was also something to learn from. That was a great education. On top of that, John and I got along like peas in a pod, like pals. People ask, “Did you hang out off the set?” The answer is rarely because we saw each other five times a week for 8 years. Occasionally I went to a ballgame with him. We may have gone to a couple of clubs on the strip and gotten into trouble; no, we didn’t get into trouble (laughs). That was about it, for example, we didn’t have dinners and that kind of thing, because we spent most of the time during the day with each other.

Still of John Ritter and Richard Kline in Three's Company (1977)
THREE’S COMPANY – Cast Gallery – August 28, 1979. (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)JOHN RITTER;RICHARD KLINE – That makes perfect sense. You were spending a lot of time working with one another. Sometimes people do not realize you are working with someone so long, they really become like family. You are playing alongside them and you become close like family, for the most part, if you have good chemistry.

Richard Kline – Yeah, for example, I still see Joyce DeWitt and Priscilla Barnes when we do autograph shows. We have a good old time, laugh, joke, and whatever. Joyce is one of my favorite people in the world. – It was an excellent cast through the years; the regulars and everyone else who guest-stared as well. Besides television, you have also been in films, thinking of Beverly Hills Ninja (1997), I Now Pronounce you Chuck and Larry (2007), and Liberty Heights (1999), just to name a few.

Richard Kline – Liberty Heights was my first big film with Joe Mantegna. Barry Levinson directed it; won the academy award for Rain Man (1988). Interesting people came out of that film; Ben Foster was the lead character in that movie, Orlando Jones, and of course Joe Mantegna and I were related in the movie. Now Joey is doing Criminal Minds.

Joe Mantegna and Richard Kline in Liberty Heights (1999)
Joe Mantegna and Richard Kline in Liberty Heights (1999) © Warner Brothers – That was a great cast. Tell us, what is the biggest difference for you working in television opposed to working on a feature film?

Richard Kline – Working in television, and specifically sitcoms, it’s like filming a one act play; you start on Monday and you film on Friday. Doing a film is shot out of sequence, you might have one or two days on the film, maybe three of four. I did a movie this past Fall with Mike Birbiglia, who is stand-up comedian. This one is called Don’t Think Twice, it has Gillian Jacobs from Community (2009) in it and Keegan-Michael Key from Key and Peel, that I shot over 3 weeks. I would do Monday, Tuesday, and the next week shoot on a Thursday; it was totally out of sequence. In either case, you have to have your craft together as an actor. There is very little rehearsal in a film or a film for TV like an episodic dramatic like The Americans, Law and Order, or CSI. There is little to no rehearsal; they run the lines once or twice before they shoot. There is no sit down reading of a one hour dramatic. What they call procedural, like Law and Order or CSI, they just don’t do it, they don’t have the time. – That is very interesting how the time schedules work. You clearly do love the arts and you have been involved for so long. You also have a career in theater. In recent years, you have been doing theater quite a bit. At this point in your career, do you enjoy theater more than say working in film or television?

Richard Kline – I just enjoy working, that’s the honest answer (laughs). I was out on the road for almost a year and a half with Wicked, and I loved every second of it. Not only because I was doing a terrific musical with a terrific part playing The Wizard, but visiting various American cities. Also, because of the popularity of the show, it was sold out in every city. We went to Cleveland in a 2,000 seat house for 3 or 4 weeks, and it was sold out every night, it’s a thrill. As stated earlier, I just finished shooting a short bit on The Americans, and that was very fulfilling too, even though that was just a day. For an actor, that is just telling the truth, wherever the work is, I’m having fun.

Universal Pictures
FX – That makes sense, you want to keep yourself working; keep yourself busy. Talking about work, you also teach acting as well. How redeeming is that for you to help young, budding actors; guide them and teach them?

Richard Kline – My experience in teaching is two-fold. One is what you are talking about, is to see people make progress, and they do, that’s very fulfilling. The other thing is, as an actor and a director, I am keeping myself sharp. I teach Mondays and occasionally Wednesdays for the sitcom thing. It’s like if I was a tennis player, every Monday I’d go out and hit a 1,000 backhands, or whatever, or 5,000 forehands. It’s keeping me in shape. Any true artists, concert pianists, they practice every day. Then they go out on tour, they go to Carnegie Hall, and they do their thing. This, after they’ve graduated from Juilliard or the Berkeley school of music. I think it’s important for an actor to keep in shape. – It is a good exercise. You can say from teaching others you are learn something yourself as well.

Richard Kline – Yes. For example, 80% of the stuff I give to students is from television and movies. Then, another 20% from theater. I scan various websites; there’s a site called where they have sides. Sides are extracts from scripts. I’m up to date and I’ll give a scene from Two Broke Girls, CSI, or whatever. It keeps me and it keeps them current. – That sounds like a great exercise for your students and yourself to keep current as well. What other projects do you have coming up?

Richard Kline – I started doing the musical Monty Python’s Spamalot. It was on Broadway for awhile. I am doing that at Connecticut Repertory Theatre. It starts April 21st and runs through May 1st.

spamalot – Excellent, that is something to look forward to. My last question for you is actually pertaining to movies. covers all areas of music as well as movies, particularly Horror and Sci-Fiction. If you are a fan of either of those genres, do you have any favorites?

Richard Kline – You’ve hit on two things that I have absolutely no interest in (laughs). Horror films scare the crap out of me, I’ll be honest with you. I watched five minutes of Paranormal Activity (2009) and the hair on the back of my head stood up. I said, “Why do I need this stress?” As far as Sci-Fi, 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), loved it, loved every second of it. I loved the first Star Wars, every second of it.

This is how old school I am, The Exorcist (1973), great movie! When I was a kid, I saw Psycho (1960) and I was under the seat in Boulevard theater in Jackson Heights, I couldn’t watch it. I was peaking over the seat, I was scared to death. Living in the Upper West Side, and I waited for 5 months to see The Exorcist because we’d read stories in the news of people fainting, people throwing up in the lobby, and I went, “Uhh, I don’t know.” Then I said, “I gotta see it.” There was a theater on 66th and Broadway, it was in March, and it was raining. It was a Tuesday night, this is 5 months after the movie opened. I walked five blocks to the theater and there’s a dog chained to a meter and he’s barking in front of the theater. There’s nobody with the dog, so right away I am going, “This is not good!” I buy my ticket and go in. Eight people in the theater, including a mother with her infant. As soon as the movie starts, the infant starts crying and I’m going, “Oh my god, this is not going to be great.” I watch the movie and it was very scary, but I watched the whole thing (laughs).

Warner Bros. – It is still scary to this day; it is still striking, the music, the atmosphere, and the space in between the dialog.

Richard Kline – Absolutely. Years later, I moved to California. I was doing a sitcom show as a guest spot and it had a religious theme. These two Franciscan brothers would recruit all these Hollywood stars and do these sitcoms, anyway, my co-star was Linda Blair. I said, “Linda, you scared me.” She said, “Shut up, I know.” She was really sweet.

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