The real-life Hilton: ‘Shakespeare in Love’ actor Joel Klein

Written by by Staff Writer at CNN

Joel Klein is one of those sappy middle-aged British celebrities. He apparently loves all your holidays, and new national holidays with severe budget restrictions.

The ever-talkative Klein traveled to Dallas this week for Thanksgiving, where he surprised his wife Debbie with tickets to the game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Oakland Raiders.

“Two Christmas presents, a daughter’s birthday, a birthday for my dad, and the date where we were set to get married,” says Debbie. “So I said to my sister-in-law, ‘yeah, I’ll take it!'”

It’s this kind of escapism that propelled Klein, a 47-year-old film producer and musician, into showbiz. Growing up in Brixton, south London, with a mum in the fashion industry and a dad in the music business, he never lost his interest in the theater.

“I loved acting, even as a child,” he says. “Not only that, I actually got a job in a puppet theatre.”

Around the same time, he was also interested in jazz and became involved in it with bands playing in local jazz bars. He was cast in his first film during the nascent indie film boom in the early 1990s, and went on to work in many of the biggest films of that decade, including “Much Ado About Nothing,” “Bowfinger,” “Conan the Barbarian,” and “Stardust.”

Things really took off with “Shakespeare in Love,” with him landing the role of Hector in the film, and eventually starring in a Broadway play alongside a young Colin Firth.

Thanksgiving at Klein’s house Credit: Courtesy of Joel Klein

The films left an indelible impression on Klein.

“I think they were the movies that defined my career and put me on the map,” he says. “It’s an eclectic bunch, but films like ‘Princess Bride,’ ‘Rambo,’ ‘Shakespeare in Love,’ ‘Next Top Model,’ ‘Moulin Rouge,’ and ‘Titanic’ are the first movies I saw when I came out to Los Angeles in 1999.

“And to me it seemed like that was the beginning of that decade — each year I saw ‘Shakespeare in Love’ or ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ that year and I think it transformed my life. It changed my identity.”

But it was also a time when he was treated differently.

“I think back on them now and the acting was all day long on these enormous sound stages,” he says. “It was fun when I was in my twenties, but they had all these extras that didn’t look anything like me. I never felt special.

“But with early work, suddenly that actor with ‘dashing good looks’ was in my life every day. Once I started working on smaller productions — ‘Bowfinger,’ ‘Super Size Me,’ ‘Ghosts of Girlfriends Past’ — and a lot of us broke through and it became more professional. That was a big change.”

Still, Klein, who has been with his wife for 20 years and has one daughter, says the films leave a lasting impression.

“I still talk about ‘Titanic’ a lot, and I will keep on talking about ‘Shakespeare in Love,’ ‘Rambo,’ ‘Shakespeare’ and ‘Sunset Boulevard.’ I cannot say what I will think next but I really love being around these films, even if I don’t remember much of them.”

The real-life Hilton

If the past decade is a melting pot of memories, it’s also one that molded Klein into the person he is today.

“I love a story of a driven, successful woman whose passion and ambition propel her to become very successful in business,” he says. “I’ve often found that people just don’t know the story behind the success because they don’t know a lot about women who run their own companies.”

He’s referring to his wife, and underlining that he’s known her for years.

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