Kevin Chamberlin has said that his huge frame and bald head are the reasons why his career as a Broadway and film character actor took off when he was in his mid-30s, while some "pretty-boy," leading-man types were mourning the ends of their careers at the same age.
Weighing in at 260 pounds, the actor who stole countless scenes in New York productions of "My Favorite Year" (1992), "Triumph of Love" (1997) and "Dirty Blonde" (2000) has been playing second-banana roles since he was a kid growing up in Moorestown, New Jersey. Chamberlin got his first taste of performing on stage when he was just seven years old, playing Huck Finn in a grammar school production of "Tom Sawyer." After that, he was hooked, and tried out for plays all throughout high school although his size often worked against him, relegating him to the roles of goofy sidekick and "the big guy who's sweet" (i.e., Smee in "Peter Pan," Mr. Bumble in "Oliver!," and the Cowardly Lion in "The Wizard of Oz"). Tired of always being passed over for leading man parts, Chamberlin opted to give up drama club and joined his high school wrestling team for a year, eventually earning the title of state heavyweight champion, but much to his coach's chagrin, the lure of the greasepaint proved too enticing and he resumed his theater-related activities.
After high school, Chamberlin headed off to Rutgers University to study theater, graduating in 1985. He then moved to NYC and spent some time playing piano at auditions and teaching voice while he was waiting for his big break, which came in 1990 when he played a preacher in the Off-Broadway play "Smoke on the Mountain," for which he received good notices from critics.
In 1992, Chamberlin collaborated for the first time with composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens on "My Favorite Year," a musical performed at Lincoln Center, which was considered a flop, but still earned its star Andrea Martin a Tony. Chamberlin, who had a small part in the show, likewise earned good notices for his performance. Two years later, he formed another important working relationship, this time with director-playwright James Lapine, when they worked together on the musical "Muscle," originally announced as half of a double bill with "Passion" to be written by Lapine and Stephen Sondheim. When the composer-lyricist lost interest and concentrated on "Passion," William Finn and Ellen Fitzhugh stepped in to complete the score. Although the show went through the workshop process, with Lapine directing, there were too many problems to overcome and the show was abandoned.
After that, Chamberlin decided to concentrate on TV and movie acting for a little while, landing small parts in the blockbusters "Die Hard: With a Vengeance" (1995) and "In and Out" (1997) and a gig as a series regular on the CBS drama "New York News" (1995), co-starring Mary Tyler Moore and Madeline Kahn. The actor returned to the stage with an outstanding performance as a henchman in the critically acclaimed musical "Triumph of Love" (1997), which starred Betty Buckley and F Murray Abraham.
Although always a favorite with critics and audiences alike, Chamberlin really didn't come into his own until 2000 when he was nominated for his first Tony for his performance as one of Mae West's most ardent fans--as well as many of the men in her life--in the Claudia Shear play "Dirty Blonde," staged by Lapine. On the heels of that accomplishment, Chamberlin was finally given the chance to ascend from character actor to leading man in the film "Herman, USA" (lensed 2000), which was based on the true story of a Minnesota farmer who--along with a number of other men in his farming community--advertises for a bride. That was also the year Chamberlin nabbed the plum role of Horton the Elephant in Flaherty and Ahrens' eagerly anticipated "Seussical: The Musical," a show based on the works of legendary children's book author Dr. Seuss. Chamberlin was thrilled to finally be offered what he called a big ballad romantic lead, something character actors are rarely given the chance to play. Reflecting on his new leading-man status, Chamberlin expressed his elation at finally getting the girl, even if, in this case, he was playing an elephant and she happened to be a bird.
Cast (Feature Film)
Made stage debut at age seven, starring as Huck Finn in an elementary school production of "Tom Sawyer"
Cast as a preacher in the Off-Broadway play, "Smoke on the Mountain
Played featured role in the ill-fated musical, "My Favorite Year"; based on the 1982 Peter O'Toole movie
Had recurring role on the PBS children's show "Ghostwriter"
Began collaboration with director/playwright James Lapine by working on the failed musical, "Muscle"; produced in workshop under Lapine's direction
Appeared opposite Bruce Willis in "Die Hard: With a Vengeance" as an enthusiastic bomb defusal expert
Debuted as series regular, co-starring with Mary Tyler Moore, on the CBS series "New York News"
Played a henchman in the short-lived Broadway musical, "Triumph of Love"
Had small role in the blockbuster comedy "In and Out"
Received rave reviews for his multiple-character performance in the Drama Dept's revival of "As Thousands Cheer"
Participated in the workshop of the Stephen Sondheim-John Weidman musical, "Wise Guys"; directed by Sam Mendes
Played a supporting role in the low-budget, gay-themed movie, "Trick"
Featured opposite Susan Sarandon, in the HBO movie, "Earthly Possessions"; directed by Lapine
Cast as Horton the Elephant in the Broadway musical, "Seussical: The Musical"; received Tony nomination
Earned a Tony nomination for playing multiple roles in the three-actor play, "Dirty Blonde"; once again directed by Lapine
Was featured in the Off-Broadway comedy, "Wonder of the World"
Had supporting role in "The Road to Perdition"; directed by Sam Mendes
Featured in the NBC miniseries, "Kingpin"
Appeared in the thriller "Suspect Zero," starring Aaron Eckhart and Ben Kingsley
Had a recurring role on ABC's "Jake in Progress"
Appeared as a thug in "Lucky Number Slevin"
Cast as the eccentric office manager in Lifetime's "State of Mind"
Had a recurring role on NBC's "Heroes"
Co-starred in Ang Lee's "Taking Woodstock"
Cast as Uncle Fester, opposite Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth, in the Broadway musical "The Addams Family"; earned a Tony Award nomination for Featured Actor in a Musical