With a pilot directed by Sam Raimi, the new Fox series Rake is a bold new legal drama, based on the Australian series of the same name. The story follows the comedic and chaotic life of criminal defense lawyer Keegan Deane (Greg Kinnear), whose lack of discretion, self-destructive tendencies and inability to self-censor land him the cases that nobody else will touch. The show also stars Miranda Otto, John Ortiz, Tara Summers, Ian Colletti, Bojana Novakovic and Necar Zadegan.
During this recent interview to promote the show’s debut, actor Greg Kinnear talked about how he was able to relate to this character, his approach to playing such an edgy role, how his view of the court system has changed, how similar this version will be to the original Australian series, and how Sam Raimi came to be directing episodes of the show. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Question: How are you similar to this character, and how do you relate to him?
GREG KINNEAR: The most obvious connection is that I have no skills in that department, and he seems to be tortured by his own lack of ability as well. But, the truth is that I don’t know. I think what really attracted me to the character, when I saw the Australian show and the zone they were playing in, with not only the ensemble nature of the show, was Keegan’s inability to not get out of his own way, and his needs and wants and addictions, all snowballing around him constantly. That notion of two steps forward, three steps back seemed like a fun zone to play in. Not that I don’t have my own little bag of self-destructive traits. We all do. But, he has such an ease with his ability to miscalculate and to set off little personal land mines around his life so regularly that it really seemed like a fun area to play around in. And I hadn’t played an attorney before, so one that was dealing with that kind of world seemed like a great plan.
How did you approach playing such an edgy role?
KINNEAR: There’s quite a pantheon of very, very colorful types in this world, both men and women. And there’s an inherently despicable rap that defense attorneys get, as the defenders of people, particularly people that we all recognize as guilty or think are guilty, and yet, they’re an essential part of the balance of justice. I don’t know that we’ll be doing a lot with this role to champion people’s perceptions of defense attorneys. There is a gambling element to being somebody who is going to take on the job of constantly trying to represent and prop up people who might be somewhat shady. That notion is probably part of how they got the rap. But, I have to find the balance of being colorful, being at times despicable, and also being somebody who does believe in something. We’re on Episode 10 now, and there have been cases where there are people who the audience is going to want to not be found innocent, and sometimes they are and sometimes they’re not. I think the real cool thing about the show is that most of the people my character represents are guilty, and the truth is that that’s the way it is in the system. If you’re innocent, or there isn’t enough seriously compelling evidence to put you up against the state, chances are it’s never going to go to trial. Of course, trial is where all the fun stuff happens, so we do some cases that go to trial. But, we also do cases that all are negotiated in back rooms and quietly handled between people negotiating. There are colorful characters in this world. I’ve seen many of them, and they’re a treat to watch. I haven’t seen anybody quite like this guy, but I’m looking.
Since becoming a part of this show how has your view of the court system changed?
KINNEAR: I had just always assumed that people who might have gotten themselves into some sort of legal entanglement would eventually sit before a jury and go through this whole straightforward, very clean process of justice. And I think what the show has done – because we have lawyers working on it that we talk to – is that you learn that there is not a straight through-line on any of these cases. They all vary. Many of them never go to trial, or the ones that do have a whole different expectation. So much of the process seems inconsistent to me, which I don’t necessarily think is a bad thing. Maybe it’s a reason that the legal world has, over the years, had so many films and television shows about it. There’s just a great imbalance to the process and to the outcome, and justice is not always served fairly. That’s been made very clear, talking to a lot of the guys that we have access to, and we try and represent that fairly, in the show.
How much will this version of the show borrow from the original Australian series?
KINNEAR: That’s a good question. In terms of its format, one of the most significant changes that we’ve had to embrace is being on a network where we have 43 or 44 minutes. The Australian show was 58 or 59 minutes, and that time change has been a real difficult readjustment that has been something we’re conscious of. In the Australian show, you always had a case that was sometimes more significant in one week and sometimes less significant in another week, which is still the tempo we follow here. But, you can’t really reduce down the case. The case is going to be the case, so what ends up being compromised is the additional time to deal with the orbital world of these pivotal characters in his life. one of the coolest things about the show is the ensemble element of it. We worked really hard to cast great actors in this ensemble, and I think they’re all excellent. The show starts a little Keegan-centric, but it really evolves, and you get to know all these characters a lot more. But, there are limitations with time. As far as the cases go, sometimes there is some stuff that we have taken from the Australian show, but I would say a lot of it is its own thing and has organically found its own place. I don’t know what the percentage would be to give you for that. Maybe 30% or 40% comes from the Australian show, but the rest of it feels very different. I feel like the balance is good. Believe me, I wanted to do a nice tip of the hat to the Australian show because I really admired it, but the hope is for all of us to try to find our own DNA and develop our own vibe here.
Besides having such amazing guest stars, you can tell it’s a Sam Raimi production because the banter and the dialogue are so beautifully put together. What’s it like to get to do that type of dialogue?
KINNEAR: I think that Keegan thrives on conversation. He doesn’t use an economy with dialogue and words, and our writers are really good at keeping that vibe alive. At any given moment, my character is spinning a lot of plates, and words prop him up. I saw it in the Australian show. They had a really nice balance of stuff going on, but I thought their management of language was really cool to watch, and it’s been fun on this show, as well. And by the way, I worked with Sam, a few years ago, on a movie and I was very nervous. We were doing the show and we didn’t have a director for the pilot, and I was so terrified. I’m friends with Sam, but I really didn’t know if that was crossing a line. So, my wife was the one who said, “Just ask him. All he can do is say no.” I asked him, and he read the script and loved it. In fact, he has gone on and done another episode for us and helped us with some other pieces, along the way. He has really become an ally to Rake, and I’m grateful for that because he’s my friend, but he’s also just a great artist. The show has some cool colors in it. Its early incarnation attracted some really smart people, so I’m grateful for that.
How do you feel about things, at this point in your career?
KINNEAR: This show is a lot of work, particularly starting out. The show is very focused on my character, before we start to bring in Miranda Otto, John Ortiz, David Harbor and all these other great actors. But, it’s no different than any aspect, at any other time in my life, in the sense that they’re not really a great blueprint for what to expect from one job to the next. This was attractive, in the sense that it was a fairly contained series order. We’re doing 13. So, to build a storyline of my guy and the people around him, in 13 episodes, felt like there’s something manageable about that, with an end date in sight, that’s fast approaching. Beyond that, I don’t know what will happen. Other opportunities are always hard to speak to. But, I’m enjoying the show. It’s been a blast, and I’m getting to work with some excellent people. From that standpoint, it’s all good.
Rake airs on Thursday nights on Fox.