Kevin Pollak is in the enviable position of not knowing whether to call himself an actor or a comedian. Pollak started doing stand-up routines more than 30 years ago. But he also has appeared in 70 movies, including roles in "A Few Good Men" (1992) and "The Usual Suspects" (1995).
Kevin Pollak is in the enviable position of not knowing whether to call himself an actor or a comedian.
Pollak started doing stand-up routines more than 30 years ago. But he also has appeared in 70 movies -- 40 in the 1990s alone -- including roles in "A Few Good Men" (1992) and "The Usual Suspects" (1995).
"'A Few Good Men' changed things. It was monumental," said Pollak, noting that after the Jack Nicholson-Tom Cruise hit ("You can't handle the truth"), he started receiving movie offers instead of having to continually audition.
Pollak said getting movie parts allowed him to take a 10-year break from doing stand-up. "The early '90s marked the death of the stand-up comedy boom that had started in the 1980s. It was easy to drift away at that time," he said in a telephone interview.
But Pollak started touring again in 2001, seeking the immediate gratification you get from a live audience.
"When you're making a movie, you're spending one hour on the set and 11 hours in your trailer out of a 12-hour day," he said.
"I missed the live experience. With a movie, you have to wait nine months to get an audience reaction," said Pollak, 52, admitting that he now hits the road "sporadically."
Pollak's comedy work still leaves him time to get before the cameras. "Sometimes I have to reschedule dates due to movie or TV obligations," he said.
Pollak's film work is in the grand tradition of Jack Oakie or, more recently, Dan Hedaya, someone able to play the pal, the third guy at the table, the friend at the office. "I can be in and out (of filming) in six or seven weeks versus 12 or more for the stars," he said.
As a result, Pollak says playing character roles allows him to appear in three to five movies a year.
So is he a comic or thespian?
"When I fill out a serious form (such as the papers for his new home in L.A.), I will put down actor. On a lesser form, I put comedian," he said.
Pollak assumes his biggest asset on the screen is that audiences can identify with him.
"Outside of the lovable sociopath I played in 'Usual Suspects,' I guess I represent the everyman," he said.
Everyman might also describe Pollak's comedy act.
"My core routines rely on personal anecdotes from working in movies," he said. That works nicely since Pollak's act includes impersonations of iconic figures like Christopher Walken, Alan Arkin and Jack Nicholson.
Pollak said his current tour is in support of a one-hour TV special that airs on Showtime next Thursday. "I haven't done a special in a long time. There are so many comedy specials these days I just didn't think anyone really cares anymore," he said.
But Pollak said he was persuaded to do the program for his fans. Yet even fresh material has a limited shelf life, he said.
"Certain bits have evolved (since he taped them seven months ago). I have to change a routine each time. New ideas always develop," said Pollak.
"The act is a constant evolution once you find your voice, your point of view," he said.
Pollak's point of view will come through on his latest project, a film he wrote and plans to direct.
"Billy Bob Thornton has agreed to do one of the leads. It's a whodunit, a contemporary film noir," he said.
While there are some funny moments, Pollak's film is designed to make the audience work, he said.
"Ultimately, people want to think," said Pollak, adding that Hollywood powers often think differently.
But before Pollak's magnum opus arrives at the multiplex, he's got three movies in the can. First, there's "Middle Men" (due out next month) that stars Luke Wilson in a story about the pioneers of Internet commerce (and porn). Later, there's "Columbus Circle," a film he co-wrote with "Middle Men" director George Gallo; and "The Big Year," a comedy about competitive birdwatching starring Steve Martin and Jack Black.
As for Pollak's future, it looks secure.
"As long as the leading man needs a best friend or attorney, I'll continue to work," he said.
Journal Star writer Steve Tarter can be reached at email@example.com.