How do you describe the career of a guy who started as the host of Talk Soup on E! and within five years was Oscar nominated for a role opposite Jack Nicholson? Greg Kinnear certainly hasn’t taken the usual career path. He may have starred opposite Tom Hanks in You’ve Got Mail, but he was also conjoined with Matt Damon, played a sex addict and a meat inspector, guest starred on Friends and voiced a character in the Beavis and Butthead movie. Not to mention leading the SAG-winning ensemble in one of the best indie comedies of recent years in Little Miss Sunshine.
Now he’s on screen as the inventor Bob Kearns in Flash of Genius, and he was happy to be playing a real-life character no one’s ever heard of. “Well, it’s not like everybody comes in with a preconceived idea of who Bob Kearns is,” he says. “So it was kind of loose as to how I could portray him. You know, nobody’s ever going to stand up in the theatre and say, ‘Hey, that’s not what I remember the intermittent windshield wiper guy to be like!’ It’s not like with Clinton or Nixon or some sort of galvanising figure that everyone’s familiar with. At the same time, as an actor I felt absolutely obligated to try to, as best I could, make him real.”
Later this year he’ll be sees in Paul Greengrass‘ new film Green Zone, about the hunt for WMDs in Baghdad after the American invasion. “Paul is a remarkable director,” he says. “He just has an immediacy on the set. He doesn’t come in with a prearranged agenda of how things are going to go, and he’s always chasing something that’s not easily found. It’s his own journey as a filmmaker, but I think everybody feels like you want to give him everything you’ve got, because the thing that he’s searching for always translates to the screen, always creates these pictures that feel very vibrant. He has a way of making even smallest moments really big and lifelike on screen. It was wonderful.”
When asked about his five favourite films, he looks to the ceiling and comments that he’s going through his mental Rolodex…
“Great performances from a great ensemble of actors. Jonathan Demme did such a great job of making that look so real, creating an atmosphere that felt very immediate. It’s a funny film, but it’s scary as hell in parts. And it’s a completely unpredictable movie, I think. There’s no expectation, as you go into that film, what to expect or where it’s going.”
“For obvious reasons. It’s just painted on a giant canvas – it’s larger than life. There’s a reason it’s a classic, and I don’t know what else to say about it that hasn’t already been said. It’s just one of the greats. There’s not a character in it that I don’t like, and there’s not a performance in it that’s flawed. It’s incredible.”
“I had a chance to work with Jack Nicholson, which was a real thrill. You can scoop out a lot of performances from Jack, and consider them as possible films you could add to this list, but that was a great performance. Roman Polanski‘s direction is incredible too. It’s a movie where, the first time you see it, it’s kind of shocking because you don’t know where it’s going and how big the story actually is that’s being told.”
“I like the classics! I like a pretty eclectic mix actually. But if you want a great old movie, this is it. It’s in colour but it always feels like a black and white movie to me. It feels like a film with great history in it, and it’s got great style.”
“It’s one of the great endings to a movie ever when Willy asks Charlie what happened to the little boy who got everything he ever wanted. “You don’t know? He lived happily ever after!” And then the glass elevator breaks through the glass roof. It’s incredible. I worked briefly on a television show with Mel Stuart, the director, and heard all sorts of fantastic stories about that remarkable film. And of course I knew all the songs – I still do. I have a 5-year-old, but I haven’t shown it to her yet. It’s kind of scary – that guy who shows up with the little shopping carriage and makes that little speech about how nobody who goes in ever comes out. And the Oompa Loompas. And that boat ride – woo, acid trip!”
Flash of Genius opens in UK cinemas this week. It is on DVD in the US and in cinemas in Australia.