For nearly four decades, Carol Kane had been putting herself through the Hollywood ringer, schlepping herself to audition after audition. But in 2014, something happened. Kane put her foot down.
She’s been acting since age 14, when she got her start in the play The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and gone to countless tryouts throughout her successful career. But after a particularly harrowing experience, she decided that she was done—with auditioning.
“I went through an audition process that was so long, and I wanted the part so badly,” Kane, 65, recalls. This particular tryout lasted literally for years. While those casting seemed really happy with her, in the end they gave the part to someone else. “I thought I was going to die—like I felt when I was 14 and that happened,” she says.
“I couldn’t get over the feelings I had over not being chosen.”
“I made a decision for self-preservation that I couldn’t audition anymore,” says Kane. “Now mind you, if Marty Scorsese called, I would do anything. But otherwise, I can’t do it anymore. I couldn’t get over the feelings I had over not being chosen. Look, I’m sure that not everybody likes me, and I’m sure some people do. I just have to sort of let the chips fall where they may.”
While her choice was a risky one, it’s worked out well for her. “The weirdest thing is that the outcome has actually been very good,” says Kane. With her wide range of work on film and experience on the stage, she said that people should be able to decide if they want her for a part based on the previous work that she’s done. And they have.
Her Decision-Making Trick
Kane says that she now enjoys her work even more because she’s not worrying about it like she once did. She always makes sure when she accepts a job that there’s one great thing about it—whether that’s covering her mortgage for a year or playing an interesting type of character that she’s always wanted to try.
Kane says that she now enjoys her work even more because she’s not worrying about it like she once did.
For example, when we spoke, she had just returned from Romania, where she was filming the movie The Sisters Brothers with Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly. She got to dress as a pioneer woman and shoot off an 1859 rifle in a field in the middle of nowhere. That’s one of the reasons she loves acting so much. “I get the opportunity to go into another world or life that becomes vivid for me,” she explains. “It’s not my life, but I go in there while I’m playing the character and get to come back and be in my real life.”
From Simka on Taxi to Lillian on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Kane has always gotten to play interesting characters. And she puts a lot into them too. When she played Valerie in The Princess Bride—which recently celebrated its 30th anniversary—she had to spend seven hours in makeup on the first day to complete her transformation. “The makeup was extraordinary. I loved it. It’s worth it because it’s so exciting to be this whole other person,” says Kane. “Everything about it was literally larger than life. The story itself was like a dream, so the whole experience for me was such a great gift. I’ll never get over it, really.”
Getting Priorities Straight
Unlike some actors who prefer performing in one medium over another, Kane says that she loves them all: stage, television, and movies. “The stage is where I feel the most comfortable because that’s where I started. But I love them all. They all have wonderful results if the writing is good,” she says.
But there’s something other than acting that she loves doing: spending time with her dog, Johnny, and her mom.
“I’m so privileged and grateful, and I never want to lose sight of that or take that for granted.”
Johnny often travels with Kane to acting jobs. He’s a rescue dog who experienced trauma before she adopted him. “I never want him to be frightened of being left or hurt again,” she says. When he barks during an interview, Kane quips, “He also defends me against the air, on occasion.”
“At this stage in my life, something that helps make decisions easier is that I am privileged to have my wonderful, brilliant, creative mother still with me,” says Kane. “We get to spend a lot of time together. I’m so privileged and grateful, and I never want to lose sight of that or take that for granted.”
A case in point: In 2005, Kane went on the road, starring in the musical Wicked. While she absolutely loved the experience, she wouldn’t do that today because she would have to be away from her mother. “I wouldn’t even think about it now,” Kane says. “As time becomes limited, certain things are very clear.”
Michele “Wojo” Wojciechowski is a national award-winning writer, author, and humorist based in Baltimore. She’s the author of the humor book Next Time I Move, They’ll Carry Me Out in a Box.
A version of this article was originally published in November 2017.