Greg Kinnear played the over-enthusiastic father of a talent show contestant in the 2006 film, "Little Miss Sunshine." He plays a father in his latest film, too, only that's where the comparisons end. Mo Rocca caught up with him on the back nine for a Sunday Profile:
So, asked Rocca, "What was it like going to high school in Greece?"
"It was great," said Greg Kinnear. "I was there for about six years."
"It took you six years to get through high school?"
"I said six years we were there. Is this gonna be one of those interviews?"
No, Greg Kinnear did NOT spend six years in high school. That's how long he lived in Greece, where his father was a career diplomat.
"You know, when you have your prom in Greece, the great thing is you go to the after-party, you're at the Acropolis. That's not so bad!"
Greece was also where he caught the acting bug. "I had been interested and done a little acting in high school," Kinnear said. "I started as a drama major at college at the University of Arizona, and then realized, 'I'm never getting a job as an actor. What am I doing?'"
What he did was switch to broadcast journalism, and in 1991, he landed the job of host of a new cable show, "Talk Soup," a roundup of the most outrageous, trashy daytime talk show clips.
The show even attracted the attention of one network newsmagazine: "None of us could believe that '48 Hours' was coming to talk to 'Talk Soup,'" said Kinnear, "so we thought for the week preceding it that we were being punked."
Kinnear, Rocca noted, never came off as snide or nasty on his show. "Well," said Kinnear, "I don't think I am snide or nasty."
"Affable" is more like it. "I'll take affable," he said.
Later he became the affable host of a very late night talk show called "Later," and then caught the eye of director Sydney Pollack, who cast him in his first big film role, in the remake of "Sabrina." At 31, he had gotten his job as an actor.
Then it got as good as it gets: an audition at Jack Nicholson's house.
"He asked me afterwards if I wanted to stick around and have some spaghetti and meatballs," said Kinnear, "so I figured it had gone okay, and either way I was going to get a nice meal out of it. And a couple of days later I found out I got the role."
His performance in "As Good As It Gets" earned Kinnear an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. "Yeah, that was a great thing," he said, "because I honestly had done just, as you say, a couple of films, and really didn't know what I was doing. And having my work recognized in that way was super cool, and kind of gave me the confidence to try to make a gig out of this."
So far, the gig is up to nearly 40 movies. In many of them he played real people. There was Bob Crane, the sex-addicted star of "Hogan's Heroes," in "Auto Focus"; and the Emmy-nominated role of JFK in the TV mini-series, "The Kennedys."
Does he like portraying real people? "I do," Kinnear said. "Obviously some people come with more of a worldwide awareness than other people, and there's a little added burden for me, I think, for the audience to try to get that right."
"I can't imagine that with JFK," said Rocca.
"No, no, nobody had any idea what to expect there."
The latest real person he's portraying is Todd Burpo, a country pastor whose young son Colton had a near-death experience and claimed to have seen heaven. "Heaven Is for Real," which opened Wednesday, tells the story of the Burpo family, and the father's journey from doubt to conviction. It's a movie the entertainment press has labeled "faith-based."
"How would you classify the movie?" asked Rocca.
"That term 'faith-based' is a little lazy, I think," he said.
Why is that "lazy"? "Well, what does that mean? Obviously, there's plenty of people who don't believe in this story, 'Heaven Is for Real.' There's plenty of people that do believe in it. I think there's some people who are not sure."
"Heaven Is for Real" is not the only movie with religious themes out this season. The epic "Noah," the independent "God's Not Dead," and Mark Burnett's "Son of God" all are among this year's top-grossing films.
"When I took this film I honestly thought we'd be the only one in the neighborhood," Kinnear said. "I didn't know that there were going to be a series of other movies in this zone that are doing very well and that are resonating with audiences. I didn't have any idea."
"Heaven Is for Real" may have a built-in audience; Todd Burpo's book of the same name has been near the top of bestseller lists since it came out in 2010.
"The title is not ambiguous," said Kinnear. "So how do you tell that story without it feeling like a church sermon for two hours?"
For Kinnear, a family man with a wife and three kids, part of that answer was in the father-son connection.
Rocca asked, ""Do you believe Colton's story?"
"I probably come out somewhere where Todd at the end of the movie says, 'I believe he saw something.' And you know, I think that's okay for me.
"I have three young daughters, and they have fertile imaginations. But at the same time, some of the most honest observations I've ever received are from my kids. So I think Todd's journey of trying to discern what it was he was hearing this time was part of what made it interesting to me."
"Do your kids like your movies?" Rocca asked.
"They like the ones they can go see," Kinnear replied.
Rocca and Kinnear met on a golf course, where Kinnear, now 50, spends a lot of his free time.
"I've played in hundred and hundreds of Pro-Am golf tournaments, and I think you'll find this an interesting statistic: I've won zero times!"
Here's another interesting statistic: more than two-thirds of Americans believe there's a heaven.
"I mean, it would be great if there is one," said Rocca. "It would be lousy to think that the lights just go out, like at the end of 'The Sopranos.'"
"Do you think they got golf?" said Kinnear.
"I know you hope that there's golf."
"We got to hope for at least a driving range. Give me a municipal course, something, c'mon!"
For more info:
- "Heaven Is for Real" (Official site)