Kevin Kline: An actor's actor

Actor Kevin Kline
CBS News

(CBS News) Kevin Kline won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the 1988 film, "A Fish Called Wanda." Though his memorable roles have won him a loyal following, the role itself has to win him over first. Never a sure thing, as Tracy Smith tells us in this Sunday Profile:

He's made a name for himself as the man who can play anyone -- from president to pirate, Motown lover to madman.

Kevin Kline has built a reputation as an actor's actor. He's also famously picky about choosing his projects -- so much so, in fact, that he's known in certain Hollywood circles as "Kevin Decline."

"Oh, yeah, yeah. But you know, I don't think I turn down as many parts more than normal actors do. You can't do everything."

But he did do this one: "Last Vegas" is a comedy about four longtime pals on a final, boozy, geriatric romp through Sin City, with a cast that looks like the front row at an Oscar ceremony: Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, and Kline.

"In the 'Last Vegas' trailer, it says, 'Four legends come together,'" said Smith. "What's it like to hear that word applied to you?"

"It's a lovely advertising ploy," Kline laughed, "and I love being lumped in with these 'four legends' -- three legends and Kline."

Kevin Kline, Morgan Freeman, Robert De Niro and Michael Douglas in "Last Vegas." CBS Films

"People would argue with you about that."

"I have not done nearly the amount of commercially successful movies that these guys have."

"Is that what makes a legend?"

"Apparently -- so it has nothing to do with talent!" he laughed.

"Is that by design that you haven't done as many commercially successful moves as the other guys?" Smith asked.

"Yes, I've avoided success as much as possible," he replied. "It's a family thing. It's partially my own doing, but I mean, Morgan [Freeman] and I just shared the same agent for 35 years (he's now retired), he used to say, 'Why don't you want to do this movie? This is going to be a very commercially successful movie.' And I'd say, 'I'm sure it is, but I think it's crap, I'm sorry.'

"I just try to do what interests me at the moment. And I've made a lot of probably stupid career choices!"

Fans might take issue with that. Still, Kline says he had to be talked into some of his most successful roles, like a Tony-winning performance on Broadway.

"When I was offered 'Pirates of Penzance,' two years before that I had done a musical on Broadway that was a lot of physical comedy, called 'On the Twentieth Century.' And I said, 'Well, no, this was more of the same, I've already done that.' But I got sort of talked into it, and it was a good thing, because Alan Pakula saw me in it and cast me in 'Sophie's Choice.'"

In his first big film, Kline's role as charming hothead Nathan Landau made him a movie star -- an overnight success that was a long time coming.