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He Succeeds by Not Going Hollywood : Movies: Kevin Dunn, who appears in 'Dave,' seems real, and that just may be his secret.


BURBANK — No one would cast Kevin Dunn as the lead in a remake of "The Player." Six years after moving to Los Angeles from Chicago, the 37-year-old actor retains the pallor of his native city, not to mention hair- and waistlines most movie hopefuls would try to disguise. Even Dunn admits he's "not a real Hollywood guy."

Still, Dunn, who appears beside more familiar Hollywood figures Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver in the hit comedy "Dave," has racked up a list of credits that includes "1492," "Chaplin," "Hot Shots!," "Bonfire of the Vanities," "Blue Steel," "Ghostbusters II" and "Mississippi Burning," as well as guest appearances on "Seinfeld," "L.A. Law" and "Roseanne." Dunn's secret? He seems real.

"Dave" director Ivan Reitman claims to have had his eye on Dunn ever since they worked together on "Ghostbusters II." "I love the sound of his voice," Reitman says. "He's a trained actor who sounds like a real person." Reitman cast Dunn in "Dave" because, the director says, he felt Dunn "could bring comedy and reality to the part."

In "Dave," Dunn plays the consummate Washington insider, White House Communications Director Alan Reed. Unlike the recently reassigned Communications Director George Stephanopolous, who could easily pass for a Hollywood parvenu--Reed spurns the spotlight, choosing to wield power from behind the scenes. As the sidekick to an evil chief of staff (Frank Langella), Reed helps establish Dave Kovic (Kline) as a puppet President, when the real President (also played by Kline) suffers heart failure.

Dunn's character appears to be redeemed at the end, when he turns against the chief of staff, but it remains a question whether Reed's change of sides represents moral growth or merely a jump off a sinking ship. The ironic humor with which Dunn portrays his character's moral ambiguity is perhaps the most impressive aspect of his performance.

About his craft, Dunn is enthusiastic but remarkably unpretentious. "I'm not a method actor," he says. "I don't like to see the wheels turning when I watch a performance."

People ask Dunn who he followed around to prepare for his part in "Dave." The answer is nobody; he merely watched press secretaries on TV. Once, when he wanted to properly unload a gun during the filming of "Blue Steel," he enlisted the help of a genuine police officer. But, most of the time, he feels that "the script (is) where the anchor is. Whatever reality you're going to play is on the page."

Dunn, a graduate of Illinois Wesleyan University, is a veteran of the lively Chicago theater scene of the 1980s. Dunn moved west when he with his journalist wife got a job in Orange County. By then Dunn was ready to leave the life of the non-Equity actor. "It was hard--you're doing eight shows a week and 30 or 35 hours a week as a carpenter. I thought, why not give L.A. a shot?"

Among the things that mark Dunn as an out-of-towner in Los Angeles is his intense interest in the current mayoral race; it turns out that Dunn's passion for politics extends well beyond his role in "Dave." "The mayor of the city--that's going to matter to you," he says, complaining about the lack of political coverage by local media.

"Dave's" producer, Lauren Shuler-Donner, remembers Dunn walking around the set with a beeper on his hip, anxiously awaiting the birth of his first child. These days, Dunn shuns beepers. Seizing the time before his next film role, he plays with his 8-month-old son in an old house that the former carpenter is remodeling for his expanded family.

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