Hollywood’s portrayal of the upper class has varied over the past few decades. In 1940, “The Philadelphia Story” was entertainingly aspirational. Earlier this year, “High Society” was not. Thankfully, the latest project to examine the world of the elite falls closer to the former, though it’s doubtful anyone would aspire to be “The Extra Man.” As Henry Harrison, Kevin Kline plays a society walker who lives in squalor — his tiny walk-up apartment is riddled with vermin and he frequently runs out of clean dress socks, so he paints his ankles black. But every so often, Henry manages to escape his dilapidated existence via a shiny black Town Car sent by 90-year-old wealthy and widowed women who request his company on the social circuit. “It’s a symbiotic parasitic relationship [Henry has] with these women,” Kline says. “But he’s refined it to an art.”
To research the role, Kline relied heavily on Jonathan Ames’ novel of the same name, on which the film is based. And if he needed anything else, well, New York City provided ample material. WWD spoke with Kline to discuss walker watering holes, walker behavior and that walker mecca: Palm Beach.
This story first appeared in the July 23, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
WWD: Before filming, were you familiar with the term “walker?”
Kevin Kline: Oh yeah, I knew what a walker was. I’ve probably even met a few over the years inadvertently, without necessarily knowing that that’s what they were.
WWD: Outside of the book, where did you go to find material for the role?
K.K.: I talked to a waiter friend of mine at a sort of nice restaurant where these types hang out. He told me a great story. There was one [walker] that always came in, and whenever it was time for the bill to come, he’d always step outside to make a phone call or visit the men’s room. It’s wonderfully discreet and humorous. [I also did] a little research about Jerry Zipkin, who was a famous walker.
WWD: Paul Dano [Kline’s co-star] said you two went walker stalking on the East Side.
K.K.: We went to one restaurant because we wanted to meet and have lunch. I asked around and picked a restaurant where we thought we might spot, if not extra men, the kind of women that extra men would escort. I don’t know that we actually saw any [extra men].
WWD: Which restaurant was it?
K.K.: Damned if I can remember, it was so long ago. It was on the East Side. I can’t plug them. I don’t know if they’d look at it as a plug or possibly an insult. I was told 21 was a place to go.
WWD: Henry is always migrating to Palm Beach. Have you ever been?
K.K.: I think I was….Yes, I was there. It certainly wasn’t the side of Palm Beach that Henry Harrison saw. It was just a vacation with our children. And mostly we just saw a lot of people we knew from New York.