Risk-taker Silver's not tarnished by past mistakes

by Luaine Lee
The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, 12-08-1995

It wasn't exactly typecasting when TNT hired Ron Silver to play Henry Kissinger in their upcoming movie, "Kissinger and Nixon."

Silver, a slim man with intense, dark eyes and a New York accent, doesn't look or sound anything like the portly, German-born Kissinger.

But Silver was determined. "I did what I usually never do. I pursued it. I called the people and the agents and said, `I want to meet you.' "

The actor, who played flamboyant attorney Alan Dershowitz in "Reversal of Fortune" and a Jewish intellectual in "Enemies, a Love Story," is closer to Kissinger than one would think.

He went to law school, earned his master's degree in Chinese and had every intention of going into the foreign service. But all that was forsaken when he heard the siren song of show biz.

"It was the late '60s, and I was still looking to extend my adolescence as long as it would take me," he says, crossing the room and sitting on a lime-green couch with white dots in a hotel room in Beverly Hills.

"A lot of kids did then. If I can manage to stay a graduate student till I'm 58 or 59, I think they let you take out an IRA at 59 - so it was one of those things," he says, laughing.

Silver is dressed in jeans, a black polo shirt and black suede shoes. He wears tortoise-shell glasses, which he removes and cradles in his right hand.

"Also there was something else in acting. If you don't think you want to go on a train and read the paper every day and work from nine to six at night, there was something about the uncertainty when I was younger which was very attractive."

It was easier for Silver than for most actors, at least at first. His family didn't object to the fact that he was chucking a promising future in international diplomacy. "My parents came from the school, whatever-makes-you-happy-Ronny."

And once he started studying, he was encouraged by prestigious teachers like Uta Hagen and Lee Strasberg.

"I wasn't rejected at first - it might have been better for me, because then I would've seen how tenacious I would've been and how much I really liked it. But I got a job in children's theater, then a job off-Broadway. I said, `This is kind of easy.' Of course, then I realized how difficult it was and how tenacious you have to be and what kind of character you need in the face of all the rejection that was to come later."

Part of that rejection stemmed from Silver's attitude, he confesses, leaning forward, his elbows on his knees.

"There's a certain point in your career where you're not getting the roles you like, where you've made mistakes. I was immature the way I handled the business. I saw myself as a tribune of the people. Where I saw abuse of authority - regardless of who the person was - I thought it was incumbent upon me to let them know that they were abusing the little people."

So for Silver, 49, the spring came early, the winter of his discontent followed close behind.

"In some ways the hardest time is now," he says, rubbing his chin with his left hand. He and his wife of 17 years are divorcing.

"I had to end a relationship with a woman I was deeply in love with here," he says, pointing out the window to the sun-strewn sky, "because she works here, lives here and needs to be here. My children live in New York and I can't get divorced and move away from them. And I'm going through what everybody goes through in their 40s, a reassessment of where you are in your life."

His inamorata is a TV news anchor in Los Angeles. (He prefers not to identify her.) Brightening, he says, "Compared to most people I know and the problems they have, I'm very lucky."

"Kissinger and Nixon," starring Silver and Beau Bridges as Richard Nixon, premieres Sunday on TNT.

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