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Greg Kinnear is a lawyer, lover and lout as the anti-hero of 'Rake'

Greg Kinnear
Greg Kinnear
Fox

“Rake,” a character-driven drama based on the Australian TV series of the same name, follows the comedic and chaotic life of criminal defense lawyer Keegan Deane (played by Emmy winner Greg Kinnear). The U.S. version of “Rake” premieres on Fox on Jan. 23, 2014, at 9 p.m. EST/PST. Brilliant, frustratingly charming and with zero filter, Keegan’s staggering lack of discretion and inability to self-censor land him the cases that nobody else will touch, but behind that lies a resolute optimism and belief in justice that fuel his dogged determination to defend those who seem beyond redemption. He always tries to do the right thing, but at the same time struggles to save himself from the many self-destructive elements that plague his own life, such as his overindulgence of various excesses, including women and gambling.

Greg Kinnear
Greg Kinnear
Getty Images

Keegan gets a majority of his cases from Ben Leon (played by John Ortiz), his best friend since law school. Ben is married to Scarlet (played by Necar Zadegan), another of Keegan’s old friends and, as assistant district attorney for the city of Los Angeles, quite often his opponent in court. In addition to Keegan’s cases within the justice system, the series follows his personal trials and tribulations, including his mounting debt to his bookie and his overlapping liaisons with various women, including Melissa “Mikki” Partridge (played by Bojana Novakovic), Keegan’s favorite prostitute and de-facto love interest. Also among his predicaments is his ongoing battle with the IRS, especially as prosecuted by David Potter (played by David Harbour), an IRS tax attorney who looks 10 years younger than he is, earning him the nickname (bestowed by Keegan) “Harry” – as in “Harry Potter.”

But always there to help Keegan clean up his mess is Leanne Zander (played by Tara Summers), his extremely put-upon, no-nonsense assistant. Meanwhile, Keegan’s ex-wife, Maddy (played by Miranda Otto), a psychologist by profession, begrudgingly acts as his therapist. She also is the mother of their hormonal son, Finn (played by Ian Colletti), who displays many of the same proclivities as his father. Each morning, Keegan tends to wake up bruised — physically, emotionally, spiritually. Usually it’s a combination of them all. Then it’s out into the world, onto the battleground of Keegan’s day. Two days before the series premiere of the U.S. version of “Rake,” Kinnear took time out from his busy schedule to do this interview via a telephone conference call with journalists.

How are you similar to the Keegan Deane character? How did you relate?

We’re both horrible gamblers. 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. The truth is I don’t know that there’s a lot. I think it’s what really attracted me to the character when I saw the Australian show and kind of the zone they were playing in, not only the ensemble nature of the show, but just this, Keegan himself with the inability to not get out of his own way and his kind of needs and wants and addictions all sort of snowballing around him constantly and just 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 them in such a flawless rate, such an ease of his ability to miscalculate and to set off little personal landmines around his life so regularly that it really seemed like a fun area to play around in. I hadn’t played an attorney before, so one that was dealing with that kind of world seemed like a great plan.

Keegan Deane just seems like such a Greg Kinnear character, and that’s more like a testament to your charm than a suggestion of it being typecast or anything like that. Can you talk a little bit about as an actor what that’s like, whether it’s a little frustrating at times or comforting or annoying that people look at it as, “Yeah, that’s Greg Kinnear being Greg Kinnear.” Does this mean that’s Greg Kinnear at his best to you or does that mean that’s Greg Kinnear not putting as much work into it as he probably really is?

Well, I can’t really drill down too deep on other people’s perceptions of myself. I felt like in terms of my interest on this particular role that it would be fun to play, that it would be something that could evolve and something that might be a nice starting point in an onward journey and where it will go and what will happen specifically to the guy, obviously we’ve done a lot of conversations, Peter and I, about what that is.

But, yeah, I don’t know what a Greg Kinnear role looks like or is. I guess if I do the role then it is that. But this didn’t feel; obviously, I’m not playing a junkie. At least in the starting place of who this guy is and my hope for what he can be, I was attracted to it and wanted to do it because of what I saw on the page and less about how I could define or redefine people’s perception of me. So, that was just not the mandate here.

You just mentioned you never played an attorney. Did you bone up a little bit on some sort of edgy characters to try to work some of that into creating this guy?

Well, specifically defense characters, there’s quite a pantheon of very, very colorful types in this world, both men and women. And, you know, there’s an inherently despicable rap that I think 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.

And I guess we won’t be doing a lot to undespicasize – I don’t know the word. I would have to go to Google and see if we can undespicable something. I don’t know that we’ll be doing a lot with this role to champion people’s perceptions of defense attorneys.

Listen, I mean 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. And that notion of that is probably part of how they got the rap, but I think it’s to try and find the balance of being colorful, being at times despicable, but also being somebody who does believe in something.

We’re on Episode 10 now, and there have been cases where there are people who for sure the audience is going to want to not be found innocent and at times they are and at times they’re not. I think the real cool thing about the show is most of the people I represent are guilty, and the truth is 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 and, 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 sort of quietly handled between people negotiating. And that’s another kind of cool aspect of the show. But 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.

How much will this version of “Rake” borrow from the original Australian series?

Yeah, that’s a good question. Well, listen, in terms of its format, one of the most significant changes that we’ve had to embrace is being on a network where I think we have 43 minutes or 44 minutes or something like that and Peter’s Australian show was like 58, 59 minutes and that time change has been a real difficult sort of readjustment that has been something we’re conscious of. Obviously, in an Australian show you always had kind of a case, sometimes more significant one week, sometimes less significant 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 sort of orbital world of these pivotal characters in my life and my life and their lives, which is one of the coolest things about the show I think is the ensemble element of it. We worked really hard to cast great actors in this ensemble. I think they’re all excellent.

And that aspect has really come up in the last few shows. It starts a little Keegan-centric as the show kind of starts, but it really evolves and you get to know all these characters a lot more. But there are limitations just with time. As far as the cases, sometimes there is some stuff that we have taken from the Australian show, some of the cases, some of the story lines.

But I would say a lot of it is its own thing and has kind of organically found its own place. So, I don’t know what the percentage would be to give you for that, but maybe 30 percent, 40 percent kind of comes from the Australian show, but I think the rest of it feels very different. So 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, obviously the hope is for all of us to try to find our own DNA and kind of develop our own vibe here.

Since becoming a part of “Rake,” how has your view of the court system changed?

Well, as I said earlier and I think it’s true, I never really had considered how; 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 kind of go through this whole sort of straightforward, very clean process of justice. And I think what the show has done, because we have lawyers working on it and just through conversations and just through stories that we work on, the truth is that you learn that there is not a straight through line on any of these cases, that they’re all varied. Many of them never go to trial, or the ones that do have a whole different expectation than the ones that don’t in terms of the outcome and how they’re negotiated. So much of the process seems inconsistent to me.

And, obviously, I don’t think it’s 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 sort of imbalance to the process, an imbalance to the outcome and justice is not always served fairly for sure. That’s been made very clear talking to a lot of the guys we have access to and we try and represent that fairly in the show I think.

Since you like to work a lot, as you survey your career at this point in your life, do you see the landscape as having more interesting possibilities than you expected, compared to a few years ago? How do you view the landscape as you make the decision to do this TV series and the kind of things you’re being offered?

Well, I don’t know if I concede your point that you know I’m a guy who likes to work a lot. We may have to have some debate about that. I guess I’ve done a lot of movies, but a lot of them aren’t leads, the roles that have demanded enormous amounts of time. And so, I guess an illusion might be that that’s always the case, but you know, it’s been a balance of work, for sure, that I’ve enjoyed.

This show and these shows are, obviously, there’s a lot of work, particularly starting out, as I said earlier, the show is very focused on my character before we start to bring in Miranda and John Ortiz and David Harbor and all these other great actors. But I think 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, and we’re doing 13 [episodes], so to build a story line of my guy and the people around him in 13 episodes felt like there’s something manageable about that and with an end date in sight, which is fast approaching. So beyond, I don’t know what will really 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. So I guess from that standpoint it’s all good.

Why are are the seven scariest words in Keegan’s life, “This is going to be a conversation?”

Well, they’re certainly the seven scariest words in Ben’s life, played by John Ortiz because it’s coming from his wife. I don’t know that those are the seven scariest words for Keegan. I think that he thrives on conversation. I think dialogue and words, he doesn’t use an economy with them and I think our writers are really good at keeping that vibe alive here. At any given moment I, at least my character, in particular, am spinning a lot of plates and words prop him up.

And I saw it in the Australian show. Peter Duncan and what those guys had done down there had a really nice balance of stuff going on, but really 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, Sam [Raimi, who directed the first episode of the U.S. version of “Rake”], I worked with Sam a few years ago in 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.

And my wife was the one who said, “Yu know what? Just ask him. All he can do is say no.” And I asked him, and he read the script, and he loved it and, in fact, has gone on and done another show for us and helped us with some other pieces along the way and has really become an ally to “Rake.” I’m grateful to that because, obviously, he’s my friend, but he’s also t I think a great artist. I think the show has some cool colors in it. To have Peter Stormare and Sam, its early incarnation attracted some really smart people, so I’m grateful for that.

For more info: "Rake" website