When comic Kevin Pollak did standup at his bar mitzvah, the rabbi was his straight man.
So he laid on the shtick to play Rabbi Jacobsen in Pete Jones' melodramatic film, "Stolen Summer," which opens today in Los Angeles. The comedy-drama follows a Catholic kid bent on converting the rabbi's son. But Pollak didn't need to study Torah to prepare for his role. "I'm an old pro," he says. "My first act was lip-syncing Bill Cosby's 'Noah and the Lord' bit when I was 10."
By age 18, Pollak was performing hilarious "Columbo" impressions while moving just one eye. Fifteen years later, he broke into movies after Barry Levinson cast him as Izzy the appliance dealer in his semiautobiographical 1990 film, "Avalon." Pollak, too, found the movie semiautobiographical because he also had a Russian-immigrant grandfather and an appliance-salesman dad who moved the family to the 'burbs.
The 44-year-old actor went on to play the lieutenant dissed by an anti-Semitic Jack Nicholson in "A Few Good Men" and a Jewish president of the United States in 1999's "Deterrence." His toughest Jewish role to date: Rabbi Jacobsen in "Stolen Summer."
Six weeks before the spring 2001 shoot, Pollak -- whose character's son has leukemia -- lost his father to cancer. "I wasn't sure I could do the movie," confides the actor, who had to take breaks while filming the most heartbreaking scenes. "But then I felt the connection was monumental because I'd gone through what the character needed to go through, which helped me to grieve and to bring a deeper resonance to the role."
Off camera, the comedian in Pollak emerged as he dodged crew members from HBO's "Project Greenlight," a series about the making of "Summer." "They were like the CIA," he says. "The only place we could get a little privacy was the bathroom, which is why there's a segment of the documentary where all you hear are toilets flushing."