Welcome to Questions of Characters, the monthly column that puts a name to some of the most familiar faces in movies, on television, the stage and commercials who either hail from Chicago or have spent enough time here to consider it home.
Name: Kevin Dunn
Chicago connection: Born and raised in Chicago, Dunn is the son of Margaret (a nurse) and John, a musician and poet. He has two brothers and a sister, actress/comedienne Nora Dunn. Though the siblings "used to do obnoxious skits growing up," they have not worked together professionally. Dunn was fascinated by comedians such as Jonathan Winters and Ernie Kovacs growing up, and he remembers, "I wrote a silly play in grade school and I was kind of a mimic." He did some parts in high school musicals, which helped him decide on an acting career.
Career overview: Dunn majored in theater at Illinois Wesleyan University, graduating in 1977. He received an honorary doctorate from them in 2008 (he was also their commencement speaker that year). He spent a dozen years working in the Chicago theater scene with memorable parts in "The Front Page" at the Goodman Theatre; "Time of Your Life" at the now-defunct Remains; "Heart of a Dog," directed by Frank Galati, at Northlight; and "some Irish plays at the Body Politic."
Dunn won a role on the short-lived 1986 television show "Jack and Mike" starring Shelley Hack. Around the same time his relationship with journalist Katina Alexander got serious (the two married that year). When Alexander was offered a job at the Orange County Register in 1987, the couple moved west (they have a son, Jack, now 21, who is a drummer). Within a year Dunn found regular television and film work, and he has more than 100 credits to his name. Films range from the "Transformers" franchise (playing the Shia LeBeouf character's father) to "Dave," "Vicky Christina Barcelona," "1492: Conquest of Paradise," "Unstoppable," "All the King's Men," "Nixon" and "Snake Eyes."
On TV Dunn has made numerous guest appearances on shows from "Seinfeld" to "Harry's Law," appeared as Bette Midler's husband for 11 episodes on her short-lived sitcom, played Christina Applegate's dad on "Samantha Who?" and had recurring roles on "Boston Legal," "7th Heaven," and HBO's "True Detective." Dunn is in the just-opened film "Cesar Chavez" (starring Michael Pena, another native Chicagoan), the upcoming release "Draft Day" (supporting Kevin Costner), and is back beginning April 6th for his third season playing Ben Cafferty, the rather sensitive chief of staff in HBO's comedy hit "Veep," with Julia Louis-Dreyfus. The following is an edited transcript.
Q: I think you're the quintessential definition of a character actor — you can and have played everything.
A: Thank you. I've had some nice compliments. Theater training was good for that — you were never playing you. When I first got out to LA, I did a lot of guest stuff on sitcoms as mostly troubled people — obnoxious, desperate sorts. That was good training and a good way to establish yourself — getting in and out of people's skin. My career's pretty much maintained that.
Q: Can you offer any hints about what will happen this season on "Veep?"
A: Hint-wise, she (Julia Louis-Dreyfus' Vice President Selina Meyer) certainly gets out of the East Wing. She's got a lot more opportunities to get into trouble (laughs) and consequently get us all into trouble. It's busting out of the seams of the D.C. world.
Q: Perhaps even more intriguing, any idea about what's up with Season 2 of "True Detective?"?
A: I have no idea. I know Nic (Pizzolatto) is writing it right now. I think it's going to be a totally different eight-episode arc. Myself and many people would like to see those guys (Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey) go at it again.
Q: Who are you most often mistaken for?
A: A lot of time with character people they can't remember where they saw you so they think they know you from real life. When my son was in third grade, he had a really nice teacher but for some reason the guy didn't like me. I found out halfway through the year why when he apologized to me. He said, "I thought you were a dad that had a son here that you were really mean to and then I realized that I saw you in that Beach Boys miniseries as that mean father who mistreated his kids."
Q: I understand that reaction — you were really mean in that. OK, which actor(s) would you nominate for the Character Actor Hall of Fame? Why?
A: Everyone from Gene Hackman to Woody or Matthew ) — they're leading men but they're pretty incredible character actors. There are so many — ask me when we're having a drink (laughs)!
Q: What's a typical character role you have played often?
A: Even with Ben on "Veep" he's kinda this manic depressive who can function very well but he really has a hard time doing it. I think I've done that in a lot of roles that I've played. I'm attracted to those kinds of things – that gives you a lot more to play. A lot of time you're filling a role in a cop drama — that kind of thing. Those are fine but it's fun to play roles like Ben that have baggage. Baggage is fun.
Q: What's a character part that you would like to play?
A: I'd like to play a really good role in the next "True Detective." (Big laugh).
Q: Most unusual character/costume/location/prop?
A: I played a Spanish conquistador in "Almost Heroes" with Chris Farley and Matthew Perry and a bunch of funny people. I thought it was a pretty funny movie. I had this incredibly long black wig and my character thought he had the most beautiful hair in the world, and I clomped around in this breastplate and threatening people that if they didn't like my hair I would kill them.
Q: Talk about baggage.
A: Yes — and under the wig I was bald — of course.
Q: Has being from Chicago had an influence on your acting career?
A: Absolutely. It's a working-class town and a lot of people who come out of there are working-class people. I think the more you get exposed to different things in life — I can't count the horrible jobs I had out of college — I think that's the best training there is. Because you're always put in different situations where you have to learn how to become different people. So yeah, Chicago is a big part of it.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun