He's the man you want on your side, especially if you're a serial killer. Greg Kinnear stars in the new Fox legal dramedy Rake as Keegan Deane, a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney so bad at life that he lives in a dump above a Chinese restaurant and has to beg for a ride to work. Keegan is being hounded by the IRS and is frequently roughed up by his bookie, but thanks to his humor, smarts and naughty-boy twinkle, he's a superstar before the jury. And, really, who knows more about the persuasive powers of charm than Kinnear?
TV Guide Magazine: You're a great catch. Is it safe to assume that the networks have been dying to get you to headline a series for years?
Kinnear: There have been offers, but the timing or the project was never right. I really sparked to Rake, though. It doesn't take itself too seriously and has a very cool vibe. And I like the crazy, unexpected criminals he encounters. [Laughs] I mean, how do you go wrong defending a cannibal?
TV Guide Magazine: You walk a shaky tightrope with your character, who is brilliant in court yet addicted to gambling, hooked on call girls and, when it comes to social interaction, a total nightmare. Yet the people in his life adore him. What's up with that?
Kinnear: The fact that his friends, his son [Ian Colletti] and his ex-wife [Miranda Otto] — who is also his shrink — really like the guy gives the show a muted shade of optimism, an element of hope that wouldn't exist if we were on cable. But Keegan's a big screwup, and while the people who love him may support him, they certainly don't approve of him.
TV Guide Magazine: But he can't ever get his act together, because there goes the show, right?
Kinnear: I don't ever see that happening with Keegan. His road ahead will always be riddled with potholes. In fact, if we get picked up for another season, I'm curious to see if he's still a lawyer. He's that disaster-prone and a master mind of his own destruction.
TV Guide Magazine: We should also mention that his clients are almost always guilty. He's OK putting criminals back out on the street?
Kinnear: Even when his clients are not completely guilty, they're still kind of guilty. But he has no choice. The easy, obvious cases always go to the lawyers who walk around never breaking a sweat — the guys you see ordering their lattes at Starbucks in their nice blue suits with their s--t totally together. Keegan never gets those cases.
TV Guide Magazine: What do you like about this crazy character?
Kinnear: That he's a really fun guy who doesn't have a governor, and he's impervious to failure and so unaffected by the damage. He's like one of those inflatable clowns we used to punch when I was a kid — no matter how hard you smash 'em, they bob right back up. I really admire that, because it's so not applicable to my own life. [Laughs] I'm not very good with rejection.
TV Guide Magazine: Your career has been pretty wild, taking you from host of E!'s Talk Soup to Oscar-nominated movie star (for 1997's As Good as It Gets). Do you feel like the poster boy for other hosts who want to break out big?
Kinnear: I don't know that I'm the founding father of any movement, but the unusualness of what happened to me after Talk Soup hopefully encouraged producers to look at talent in a different way. But let's be clear about one thing: There was another TV host who got an Oscar nomination long before I did. Oprah is our founding father!
TV Guide Magazine: Well, can you at least admit that you ushered in the modern age of snark? You were running clips and making fun of people on Talk Soup long before Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert got around to it.
Kinnear: That's true, though I didn't feel like much of a pioneer at E!, which was a very small channel back in the early '90s — so small I wasn't even sure we were actually on the air. You know, I once played Bob Kearns, inventor of the intermittent windshield wiper [in the 2008 film Flash of Genius], and the argument was always, "Well, somebody would have come up with that idea sooner or later." But I guess maybe we did give a lot of people permission to be snarky. And now we all live in a snarky nation. C'mon, everybody, get yourself a Twitter account and join the fun!
Rake premieres Thursday, Jan. 23 at 9/8c on Fox.