Television largely gave Greg Kinnear his start, and as he returns to it, he’s doing something different — yet something he’s been doing a long time.
Staking his claim to fame as a talk show host on NBC’s “Later,” then on E! Entertainment Television’s satirical “Talk Soup” set Kinnear up for an acting career that began in earnest with the 1995 movie remake of “Sabrina.” He’s kept at that ever since, from his Oscar-nominated turn in “As Good as It Gets” and his Emmy bid for playing JFK in the miniseries “The Kennedys” to his current role as Ron Burgundy’s rival in love in the comedy “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues.”
Kinnear remains an actor in tackling TV on a steady basis again. Premiering Thursday, Jan. 23, the FOX drama “Rake” adapts an Australian show by casting him as Los Angeles defense attorney Keegan Deane. When he’s not standing up for clients, he’s usually trying to defend himself, given his practices that include gambling and obsessing over a prostitute (Bojana Novakovic) he fancies as a potential girlfriend.
Also an executive producer of the Americanized “Rake,” the genial Kinnear tells Zap2it, “the title is very indicative of what the backbone of the show is. I saw the Australian version and thought that Peter Duncan — who I’d actually met years ago, funnily enough when I was down there doing press for a movie — created this little gem of a show that had kind of a cool vibe to it.
“It was kind of a great mix of comedy and drama, and he’d developed an actual community of people in a city the size of Sydney, which I thought was quite impressive. The hope was to try to do the same thing in L.A. It’s been fun … also a lot of work, but it’s been an interesting journey.”
Duncan also is an executive producer of the new “Rake,” as is co-creator Richard Roxburgh, who plays Kinnear’s part in the ongoing original version.
Flawed characters largely have been Kinnear’s calling cards, and he agrees Deane fits that pattern.
“I played a pastor right before this (in the forthcoming film ‘Heaven Is for Real’),” he says, “so it was the devil and the angel in one year. I guess with this particular guy, it was the notion of playing a character without a governor, without any social inhibitions in a world where more and more of us are working for fewer and fewer people.
“With this notion of having to go in and punch a card for ‘the man,’ there’s a sense of individuality with this guy that I kind of spark to. I don’t want to try to make it more than it is; I just thought it could be fun with him not taking himself too seriously, and also in dealing with some really talented actors I get to work with on a regular basis. Unlike a movie, I don’t have to say goodbye to them at wrap.”
Others in Deane’s life include his psychologist ex-wife (Miranda Otto), who reluctantly gives him free therapy, and their son (Ian Colletti); a close friend (Ben Leon) who also happens to be Deane’s frequent courtroom rival as Los Angeles’ assistant district attorney; and an assistant (Tara Summers) who’s generally able to look past Deane’s shortcomings to keep him on course in terms of work.
“I’ve never played a lawyer before,” says Kinnear, who reasons that exposing Deane’s personal warts while also positioning him as a skilled professional underscores “a great hypocrisy that exists in the legal world. Attorneys often are in lovely three-piece suits, a very showy representation of control and trustworthiness and believability … and it’s a sham, I believe. Like in anything else, I’m sure there are decent attorneys in the world, but they’re not all like that.
“Just because they have all the trinkets of being responsible doesn’t mean that they are,” Kinnear adds. “You can’t always trust what you see, and I just felt there was a great place to explore a guy who needs to wear the necessary armor of responsibility out in the real world, but doesn’t really have a great moral compass.”
As much as he’s accomplished over a 25-year career, Kinnear is finding “Rake” a big education, dating back to the initial pitch he and fellow executive producer Peter Tolan (“Rescue Me”) made. He’s also had help from an earlier colleague: Sam Raimi — who also guided Kinnear in the 2000 movie “The Gift” — directed the first “Rake” episode to air, as well as the show’s pilot, expected to be shown several weeks into the run.
“It’s been a slow boil,” Kinnear maintains. “It’s been like, ‘That’s an interesting idea. What if we write a script?’ We did, then Peter became involved and really helped find a way to make an adaptation feel good. It’s not easy, just because you have pre-existing material, to re-create something.
“Then at dinner one night, I brought the pilot up to my friend Sam. My wife had said, ‘Oh, just ask him. He’ll just say no.’ And he said, ‘Yes! I’d love it!’ And the casting was obviously a big thing. We did the pilot, then after that, you’re off to the races. I was ready for the wrap party after we finished Episode 1, but everybody was looking at me like, ‘No, no, no. We’re going to see you tomorrow morning.’ “
As production of “Rake” continues, Kinnear deems the process “an ongoing fight to try to keep the stories interesting, and to keep the connective tissue between the characters evolving and moving forward in a good way. I’ve been able to stay involved in a lot of the aspects, and that’s given me some comfort some of the time.”