Actor Greg Kinnear says he knows he’s been lucky to have worked with many terrific filmmakers in his career, directors that include Richard Linklater, Paul Schrader and James L. Brooks, who guided Kinnear to an Academy Award nomination for his work in 1997’s “As Good As It Gets.”
“I’ve always been humbled and wildly intimidated by the process,” Kinnear says. ” But the idea of being able to tell a story more personally like that was always intriguing to me if I could ever find a story that I was intrigued enough by.”
That story landed in his inbox a few years ago when a producer sent him Stephen Mazur’s script for “Phil,” the story of the deeply depressed dentist of the same name as the title. In the wake of a patient’s suicide, Kinnear’s Phil goes in search of life and death answers.
“There was something in his script that really stuck with me — I couldn’t get it out of my head,” Kinnear says. “The fact that it was strangely a life-affirming story framed in the backdrop of a death was intriguing, and I was surprised by it.
“It made me laugh, and it was a fun script, but at the same time I felt something for, not only this guy, but kind of the emotional impact of this suicide resonating through the story,” he says. “And it slips into a mystery, which seemed like a fun thing to do, go on a mystery about why this happened.
“And in a way, Phil is trying to save his own life, but finding the answer to a question that’s not really answerable.”
“Phil,” the film Kinnear ended up directing and starring in, opens July 5, a dark comedy that, as Kinnear initially recognized, affirms all the value of life in all its messy, unknowable qualities.
After Michael Fisk, the patient played by Bradley Whitford, kills himself, Kinnear’s Phil accidentally-on-purpose finds himself pretending to be Spyros, a long-ago friend from Greece, and inserting himself into Fisk’s life, growing especially close to his widow Alicia, played by Emily Mortimer.
Peter Larsen has been the Pop Culture Reporter for the Orange County Register since 2004