Greg Kinnear's 'Phil' Is Depressed, And Then Obsessed | WOSU Radio

Greg Kinnear's 'Phil' Is Depressed, And Then Obsessed

Jul 5, 2019
Originally published on July 5, 2019 7:36 pm

Editor's note: This interview discusses a movie where suicide is a plot element.

In the new movie Phil, the actor Greg Kinnear plays a dentist slogging through life. One day, he sees a patient who seems to have it all — a happy family, an interesting job.

Then he hears the patient has taken his own life. And Phil becomes obsessed with finding out why.

The movie is Greg Kinnear's directorial debut. He started his on-camera career as host of the entertainment show Talk Soup. He's became famous for roles in romantic comedies like You've Got Mail and in poignant movies like Little Miss Sunshine. So why jump into directing on a topic as difficult as suicide?

"I kind of was kicking the tires of directing, and I had a few stories that bounced around, but it really wasn't until I was quite struck with Stephen Mazur's script," Kinnear says in an interview. "He had a way of ... dealing with the subject matter of suicide, which had affected me and my life through some people that were close to me, and I found the script had a strangely life-affirming quality to it."

Kinnear spoke about celebrity life, his career arc and his reservations with the subject matter.

"I think anybody who has known anyone who took their life is — you know, you're shocked and sidelined by that — and there's always this nagging question 'why?' in the sense of people who you thought, seemingly, were OK and had good lives going," Kinnear says. "And I guess that idea and that subject had always kind of stayed with me. And this is all happening in a window of time where this issue of suicide is clearly an epidemic."


Interview Highlights

On celebrity life

Listen, there's another thing that's happened — it's interesting that when ... you think about the influence of social media and these gadgets that we carry around that basically mirror the lives and incredible experiences (whether they're real or not) of those around us, look: It can't be healthy. And there is an element of smoke and mirrors and representation in the business I work in. You know, it's part of the charm of it. ...

We ... open the curtain, and people want to see wonderful and fascinating lives that are going on. And I don't like the word fraud, but it is obviously a misrepresentation of the truth, because we all have complicated lives, and there's the ups and the downs. But our business, in particular, stands out as one that just shows off the shiny glow of good things.

On his discomfort with celebrity

I don't know. Well, we've moved into the sweaty portion of the interview where I have to lie down on a couch to answer this. I guess I've always felt a little bit like an outsider in the business, for whatever that's worth. I came in through a — I don't like to use this word "side door," given [the] Varsity Blues scandal — but it is strange that I went from Talk Soup to film. But I definitely have always felt like a little — I feel out of place. I mean, I look around, I do. I think of movie stars being so comfortable being movie stars. And there's people who are very comfortable at that, very good at it. And I wouldn't say that I've necessarily had a great knack for it.

On fighting typecasting

I certainly, coming out of Sabrina and early movies, was offered a lot of smiley romantic comedies. And I probably did more than I should have when I started. I don't know — you know, listen: I'm Scotch-Irish, I want to fight everything, there is that in me. They tell me to go left, I want to go right; if they're going right, I want to go left. I think I've just inherently kicked and bucked the other way. When there was a clear path for me, I got uncomfortable. And I still feel that way.

On where he is at this point in his life

Well, I feel very good about [my life]. I just had a birthday [56 years old]. And I have three daughters, a wonderful wife. And obviously my career is important as well, but when I look back, generally, am I happy? Are there movies or TV shows or things that I might have regretted? Of course. But that's never where my mind goes. I tend to go to my life. And generally, I feel like I've been incredibly fortunate and incredibly lucky.

Sam Gringlas and Mallory Yu produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Patrick Jarenwattananon adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

All right. I want to begin this story with a note. The following conversation about Greg Kinnear's new movie "Phil" touches on the issue of suicide. It may not be appropriate for all listeners. In it, Kinnear plays Phil, a Portland dentist slogging through life. One day, he sees a patient who seems to have it all - a happy family, an interesting job. Then he hears the patient has taken his own life, and Phil becomes obsessed.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PHIL")

GREG KINNEAR: (As Phil) Michael Fisk was this guy who I thought had figured it all out, and then he killed himself. I need to find the reason why.

CORNISH: The movie is Greg Kinnear's directorial debut. He started his on-camera career as the host of the humorous entertainment show "Talk Soup." He became famous for his roles in romantic comedies like "You've Got Mail" and the poignant "Little Miss Sunshine." So I started off by asking, why jump into directing on a topic as difficult as suicide?

KINNEAR: I kind of was kicking the tires of directing. And I had a few stories that bounced around, but it really wasn't until I was quite struck with Stephen Mazur's script. He had a way of telling - dealing with the subject matter of suicide, which had affected me and my life through some people that were close to me. And I found this script had a strangely life-affirming quality to it.

CORNISH: Can we talk about that? Because for - to start directing out of the gate and take on a topic like this is no small thing. Can you talk about what your reservations were in taking on the topic of suicide and how you thought you wanted to approach it?

KINNEAR: Yeah, no big secret there. I mean, I think anybody who has known anyone who took their life, you know, you're shocked and sidelined by that. And there's always this nagging question why in the sense of people who you thought seemingly had good lives going. And I guess that idea and that subject had always kind of stayed with me. And this is all happening, you know, in a window of time where this issue of suicide is, you know, clearly an epidemic.

CORNISH: Fundamentally, the character of Phil, he believes everyone is enjoying life in a way that he isn't - right? - like, kind of everyone has it better. And how did you think about that? Because I would think as someone who is an actor - right? - you've had a kind of close-up view of celebrity life...

KINNEAR: Sure.

CORNISH: ...Which people tend to envy.

KINNEAR: Absolutely. Listen. There's another thing that's happened. You know, it's interesting that when you think of the rise of these numbers and then you think about the influence of social media and these gadgets that we carry around that basically mirror the lives and incredible experiences - whether they're real or not - of those around us. Look. It can't be healthy. And there is an element of smoke and mirrors and of misrepresentation in the business I work in. You know, it's part of the charm of it.

CORNISH: Not just an element, it's one of the defining qualities, right?

KINNEAR: Right.

CORNISH: Frankly, I mean...

KINNEAR: Absolutely. It is obviously a misrepresentation of the truth because we all have, you know...

CORNISH: Right.

KINNEAR: ...Complicated lives. And there's the ups and the downs. But our business in particular stands out as one that just shows off the shiny glow of good things.

CORNISH: There've been times I've seen quotes where you've said I'm not a movie star - right? - or, like, I'm not - and it seems like you've always had a jaundiced view of this world.

KINNEAR: Wow, we've moved into the sweaty portion of the interview where I have to lie down on a couch to answer this. I guess I have always felt a little bit like an outsider in the business. You know, it is strange that I was - I kind of went from "Talk Soup" to film, but I fill out a place. I mean, I look around, I do. I think of movie stars being so comfortable being movie stars. And there's people who are very comfortable at that, very good at it. And I wouldn't say that I've necessarily had a great knack for it.

CORNISH: When I think of you as a character actor, I think of some of the characters you've played. As an actor over the years, what has been your type? Like, how have you been boxed in at times, and how do you try and play against it?

KINNEAR: I certainly, coming out of, you know, "Sabrina" and early movies, was offered a lot of smiley...

CORNISH: Romantic...

KINNEAR: ...Romantic comedies. And I probably did more than I should have when I started. I don't know. You know, listen. I'm Scotch-Irish, you know? I want to fight everything. There is that in me. They tell me to go left. I want to go right. If they're going right, I want to go left. I think I've just inherently kicked and bucked the other way. When there was a clear path for me, I got uncomfortable. And I still feel that way.

CORNISH: Fundamentally, "Phil" - right? - this movie is about a person who is looking back, who's trying to make sense of things. Are you at that point in your life? And if so, how are you feeling about it?

KINNEAR: Well, I feel very good about - I had a - just had a birthday. And I have three daughters, a wonderful wife. And obviously, my career is important as well. But when you ask me when I look back generally, am I happy, you know, are there movies or TV shows or things that I might have regretted? Of course. But that's never where my mind goes. I tend to go to my life. And generally, I feel like I've been incredibly fortunate and incredibly lucky.

CORNISH: Well, Greg Kinnear, thank you so much for speaking with us, telling us about this film and talking a little bit about your career. Much appreciated.

KINNEAR: Thank you very much.

CORNISH: And we want to note, if you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or the Crisis Text Line by texting 741741. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.