Better than 'Almost Perfect' Actor: Kevin Kilner made the jump from soap operas to films, and he stars in tonight's CBS movie, 'Timepiece.'

December 22, 1996|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

For a guy whose year included being dumped from his co-starring role in the TV sitcom "Almost Perfect," Kevin Kilner sounds pretty upbeat about 1996. He even refuses to complain about the fate of his character, Los Angeles Assistant District Attorney Mike Ryan, who was written out of the show in September's season premiere.

"I went from being a New York theater actor to the point where, everywhere I go in this country, and even overseas, people recognize me and stop me. 'Almost Perfect' put me on the map," says Kilner. The Baltimore County native's career trajectory has gone from Dulaney High and Johns Hopkins lacrosse standout to banker to barely-making-it-actor to sitcom boyfriend and now to the starring role in tonight's CBS holiday movie, "Timepiece."

All in all, he reflects, 1996 has worked out pretty well. After his departure from "Almost Perfect," he did a guest shot on Showtime's "Poltergeist: The Series" and filmed a TV movie starring "NYPD Blue's" Kim Delaney that's scheduled to air in February. Right now, he's calling from Chicago, where he's two weeks into filming "Home Alone 3," playing the father to kid-star-in-the-making Alex D. Linz.

And tonight on WJZ, Channel 13, it's "Timepiece," a prequel to last season's acclaimed "The Christmas Box." In it Kilner and Naomi Watts portray a young 1940s couple whose lives are shattered by a family tragedy, but restored by a Christmas visit that reminds them of the power of forgiveness. Fans of "Box," which was based on Richard Paul Evans' best-selling novelette ("Timepiece," his second book, was published earlier this year), already know what that tragedy is, and they'll recognize the mother as Mary Parkin, the persnickety old woman played in the earlier telefilm by Maureen O'Hara.

Like its predecessor, "Timepiece" is a paean to traditional Christian values, especially faith, family and forgiveness. Angels float in and out of the plot, good triumphs over all, and people do the right thing. Which, Kilner believes, explains the stories' popularity.

"They appeal to the best part of people, or at least to the best part of themselves that they aspire to," he says. "I like to think that we all aspire to being compassionate, being forgiving, being loyal, and having a set of ethics and standards by which we live our lives."

But more important, at least as far as Kilner is concerned, is his character's journey "from being at worst an atheist and at best an agnostic, to someone who becomes a believer in the power of faith and love and forgiveness and understanding. For someone who begins with very little faith, I think he ends up believing in a higher power and being changed by it."

It's the journey itself, he says, and not so much where it takes him, that attracted Kilner to the role.

"The most interesting stories to me are stories where a character starts out in one place and learns something, and comes to hopefully a better place, of more understanding and more empathy or compassion for whatever situation he's been put through."

For Kilner, "Timepiece" represents the next step in his own journey, one that may have taken awhile to get started, but has unfolded quickly since his 1994 breakthrough role in the Broadway revival of Tennessee Williams' "The Glass Menagerie."

The role came just as Kilner was getting ready to abandon any hope of making a living as an actor. After nine years in New York, scraping by on money earned in commercials (he was the guy with the beer-loving dog in a series of mid-'80s spots for Stroh's beer) and the occasional play, he was ready to chuck it all and go back to school, with an eye toward a career teaching and maybe coaching lacrosse. He had auditioned for "The Glass Menagerie" two months earlier, but had heard nothing.

"I was doing comedy in the Berkshires, expecting to go back to school in the fall, when I got the call," he remembers.

His performance as the Gentleman Caller earned Kilner a Theater World award as one of Broadway's top newcomers, as '' well as nominations for the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle awards. It also earned him the praise of "Menagerie" star Julie Harris, who told him she had seen plenty of Gentleman Callers, including the original more than 50 years ago, but never one to match his. When "Menagerie's" producers insisted they wanted a big name for the role, she refused to star in the play unless Kilner was cast.

High praise indeed, and one both critics and casting directors seemed to agree with. "It sort of put me on the map in the New York theater world," Kilner says of his three-month stint in the play. "Doors that were previously closed to me were now opened."

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