Greg Kinnear

by Eirik Knutzen | Aug 20, 2001
Greg Kinnear Always wanting to be an actor, Greg Kinnear enrolled at the University of Arizona as a drama major. But he came to his senses after the first semester and switched to broadcast journalism.

"I just didn`t think that I could hack it as an actor back then," says Kinnear, shaking his head. "At the same time, I was very interested in news reporting."

Working very hard, he earned a bachelor`s degree in electronic journalism in 1985 and headed straight for Los Angeles. He quickly learned that the city was overrun by good-looking people with similar training and skill. Undaunted, he soon found a low-paying job as an on-air reporter for a local cable station called Movie Time.

"We had such a low budget that we operated out of an old porno studio," Kinnear recalls. "It was kind of a hack station, but provided me with valuable on-air experience. Plus, I got to talk to some great actors, like Anthony Quinn, which was cool."

To supplement his meager income, Kinnear managed to land bit parts on such series as "L.A. Law" (1986) and "Life Goes On" (1989) while developing his own cable talk show, "Best Of The Worst" (1990-91). He subsequently earned an Emmy Award as the first host of the cable series "Talk Soup" (1991-94) and parlayed it into a late-night, modestly-rated NBC network chat show titled "Later With Greg Kinnear" (1994-96).

Kinnear proved successful with talk shows, but he couldn`t get acting squeezed out of his blood. And roles kept coming his way in such fare as "Blankman" (1994), "Sabrina" (1995) and "Dear God" (1996). A few fans caught his act as the unbilled voice of FBI Special Agent Bork in the animated feature film "Beavis And Butt-head Do America" (1996).

The smooth and articulate Kinnear, 38, was humming along as a talk show host and actor when "As Good As It Gets" (1997) with Helen Hunt and Jack Nicholson loomed on the horizon.

"I thought I could do both jobs until this movie made me truly passionate about acting again," he explains. "It was a blessing that ultimately changed my life. It was my first genuine acting piece; one that scared me and gave me a great sense of accomplishment."

And as Simon Bishop, the sensitive homosexual artist singled out for abuse by Nicholson`s homophobic writer, Kinnear earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

"That`s when I decided to become an actor and nothing but," he says, smiling. "`Later With Greg Kinnear` was still on the air, so I went to the NBC network and begged them to let me go.

"They initially said no, then let me go when they suddenly realized I was on at 5 o`clock in the morning in some markets and realized that no one was watching," he laughs. "I was not like a huge asset for the GE Corporation, to be perfectly honest. On the other hand, James Brooks` `As Good As It Gets` - executive produced by Laura Ziskin - became my acting school, personally and professionally. Everything connected with this picture has paid off."

Last summer, Kinnear and his wife of two years, Helen Labdon, caught the off-Broadway production of Donald Margulies searing play, "Dinner With Friends," the winner of the 2000 Pulitzer Prize. Enthralled by the complex bonds between two couples - in essence four friends in various states of disrepair - he made discreet enquiries about the play`s potential status as a film through his agents. To his pleasant surprise, Laura Ziskin was already attached as the executive producer for a cable telefilm version (Sat., Aug. 11, 9-11 p.m., HBO).

Norman Jewison ("In The Heat Of the Night;" "Moonstruck") was already set to direct with Dennis Quaid (Gabe), Andie MacDowell (Karen) and Toni Collette (Beth) in the major roles. Kinnear`s name was bandied about as an excellent choice for Tom, a cocky attorney dumping Beth, his hostile artist wife, for a much younger woman. Their food critic yuppie friends are aghast as they examine their own marriage in a new light.

"Tom, almost arrogant, is flawed like everybody else," says Kinnear. "I think he represents a huge percentage of people in this country who wakes up one day and says, `I`m not happy here.` Believing in his convictions, he ventures into the unknown and tries to see what`s on the other side. I believe that anybody going through a divorce will reconsider their decisions when they see this film. Happily married couples may reconsider their circumstances, too."

Born in Longansport, Ind., along with older brothers Steve and James, Kinnear is the son of a homemaker and a businessman, who devoted four years of his life to the Department of State.

"It was exciting for all of us when my father left his vending business for Washington, D.C., in 1972.

Three years later, the whole family moved to Beirut, Lebanon, just in time to get caught in the crossfire of a civil war further dividing the Christians and Muslims in the volatile country.

His dad was attached to the U.S. embassy in Beirut as a regional trade expert on exports and imports when hostilities broke out.

"When the shelling started, we lived about 8 miles from downtown Beirut, near the ocean," says Kinnear. "Then, for some inexplicable reason, we moved closer to downtown. We`d wake up just about every night as cannon shells exploded outside, rattling our shuttered windows. By candlelight, we`d get news of the war by listening to BBC radio.

"It was incredibly scary, because the targets on both sides seemed chosen entirely at random," Kinnear continues. "Some hits were really close. The bakery next to our apartment was bombed one night. When we looked over the balcony in the morning, there was a huge hole were the bakery had been. When the acting U.S. ambassador and two of his bodyguards were assassinated, we were evacuated to Athens, Greece."

Since choosing acting as a vocation, Kinnear has done exceedingly well with a mixture of winners and losers at the box office, including "A Smile Like Yours" (1997), "You`ve Got Mail" (1998), "Mystery Men" (1999) and "Nurse Betty" (2000).

He recently wrapped production on "We Were Soldiers," a Vietnam saga about the formation of the 1st Air Cavalry with Mel Gibson, and is looking into a motion picture version of the old TV series "Hogan`s Heroes."

"I`m trying to take it easy right now," he sighs, "but there are a couple of great projects for me out there."

(c) Copley News Service

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Author: Eirik Knutzen


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