October 20, 2019

Richard Kind Enters Virtual Reality in ‘Auggie’

Richard Kind; Photos courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films

Over the past three decades, Richard Kind has worked steadily in theater and on screen, amassing more than 230 credits in film and television, including six animated Pixar movies. Working mostly in comedies, the Second City comedy troupe alumnus has played memorable supporting roles in “Mad About You,” “Red Oaks,” “Spin City,” “Argo,” “A Serious Man” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” to name a few.  But Kind’s latest role marks a welcome change of pace for the veteran actor. He plays the lead in “Auggie,” a sci-fi fable about a man who takes virtual reality a little too far.

From first-time feature director Matt Kane, Kind plays architect Felix Greystone, who is forced into early retirement. His wife’s career is thriving and time consuming, which leaves him alone, lonely and depressed. He finds salvation in the form of AUGGIE, a pair of augmented reality glasses that conjure up a beautiful young manifestation of his imagination (Christen Harper) to keep him company. When the virtual companion becomes an obsession, Felix’s relationships with his wife (Susan Blackwell) and daughter (Simone Policano) are threatened. 

“From the script, I could tell that it was a very good movie,” Kind, 62, told the Journal, “and it had something to say. It was a lead role, which I don’t necessarily get. And though there are funny and ironic things that happen in it, it’s not a comedy. It’s a lot like a ‘Black Mirror’ episode,” he said, referencing the Netflix series. “It’s a cautionary tale.”

Kind also acknowledged similarities to the movies “Her” and “2001: A Space Odyssey,” in which man’s relationship with machine becomes too close. “These machines are invading our lives in a way we’re not prepared for,” he said, admitting that he is wary of technology and is not an early adopter of the latest gadgets. “I am my grandfather. Whenever I have a problem I give it to my kids to figure out,” the father of Skyler, 17, and twins Samantha and Max, 14, said. “They go, ‘Dad, you type so slow!’ Old dogs, new tricks.” 

“Some people only know me as Jewish characters and I can’t change that. That’s Hollywood. I don’t want to be pigeonholed. I want to play all kinds of different roles, roles I haven’t done already.” — Richard Kind

Kind has tried virtual reality glasses on for size, and found them “pretty cool.” But filming scenes opposite a virtual character was another matter. “There’s a sex scene in it that’s not so sexy. It was very difficult to act that. You usually get energy and reaction from the eyes of the person you’re talking to, and here I’m having an intimate conversation talking to air,” he said. “I’ve acted with green screen a lot and I don’t enjoy it, but that’s the nature of filmmaking today.”

Kind has wanted to act since childhood, when his grandparents would take him to Broadway shows and he got involved with school plays. Although he was pre-law at Northwestern University, he decided to take a year off to see if he could make a go of it in theater. He worked on stage for a decade before breaking into TV in the mid-1980s, and has continued to act in plays like “The Producers,” “Travesties,” “Candide” and “The Big Knife,” for which he was nominated for a Tony Award.

He has several upcoming roles on TV, including Spectrum’s reboot of “Mad About You,” reprising his role as Dr. Mark Devanow. “I joke that people under 30 will not know the show, and people over 30 will not be able to find it,” he said. Debuting Nov. 20, the sitcom picks up two decades after we last saw the Buchmans (Paul Reiser, Helen Hunt), whose baby daughter Mabel is now going off to college. “The original show was of such high quality and we’re only on the first episode but it’s superior writing,” Kind said. “It’s not good — it’s great.”

He will also appear this season in an episode of “A Million Little Things” as an old friend of the deceased character Jon (Ron Livingston) who just found about his death, and he’ll continue to guest-star as Ira Rosenbloom on “Young Sheldon.” He’ll play a hotel owner in the indie comedy “The Bellman” and a father who abandons his family in “The Magnificent Meyersons.”

Like a lot of Kind’s roles, most of these characters are Jewish. He acknowledges the typecasting, but resists it whenever possible. “Some people only know me as Jewish characters and I can’t change that. That’s Hollywood,” he said. “I don’t want to be pigeonholed. I want to play all kinds of different roles, roles I haven’t done already.”

A Spanish Jew on his mother’s side and of German ancestry on his father’s (the family name was originally Kinder), Kind grew up in a “very Reform” family. “We went to a great Reform temple
on the High Holy Days. I was bar
mitzvahed and confirmed. I’m very proud of my heritage and I believe in God,”
he said.

He grew up in Princeton, N.J., where his father owned a jewelry store, and now lives in New York, commuting to Los Angels as needed for work. “One reason I live in New York and raise my children here is they get a very diverse upbringing,” he said. “They interact with all sorts of people. I believe that diversity is the only thing that will save our world.” 

Kind is also relieved that none of his teens is interested in his notoriously precarious profession, his own success notwithstanding. “I am thrilled,” he said. “I have raised them well.”

“Auggie” opens in theaters Sept. 20.