In the indie crime drama Thin Ice, Mickey Prohaska (Greg Kinnear) is a small-time insurance agent looking for a way to make his business a success, reunite with his estranged wife (Lea Thompson) and escape the frigid Wisconsin weather. He believes that all he needs is a sucker who is willing to buy what he’s selling, and he seemingly finds that in a lonely retired farmer (Alan Arkin). But, Mickey’s attempt to con the old man suddenly has him crossing paths with a volatile locksmith (Billy Crudup), and everything starts to spin out of control.
At the film’s press day, actor Greg Kinnear talked about making a film with a twist ending, how he spent time selling cable television subscriptions door-to-door when he was in college, and how challenging the extreme cold in Minnesota was for the shoot. He also talked about what enticed him to do an episode of the ABC comedy series Modern Family, and said that his next project will likely be Writers, a dramedy about a family of writers, co-starring Jennifer Connelly. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
GREG KINNEAR: The script from (co-writers) Jill and Karen [Sprecher] was really good. It’s not like there were any scenes where we were sensitive to it, or had to be careful about how we played it, in order to reveal the ending, which would have been awful. I can’t imagine doing that, anyway. But, because the breadcrumbs had been laid out pretty nicely and naturally, I think you went into any scene of this movie and you felt like, “Just play it straightforward, and it will all reveal itself at the end, if it all works properly.”
When you first read this script, did you try to guess where it was going? Did you have any idea where it would end up?
KINNEAR: I really didn’t. I wouldn’t have thought to guess. I would have tried to guess, had I thought the story I was following was uninteresting. If the script was written in a way that it was all about paying off this big surprise ending, I probably would have stopped on page 20 and lost interest. But, I really found, without knowing this slight of hand that was ultimately happening, that I was interested in the story of what was happening to Mickey and these characters that were suddenly front and center in his life. This little tiny moment of bad judgement turned into this horrible situation for him, and there was a desperation there that I thought was incredibly entertaining and darkly funny. I never read it thinking, “All right, what are we working towards here? What are we getting to?” I really was quite taken with it.
KINNEAR: I did. I went door-to-door selling cable television subscriptions when I was in college. Not to date myself, but cable was just coming on. I had terrible territories, and they would give me $25, if I got somebody to let them come and just put the little cord in their house. With that, we would give them 100 channels of television. I would stand at the door in Tucson, sweating and going, “You don’t understand. They’ll put this thing in and you’ll get the television free for six months. If you don’t like it, then we’ll come and remove it, and you’ll get all of your money back.” And then, that would be about when the door would come slamming in my face. I found it incredibly difficult, doing that kind of sales work. There were some guys who were cut out better for it than me. I would have thought I’d be good at it, but I wasn’t. It’s so easy in acting. Everything falls into place when they write that you’re a salesman. People just say yes, and then it’s great.
Aren’t they similar, in the sense that both actors and salesmen have to learn to deal with rejection?
KINNEAR: True, yes. They’re both shitty jobs, in that sense. Generally, most actors are very deeply passionate about their line of work. I suppose there are probably people who sell insurance policies that are passionate about it, but I’m thinking the ratio is a little higher for actors. But, I may be wrong.
KINNEAR: Little Miss Sunshine snowballed. It was a tiny movie. We shot it in 30 days, and it was really fun to do, but it was one of those small movies that you don’t hold out huge hope for. It’s usually found in small pockets. But, that movie ended up getting a real following and worked out pretty well.
Was it difficult to deal with the cold during shooting?
KINNEAR: It was a small movie and there was not a huge special effect department, as you could expect, and yet the scene called for Billy [Crudup] and I to be on the ice and dispose of these bodies. Suddenly, you get out onto this middle of this small frozen lake in Minnesota and you have the crew go off to the side. There’s a little tiny warming tent that isn’t really warm, and I’m in a pair of leather shoes, suit pants, a suit coat and a cotton tie. When you’re not shooting, they throw a coat over you, but the environment was extremely cold, so there’s just nothing you can do. Those kinds of temperatures are crazy. I’m from Indiana, but Minnesota takes the cake. It was just really cold, but you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do.
KINNEAR: He’s a terrific actor. I didn’t know him before I took this job, and I met him up in the frozen tundra. He’s a real gentleman, which throws you when you see what a psychotic maniac he has created on screen with this role. It’s a great performance. In spite of it being an absolutely terrifying performance, I found that it’s also very funny. You don’t really see that until the second viewing. It’s a really nice performance. We had fun. We’re both college basketball fans, so we watched a lot of college basketball in between ice nights.
What enticed you to do an episode of Modern Family?
KINNEAR: Our family just loves that show. It’s really funny and well written. So, when they called and asked me if I’d like to do an episode, I said, “Yep!” I got to meet Ty [Burrell] and Julie [Bowen], and I got to meet [Eric] Stonestreet, and it was a fun little thing to do. We did it over a couple of days. I thought what they sent me was funny, so I did it.
What are you going to do next?
KINNEAR: I think I’m doing a movie called Writers, with Jennifer Connelly, but I don’t know. It’s about a family of writers. It’s a drama with some comedy, or a comedy with some drama. It takes place in a town back in the east. It’s a complicated and hard to explain script, which is my favorite kind.