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After nearly a decade of professional success on the stand-up comedy circuit, where he was known for his acute impressions, Kevin Pollak added the "actor" hyphenate to his name and enjoyed a long second act as a film and television player. Pollak made his mark as a character actor who often appeared as cynical, droll sidekicks to leading men like Arnold Schwarzenegger in the thriller "End of Days" (1999) and opposite Walter Matthau as the comedy legend's son in the "Grumpy Old Men" films (1993, 1995). Pollak's talent for accents was well-showcased in popular comedies like "The Whole Nine Yards" (2000) and the animated family film "A Shark's Tale" (2004), though the comedian-turned-actor earned the most critical praise for his dramatic performances, like his breakout roles in the indie crime thriller "The Usual Suspects" (1995), the courtroom drama "A Few Good Men" (1992), and the HBO miniseries "From the Earth to the Moon" (HBO, 1998). While maintaining a well-regarded career as a stand-up comedian and television personality, Pollak proved a versatile Hollywood talent with the ability to inject an often-needed edginess into mainstream comedies, while also balancing that with surprisingly dramatic...
After nearly a decade of professional success on the stand-up comedy circuit, where he was known for his acute impressions, Kevin Pollak added the "actor" hyphenate to his name and enjoyed a long second act as a film and television player. Pollak made his mark as a character actor who often appeared as cynical, droll sidekicks to leading men like Arnold Schwarzenegger in the thriller "End of Days" (1999) and opposite Walter Matthau as the comedy legend's son in the "Grumpy Old Men" films (1993, 1995). Pollak's talent for accents was well-showcased in popular comedies like "The Whole Nine Yards" (2000) and the animated family film "A Shark's Tale" (2004), though the comedian-turned-actor earned the most critical praise for his dramatic performances, like his breakout roles in the indie crime thriller "The Usual Suspects" (1995), the courtroom drama "A Few Good Men" (1992), and the HBO miniseries "From the Earth to the Moon" (HBO, 1998). While maintaining a well-regarded career as a stand-up comedian and television personality, Pollak proved a versatile Hollywood talent with the ability to inject an often-needed edginess into mainstream comedies, while also balancing that with surprisingly dramatic turns.
Born Oct. 30, 1957, Pollak was raised in San Jose, CA, where by the age of 10, he was laying his career foundation by lip-synching to the routines of Bill Cosby. He began touring at 20, and after winning second place in the San Francisco International Comedy Competition in 1982, moved to Los Angeles to further pursue a show business career. At such comedy clubs as The Improv, Pollak showcased his dead-on impressions of William Shatner, Christopher Walken and Peter Falk (with his single roving eye), but like most of his stand-up colleagues, he hoped to segue into screen work. He received his first shot with the screwball comedy flop, "Million Dollar Mystery" (1987), and planted his foot in the sitcom door with a regular role as the imperious manager of a retirement community in the short-lived "Coming of Age" (CBS, 1988-89). Pollak teamed with Rick Overton to provide comic relief as a pair of Brownies in the Ron Howard fantasy "Willow" (1988), and his first solo comedy special - part of the HBO series "One Night Stand" - led to frequent guest spots on Johnny Carson's "The Tonight Show" (NBC, 1954- ).
When Barry Levinson cast Pollak as Aidan Quinn's business partner in the period drama "Avalon" (1990), Hollywood began to take notice of the comic's potential on the big screen. His profile rose with a role as Steve Martin's unscrupulous agent who sleeps with his girlfriend in "L.A. Story" (1991) and supporting appearances in the Gene Wilder/Richard Pryor comedy "Another You" (1991) and the Denzel Washington thriller "Ricochet" (1991). Rob Reiner cast Pollak for the sitcom "Morton & Hayes" (1991), in which he was teamed with Bob Amaral to play forgotten clowns of the 1930s and '40s, much in the vein of Laurel and Hardy or Abbott and Costello. The esoteric series failed to win over audiences, but Pollak's introduction to Reiner led to the actor earning substantial praise for his portrayal of legal assistant Lieutenant Sam Weinberg alongside Tom Cruise and Demi Moore in Reiner's military courtroom drama, "A Few Good Men" (1992). From his performance in that Academy Award-nominated film, Pollak went on to headline his own HBO special, "Stop with the Kicking: Kevin Pollak in Concert" (HBO, 1992).
Over the next few years, Pollak built up his resume with supporting turns in mainstream comedies like "Wayne's World 2" (1993) and "Grumpy Old Men" (1993), as well as the Dana Carvey flop, "Clean Slate" (1994). The comic was mostly heard and not seen in his recurring role as Drew Carey's elusive and unlikable department store boss on "The Drew Carey Show" (ABC, 1995-2004). But the comedian's next major feature film success was another drama, with Pollak demonstrating considerable pathos as the "soulless bastard" in the critically lauded indie neo-noir, "The Usual Suspects" (1995). The film received a National Board of Review Award for Best Acting by an Ensemble, in addition to multiple Academy Award wins, and led to Pollak's opportunity to work with Martin Scorsese as an innocent front man in the filmmaker's Vegas epic, "Casino" (1995). Following a character reprisal in "Grumpier Old Men" (1995) and a teaming with Jamie Lee Curtis in the uneven crime comedy "House Arrest" (1996), Pollak had a prominent role in Kiefer Sutherland's gritty directorial debut, "Truth or Consequences, N.M." (1997). In 1998, Pollak was nominated for a Golden Satellite Award for his portrayal of NASA aerospace engineer Joe Shea in HBO's "From the Earth to the Moon" (1998), which earned Emmy and Golden Globe Awards for Best Miniseries.
The increasingly respected actor made a few curious choices in low-brow comedies before rounding out the decade with his first feature film starring role, delivering a persuasive performance as a U.S. President confronting a world crisis from the confines of a snowbound diner in the thriller "Deterrence" (1999). While that indie was little seen, Pollak hit mainstream theaters that same year in the apocalyptic Arnold Schwarzenegger blockbuster "End of Days" (1999), in which Pollak arguably offered the film's most entertaining moments as Schwarzenegger's sardonic sidekick. Returning to series television, Pollak had a guest spot on the quirky "Ed" (NBC, 2000-04) and was cast in a starring role opposite Nancy Travis as married attorneys in the sitcom "Work with Me" (CBS, 1999), though that unappealing show lasted barely a month on the air. Pollak fared better with his broad, exaggerated performance as a Hungarian gangster in the successful Bruce Willis/Matthew Perry comedy, "The Whole Nine Yards" (2000). His dramatic successes rapidly receded into the past with supporting roles in lackluster films "The Wedding Planner" (2001), "3,000 Miles to Graceland" (2001) and the cross-dressing comedy, "Juwanna Man" (2002), though his voice role as an alligator in the popular Eddie Murphy family film "Dr. Dolittle 2" (2001) did broaden his acting scope.
The often-prickly comedian made for an unlikely god of love, Cupid, in the holiday film "The Santa Claus 2" and returned to theaters the next winter in another family holiday film, "Blizzard" (2003). He went off-book to host the first season of "Celebrity Poker Showdown" (Bravo, 2003-06) and reprised his role of ancient father Lazlo Gogolak in the sequel "The Whole Ten Yards" (2004). He next appeared as a shady accountant possessing a disc of damning digital information in "Hostage" (2005), a cliché-ridden thriller starring Bruce Willis as a former hostage negotiator-turned-small town police officer. In 2005, Pollak was one of the dozens of comedians recruited to contribute their telling of an infamous show business in-joke in the ribald documentary, "The Aristocrats," and returned to the family audience fold by reprising his role in "The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause" (2005). Pollak journeyed back to television in the Sci-Fi Channel miniseries "The Lost Room" (2006) and showcased his infamous William Shatner impression at the Comedy Central Roast of Captain Kirk that same year. He had a leading role in the Lifetime movie "The Staircase Murders" (2007) before he was cast in a recurring role as a district attorney on the legal drama, "Shark" (CBS, 2006-08).
Teaming with Matthew Perry a second time, Pollak played the screenwriting partner of a clinically depressed Perry in the little-seen drama, "Numb" (2007) and had a supporting role in the teen romantic comedy "Picture This" (2008) starring Disney starlet Ashley Tisdale. Amid an appearance on the HBO series "Entourage" (HBO, 2004- ) and a number of direct-to-video film releases, Pollak launched his own Internet chat show in 2009.
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"I pretty much learned the style I have come to enjoy from director Barry Levinson in 'Avalon'. It was the 'Less is more' theory. His nurturing during the film was about being loose and natural. A general looseness that creates authenticity and reality. As a comedian, I've been influenced by Albert Brooks, Bill Cosby and Woody Allen. From Cosby, I learned timing and nuance; from Allen, I learned intellectual silliness, and from Brooks, cerebral angst. Also Mark Twain, from whom I really learned the importance of cynicism and sarcasm.
"'Avalon' will always be the most important [role]. It was my first legitimate acting. [But my favorite role came in] 'A Few Good Men' because what I learned on 'Avalon' about less is more was taken to the next level . . . If you can actually do nothing in a scene and be interesting, you've won the battle. I never got so much attention for doing so little, as far as the subtlety of that portrayal." --Kevin Pollak quoted in Daily News, May 10, 1994
On why he continues doing stand-up: "As rewarding as a good film role can be, there is just nothing like getting up on a stage and taking an audience for a ride. You make a movie, and the audience may not see it for another ten months. Here, you know immediately their reaction." --Kevin Pollak to James Brady in Parade, January 8, 1995
On serious Method actors: "I understand the process and I respect the technique, but I still want to slap them and say, get over yourself. I'd rather have fun between takes than be in silence while they brood and find their place again." --Pollak quoted in USA Today, August 21, 1995
"I did 'The Tonight Show' a dozen times when Johnny was the reigning king. One time, on the air, I taught him to do the Peter Falk single roving eye, and every single time I did his show after that, as I'd shake his hand, Johnny would lean forward and do a little Columbo for me. I had an inside joke with the king! It was just the coolest." --Pollak to People, October 9, 1995
"When Rod Lurie told me he was writing a script for me where I play the president, I said, 'You're insane!' I said he needed a big, charismatic, born-to-be-leader guy.
"But [Lurie] said the character is more like Harry Truman, in the sense that he's an Everyman. And it all started to make sense, because being an Everyman is what I try to bring to every role." --Pollak to Robert Dominguez in the Daily News, March 9, 2000
"I'm a rabid fan of cinema, and I go to the movies every day. I haven't missed a day in 17 year, and there's alot of crap out there." --Kevin Pollak to Empire, September 1995
"I'd rather have Tom Hanks' career. But I am exceeigly grateful and happy with the career I have. The leading man will always need a best friend, and I've been able to do almost 30 films in the last 10 years based on that theory." --Pollak to Daily News, March 9, 2000
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