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TALENT TALK: A conversation with <I>Auto Focus</I> star Greg Kinnear

19 May, 2003 By: Dan Bennett

Greg Kinnear remembers feeling surprised when he heard the circumstances regarding Bob Crane's death.

“I just remember it vaguely,” Kinnear said. “I remember in high school getting word from a friend that Bob Crane had been murdered, and they had discovered he was carrying on a secret double life. I thought it was really odd.”

In Auto Focus, released recently by Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment, Kinnear plays out that oddity, portraying Crane from the time he was a popular Los Angeles disc jockey in the early 1960s, through the “Hogan's Heroes” era, and finally through the dark days when Crane's career slid as he became known in Hollywood as a notorious sex addict, videotaping hundreds of his exploits.

And like many, Kinnear was a casual fan of “Hogan's Heroes,” even if he recognized its artistic limitations.

“I found it to be a marginally entertaining show,” Kinnear said. “It was groundbreaking in a way, engaging and sometimes amusing. Bob had a very specific charm to his performance style. You can say what you want about ‘Hogan's Heroes,' but the show still plays 40 years later, and TV Guide listed it as one of the top 50 shows of all time. It has survived.”

Whether Kinnear wanted to star in this far-out story was another matter. It helped that the producers were the same team that served up Ed Wood, The People vs. Larry Flynt and Man on the Moon.

“I do tend to consider these things deeply,” he said. “I thought this script was very good from the get-go. The fact that it came from them was real intriguing.”

Add director Paul Schrader -- the writer of Taxi Driver and the director of American Gigolo, Cat People and Affliction -- and Kinnear was ready.

“I was familiar with Paul's legend,” Kinnear said. “I was intrigued by the fact he traditionally worked outside the studio system, and I liked the fact that many of his characters of crisis tend to live in gray areas, as opposed to real black and white. He likes ambiguity and carries a very mixed bag of tricks. With this film, you aren't walking the line of normal biopics.”

The film gives Kinnear the chance to shake any questioning of his seriousness as an actor. After establishing himself with television's “Talk Soup” and “Later With Greg Kinnear,” he co-starred in the remake of Sabrina.

Kinnear was then nominated for an Oscar for his role in As Good as It Gets, and followed that with roles in You've Got Mail, The Gift and We Were Soldiers, among others.

“I don't think I can have control over perception of me as an actor,” Kinnear said. “If I'm offered things that are different and I accomplish what is intended, maybe those perceptions change. But I can't anticipate as much as just let things happen.”

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