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A long way from Talk Soup for Greg Kinnear

Actor stars opposite Pierce Brosnan in the offbeat buddy film, ‘The Matador’
/ Source: Reuters

“Brokeback Mountain,” it ain’t. And Greg Kinnear, for one, is happy to admit it.

Kinnear stars in new movie “The Matador” alongside Pierce Brosnan. It is a low-budget buddy comedy in which Brosnan plays a burned-out assassin whom Kinnear, portraying a businessman, befriends during a lonely week in Mexico City.

Kinnear likens his character, Danny Wright, to a college freshman who looks up to an older student, Brosnan as Julian Noble, the quintessential big man on campus.

“They do have a very funny relationship and there is this, kind of, underlying love there,” Kinnear told Reuters.

He paused.

“We’re not the new ‘Brokeback Mountain,’ don’t get me wrong,” he said in a comparison to the gay romance movie. “But there is this quiet affection.”

In fact, the only similarity between “The Matador” which opens in limited release this week and more widely  Jan. 20, and “Brokeback Mountain” is this: Both are competing for awards in this year’s Oscar race.

“The Matador” is winning good reviews, and Brosnan earned a Golden Globe nomination for acting. Kinnear, 42, is being talked about for the supporting actor Oscar. It is not the first time the TV talk show host-turned-actor has wowed audiences.

Dodging bulls and bulletsIn “The Matador” Kinnear’s Danny is from Denver visiting Mexico to win a contract that will keep his company afloat.

In between meetings, he runs into Julian in a hotel bar, and the two strike up a casual friendship. Julian takes Danny to a bullfight where Julian confesses he’s a professional hitman. Julian then proves to Danny he is the real thing.

The story shifts to Denver where Julian appears on Danny’s doorstep in the middle of the night. He has botched a killing and needs Danny’s help to make things right. When Danny balks, Julian reminds Danny he owes him a favor from Mexico.

The film is part comedy, part drama. Brosnan sheds his suave James Bond character to play boozing, whore-mongering Julian, whose life is consumed with self indulgence.

Kinnear takes on middle-class, devoted husband Danny who, along with his wife, Bean (Hope Davis), is rebuilding his life after the death of his son in a school bus accident.

“These two guys are such wildly opposing life forms, and they kind of end up adapting each other’s personas,” Kinnear said, “It’s not unusual we find qualities that, maybe, we lack in our own lives, but become attractive in other people.”

The movie premiered at last year’s Sundance Film Festival to good reviews. Show business newspaper Daily Variety wrote: “Throughout the picture, but especially in early scenes, [writer/director Richard] Shepard does a bang-up job of lacing humorous scenes with an undercurrent of threat.”

Oscar talk
Danny is an everyday guy with no obvious edges, but actors say characters like Danny are hard to play because they seem normal on the surface, but underneath the person is in crisis.

“He feels like a scared guy, and I don’t think I’ve played a lot of guys who are quietly fearful of the world,” Kinnear said about Danny.

If supporting acting honors did come Kinnear’s way, it would not be the first time. His role as a gay artist in director James L. Brook’s comedy, “As Good as It Gets,” earned him an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor.

For the humorous, former host of television show “Talk Soup” — a send-up of Hollywood celebrity that aired on cable TV network E! — the role was a career-changing part because it earned the respect of his peers and proved he was more than just a funny guy with a good-looking face. He could act, too.

The acclaim for the Indiana native came at a time when his transition from TV to movies was on shaky ground, and the attention gave him confidence to move forward, he said.

“To have actors, and people in this world I was trying to move into, give me a quiet nod was inspiring,” he said.

Since then, Kinnear has taken parts in independent movies such as “The Gift” and “Auto Focus,” as well as big budget films like “We Were Soldiers” and “Bad News Bears.”

He said he has no particular interest in one type of film or the other. His decisions boil down to story and director.

“I’m the first guy to grab the popcorn and go watch the big, giant honkin’ ‘King Kong’ movie,” he said. “But at the end of the day, it’s all about the character you find.”