NEW YORK – The "Kinnear Snear" that was patent pending during his Talk Soup days is a thing of the past. Greg Kinnear is an actor now — and he takes it seriously.
These days he's exploring the darker side of Bob Crane in Auto Focus. When we sit down in a midtown high rise, he talks about becoming the sitcom-star-turned-porn-DeMille and his own thoughts on the limits of celebrity.
McCuddy: Was there ever any attempt to do a spot-on impression like a Saturday Night Live sketch? Or was it always just going to be your take on this guy?
Kinnear: Well, everybody who knows Bob Crane knows him only from Hogan's Heroes — and the Hogan's Heroes portion of the movie is relatively small. So in terms of the license I had outside of that, certainly a non-fictional character has a burden of authenticity, but it was basically a loose interpretation of who the man was. It was kind of hard to fill in the blanks of who he was when he wasn't being Hogan because there's not a lot of home footage that exists.
McCuddy: Well there is, but—
Kinnear: But not that kind of home footage. I got some old radio broadcasts of his work when he was at KNX from his son, Robert, who was helpful on the movie. And you know, you use all of those things as best you can, then try to find some element of truth to a character that you believe in and then hope that the audience will buy into that.
I will say that [during] the portion of the Hogan's Heroes recreations, [director Paul Schrader] and I worked pretty hard to try to keep that 'in the pocket' because I think there was an expectation with anybody watching. So many people are just so familiar with that show that they'd want to see something relatively close.
McCuddy: You were a little young to be a fan of Hogan's Heroes as a kid.
Kinnear: I was two or three when it actually came on the air, so I wasn't watching a lot. I was a Batman and Robin guy myself. But I remember the song. My parents watched it, and of course it's lived on in reruns. I don't know exactly what stage I became familiar with it.
McCuddy: But we all know Bob Crane from that show.
McCuddy: It's the only thing most of us really know.
Kinnear: Yeah, the guy is like a Coca-Cola brand name. His awareness off of that show is pretty staggering.
McCuddy: Do you remember hearing about his murder and then finding out about this seamy side of his life?
Kinnear: I heard [about] it, like, in high school. A friend told me that he had been murdered and had lived this kind of unseamly life style, and it was kind of shocking. It was like hearing that Sonny and Cher were getting divorced. It was like, 'Whoa!' This is wild. But I had no idea the level of dealings that he was involved in.
McCuddy: You think that before sexually transmitted diseases [became a major issue] there were a lot of Bob Cranes out there? And there would be more of them today if we weren't a little more careful about how we conduct ourselves?
Kinnear: I don't know. I think Bob Crane probably wouldn't have been able to live the lifestyle that he lived back then, if for no other reason than there weren't as many television shows devoted to celebrity. And the tabloids hadn't made their impact back then that they have today. So as he was kind of moving about in Hollywood and engaging in the lifestyle that he was, there was a great lack of awareness in the public. Today, you know, I think immediately after he got out of line we'd be hearing about it somewhere.
McCuddy: Have you had in your career what I'll call a 'Bob Crane moment' where...
Kinnear: (Mugging) No! No! No! We're done here. (Laughs)
McCuddy: Only in this way — that, because you're famous, people will do anything you say?
Kinnear: Well I don't think that's true. I do think that there is an 'enabling factor' and certainly they might be able to get away with certain things, and temptations might be a little more prevalent. However, I contend that the fact that Bob Crane was a television celebrity had very little to do with that temptation factor. The fact is, he would have dealt with a lot of those same issues had he not been a celebrity.
McCuddy: But he thought so. He thought it was his 'celebrity' that was getting him 'dates.'
Kinnear: Yeah, I think he did. And probably that did contribute to some aspect of it. But I do think that temptation is a thing that everyone has to resolve in themselves. It's the line that you decide to follow or not follow.
McCuddy: And some day we won't have an Internet site with all kinds of tapes of you doing strange things?
Kinnear: Oh jeez, lets talk about you. Come on. (Laughs)
McCuddy: Oh, I wish we had the time.
Auto Focus opens nationwide on Oct. 25.