Carol Kane is no stranger to working with comic giants -- Woody Allen in the 1977 Oscar winner "Annie Hall," Gene Wilder in "The World's Greatest Lover" (1977) and Andy Kaufman in the classic sitcom "Taxi" from 1980 to 1983.
Now she's co-starring with a different type of comic giant -- a 6-foot-tall invisible rabbit -- in the Roundabout Theatre's revival of "Harvey," opening June 14 at Studio 54 in Manhattan. As a psychiatrist's loopy wife, Kane also shares scenes with Jim Parsons ("The Big Bang Theory"), who plays the title character's best friend, Elwood P. Dowd.
Although she's best known for comedy roles -- in particular her Emmy-winning role as Simka, wife of Kaufman's Latka, on "Taxi" -- Kane's diverse resumé includes an Oscar-nominated turn as a shy Jewish immigrant in the 1975 drama "Hester Street" and a stint as the evil headmistress Madame Morrible in Broadway's "Wicked." Kane, 59, chatted with Newsday about her long and varied career.
What attracted you to "Harvey"?
It's such a charming play. The script is wonderful, and I admired director] Scott Ellis and Jim Parsons. . . . The humor is very pure, and it depends on interactions between people rather than jokes. And that never gets old. It's very sweet and very funny.
So, how much fun has it been working with Jim Parsons?
Everything trickles down from the top. If the person that's the head of the cast is not an agreeable person, that sort of atmosphere is set. And if the person is like Jim, such a kind, generous person, then that's the atmosphere that's set, and it's true.
You grew up in an artistic home -- your mother was a musician and your father was an architect. Did that make you want to be an actress?
I think so. My mother is still a musician. They had beautiful books about the ballet, opera, theater, and I used to just sit on the floor in front of the mirror and try to re-create those makeups, and my imagination was stimulated at a young age.
Did you inherit any of that musical talent?
I'm musical, but I don't play anything, although I've been thinking now I might study with my mother because she teaches improvisation at the keyboard. "Wicked" was my first musical as an adult. I certainly studied, but I'm more in the Rex Harrison family of singing. [Laughs.]
Did growing up in France help you as an actress?
Anything that opens up rather than narrows your mind and imagination is extremely helpful. . . . My parents were brave enough to send my sister, Nina, and I to a school where none of the teachers spoke English. We suffered for weeks and weeks feeling like we would never get it, and then my parents said one day we just came home speaking French. [Laughs.]
Let's talk about some of the other people you've worked with. What was it like making "Annie Hall" with Woody Allen?
I was very nervous because I wanted to make him happy. I hope that's what I accomplished. The most important thing about any role I take on is the writing. And Woody's writing is so spot-on. People think there's so much improvisation in his work, but basically it's written so beautifully that there's no need to improve on it.
What about Andy Kaufman and "Taxi"?
"Taxi" was a great opportunity for me. The thing about my role, Simka, was that I was literally born of Latka. Andy had already created the language and the tone of the imaginary place where Latka was from, so that was already there when I came aboard, and he was just kind enough to teach me all about it. He was a very brave performance artist, and it was unique and amazing to join in with him.
People forget that you're an Oscar-nominated actress. Were you surprised when you got nominated?
I was completely shocked. That was an exquitiste movie, "Hester Street," but it was made for virtually no money, there was no studio involved, there was no distributor. The people that produced and directed , they did everything, and Ray distributed it. He told me John Cassavetes inspired him and taught him about distribution, so the notion that I would be nominated was very far-fetched. The Silvers had hired a wonderful PR guy who had worked for Warner Bros. during the old studio days. He was retired, and he said, I like to bet on a dark horse, so he helped that happen.
Did you think you had a chance at winning?
Not really. I guess everybody has a chance at winning . . . but it was pretty amazing just to be there.