Mickey Prohaska (Greg Kinnear) is a small-time insurance agent looking for a way to jump-start his business, reunite with his estranged wife (Lea Thompson) and escape the frigid Wisconsin weather. This self-proclaimed master of spin believes that salesmanship is about selling a story – all he needs is a sucker willing to buy it. He hits pay dirt with a lonely retired farmer (Alan Arkin) who is sitting on something much bigger than an insurance commission. But Mickey’s attempt to con the old man spins out of control when a nosy, unstable locksmith (Billy Crudup) with a volatile temper dramatically ups the stakes, trapping him in a madcap spiral of danger, deceit and double-crossing.
MoviesOnline sat down with Alan Arkin & Greg Kinnear at a roundtable interview to talk about what brought them back together to work on their dark new comedy crime thriller, “Thin Ice.” They told us about their reaction when they first read the script, the directing process with writer/director Jill Sprecher, shooting on location in the Midwest in sub-zero weather, and working with a terrifying Billy Crudup. Kinnear also discussed his recent cameo on “Modern Family” and the turmoil surrounding “The Kennedys” miniseries.
Q: What is it about this great pairing of the two of you that brought you back together and have you walking on thin ice this time?
AA: You answered your own question. Go ahead, Greg.
GK: Alan loves me. He has said repeatedly that other actors are interesting in their own way, and I’m paraphrasing, but no one aspires to the artistic greatness of Greg. I’m through searching for it. I shall just attach myself to it and it will be easier that way. Was it something like that?
AA: I did say it, but I don’t think it was about you.
GK: Oh, that’s right. Okay, so Steve Carell.
AA: That’s right.
GK: Alan sent me the script of “Thin Ice.” He was good enough to send me the script. He had worked with Jill (Sprecher), the writer/director, before and said hey, this is an interesting little piece. The guy you see is somewhat despicable, so I don’t know what Alan sees in me that necessarily conjured me up for the role, but I was quite taken with it. I thought it was a really interesting story and fun and obviously a chance for us to work together again, Gorvy. I didn’t know that Gorvy was going to on the first day. Alan just all of a sudden shows up as Gorvy Hauer who’s completely this character that I didn’t see coming that’s brilliant, and we had fun in spite of the cold. If you have fun in a movie in this kind of temperature, you’re having a helluva time. I mean, out there (in Los Angeles), if you’re having as much fun as we had doing this in these kinds of temperatures, oh God, it’d be unbelievable.
Q: Billy Crudup looks very terrifying in this movie. Can you talk about your experience working with him?
GK: I hadn’t met him before. He’s a real gentleman and a great actor. And you’re right, very menacing and terrifying in the role. At the same time, I find him very funny in it. There’s a subtle kind of touch of somebody who makes me laugh. It’s a helluva performance. I enjoyed working with him almost as much as I did [with Alan].
Q: Do you have a shorthand working with each other since you’ve worked together before?
AA: I think it’d take a little more time than just two movies. My idea of heaven is working with people again, because you get through the first arc of an experience, then you start to know somebody. We could take more liberties with each other the second time. The first time you work with somebody, you have your hat in your hand and you say “Do you mind? Are you comfortable with this?” With Greg, like the other times I’ve worked with people a second, third time, I can say “Hey, wouldn’t it be fun if we blah, blah, blah.” You can just take more liberties.
GK: Because there’s trust. There’s some level of trust.
Q: What was brand new or what did you not know about each other that you learned doing this movie?
AA: I learned the extent of the punishment that Greg could take without complaining. I had an inkling of it with “Little Miss Sunshine” where we would sometimes spend six hours locked in that damn bus, six hours at a time, in 110 degree heat with no air conditioning. It was rough, but nobody ever complained. We were all in that together. In this, I saw Greg come out of two nights’ work where he was working in 20 degree below weather with no thermal underwear or anything and just a thin suit on and he never complained. I said man, he’s more dedicated than I even thought. I knew he was dedicated but this was more. So I knew I could beat him up a lot.
GK: I may have had thermal underwear on, just so you know. This rumor about me not having thermal underwear I feel like it’s…
AA: You didn’t, did you?
GK: I don’t know. I don’t think so. It was a very thin suit so…the wardrobe budget didn’t allow for that.
Q: Alan, you’ve won just about every award that could be won including directing. When you’re working as an actor and you see something that you think should be done differently, do you say anything?
AA: Differently is not the issue. If something is wrong, like a week ago, I was doing a scene with Steve Carell where something in the scene was not a question of opinion but it’s a question of no one’s going to believe it. If it’s a simple mechanical, then I’ll shoot my mouth off. But differences of opinion go on all the time, and my opinion is not necessarily better than somebody else’s opinion. So, I try to keep my mouth shut most of the time and mind my own business unless a reality is being violated and then I’ll say something. I’ve kind of made a rule for myself for the past ten years that I’m going to present the most difficult, arbitrary side of myself before we start shooting, so that the rules are laid out and I know what the director is going for and they know what I’m [going for]. It happens to me over and over again. I say “What is the style of this movie? What do you want this movie to be like?” and they say “Well, we want it to be real.” I hear that from every director and that’s crap, because everybody wants it to be real, but everybody’s version of reality is different. If I don’t understand the exact tone of the movie I’m doing, I say tell me a movie that you want this to be like. No director likes to answer that because they want to think that their movie is unique, that it’s going to be like no other, which is nonsense. Just give me an idea so that I’ll find out. Okay, now I know the style. Now I’ve got an idea of what I’m trying to fit myself into. Is it comedic? Is it serious? Can I be broad? Can I be small? And then, I want to get very, very specific about what I want and what direction I want the character to go in. When I read a script these days, the first time I read it I either know who the character is or I don’t. I can’t usually work on it and find out what it is. It either comes or it doesn’t come. And, if it comes, I want to make sure that the director wants what I’m seeing. And, if he doesn’t, I want to find out before we start shooting and not a week into the shooting which becomes a disaster. So that’s why I like to be as arbitrary and specific beforehand as possible so that when you get on the set there are no huge surprises. Even with that, there are always surprises and variables and changes you’ve got to make.
Q: How was it working with Jill again?
AA: Exactly like it was the first time. In the first movie, she wrote what was one of my favorite characters that I ever played. For this, I had an idea for it that was an expansion. I didn’t have to do much with the first film. I loved it exactly as it was written. I felt like it was really Chekovian. But, with this, I felt like I wanted to extend it another layer from what they had written and she was happy with it, so it was a little bit more collaborative than the first time.
Q: Have either one of you ever been the victim of a snake oil salesman or some type of a con? Have you ever fallen for anybody’s ploy?
AA: Well my father was a lot but I don’t think I have been. Oh wait, I had a big life insurance policy that I bought about 15 years ago that cost me a fortune. There was a 10 year thing and then it was going to be over with after a certain amount. Then, two and a half years ago the policy was over and I breathed a great sigh of relief, and then my accountant called and said “You’ve got to pay for another 7years.” I said “Why?” He said “Because they didn’t like the interest that they were making on it.” In the fine print somewhere in this fifty-page contract, it says that if the interest rates aren’t to their favor, they have the right to extend the contract another 7years. Apparently, that happens across the board but nobody had ever told me. I was ready to buy a machine gun. I was enraged for a long time about that. Although, I wouldn’t call that snake oil, but I guess it’s part and parcel of the business. And, I had like five people reading the contract when I got it.
GK: I was with AT&T on my cell phone service for about 8 years so that’s about the best I can offer.
Q: You have such great experience with your characters going back all the way to “Dear God,” I would think you’d have a sensibility that you could spot one of these little cons going on.
GK: Oh right, I don’t know. He gets duped pretty well on this.
Q: Greg, you were a journalist and then you were a TV host and also you graduated as a journalism major. Did you ever take formal acting classes and how did your background help you as an actor?
GK: Not really any formal training to speak of, but I started in college as a drama major and had a few drama classes, but no, most of it has been with real time experience. That makes it sound better. And speaking of the other side though, yes, I spent quite a few years hosting different shows and some comfortability would come from being around the camera. I do think that that experience helped a lot. Most of my experience as a host was looking directly at the camera and talking right to it. I keep looking for a movie where I get to talk to the camera and I’ve never gotten one. I got one line in one movie years ago where I got to say something into the camera, but other than that, no. I don’t know. I mean, it’s still a learning process for me. I think I just basically steal from great actors like Alan and pick up everything I can and load it up in my little leather satchel and head on to the next one.
Q: Do you ever want to do interviews again?
GK: Sure, yeah, I would. I guess the right format or the right venue, but oh yeah, I still find myself painfully jealous of Charlie Rose.
Q: I loved your cameo last night on “Modern Family,” how did that come about?
GK: That’s how I started the morning with Alan. I’m very friendly. That’s why they cast me. You know, I haven’t seen the episode yet, but I will see it. I have it recorded. I just was out last night. But, it’s funny. We watch that show. It just happened that we really love that show. I don’t watch much TV. I do have a television.
AA: Well you can afford one. That’s good! I’m glad you can afford one.
GK: But we do watch that show and I’ve always thought it was funny. And then they just asked me “Would you like to do an episode?” and I said “Yes!” The way that came about is I had met some of the actors actually at some dinner for the Emmy Awards this year and said I’m such a fan of the show, and then the next thing I know, they said “Would you like to do an episode?” and I said “Yeah.” So that’s how it came about.
Q: Is the door open to return as that character?
GK: Oh no, I think they’re pretty much done with me now. They took all my best stuff. They said “Listen, kid, good luck to you!”
Q: Alan, given what your father went through, do you think being a celebrity and an actor that you should have political opinions?
AA: I should? I think it’s up to the individual if they feel the need. For the most part, I don’t know why an actor knows any more about politics than a politician. I gotta think about that. I think most of the politicians now don’t know anything about politics either so why shouldn’t an actor talk? It depends on the individual. I don’t have any rules for what people should and shouldn’t do. They gotta do what they feel they can get away with and then find out that they can’t, until they get stopped.
Q: You both have been part of Oscar Awards Season and campaigning for films. What was the unexpected…?
GK: We both won.
AA: [shakes his head no]
GK: No, wait, I’m sorry. I can never keep that straight. Honestly.
Q: He’ll loan it to you, I’m sure. Maybe you can share.
GK: I got one and he got nominated or he got one and I got nominated. I don’t know! Whatever! What was the question?
Q: What was the unexpectedly fun part of that whole process and then what was the part that you could have lived without?
AA: (to Greg) I think you’re being asked.
GK: Don’t tell me. Your fun part was winning. The whole thing is great. It really is when you do movies and certainly any of them and they find themselves percolating in that spot where they get noticed and talked about. It’s fun. It feels rewarding. The great thing is it turns into one big party with all these people who usually when you finish a movie it’s like “See ya!” and that’s the end of that. But it does kind of keep the group together through that process. I don’t know…did you ask what’s bad about it? You gain weight during a lot of it. How many dinners can you sit at? “Bring me the beef chops, please. What’s that? Okay, the pie a-la-mode first and then the beef chops.”
AA: It’s free!
GK: You’re saying it’s free, right?
AA: I thought about it about three years ago. I think I was just sitting and musing about it. “What of any of this has really been enjoyable?” And I thought and I thought and I thought about it and I said … Maybe it’s trite or maybe you won’t believe me, but I swear it’s true. The only real joy I’ve ever gotten out of any of it was the moment of nomination. That’s a moment of sheer delight and surprise and feeling like you are part of something and part of a group of people, most of whom you admire, if not all of them, at least most of them. The rest, I think, is nonsense. That makes you part of something, but the rest is isolating and I don’t believe that isolation is real. I mean, if you win, you think you’re special and that lasts for about 10 minutes.
GK: You were unbearable for the 10 minutes. Unbearable!
AA: And, if you lose, you think you’re a failure which is madness. So, the moment of nomination is really real. No, that’s not true. Also, the phone calls I got from people afterwards, people I hadn’t spoken to or thought about sometimes in years and years. It’s my own issue, but I have a hard time accepting people caring about me. That’s something I tend to carry, and I could not avoid it, recognizing that there were people who cared that I had won. It was such a barrage that I was very moved for a long time by that. That was the highest for me.
Q: Greg, you were the son of a diplomat and you moved around a lot as a kid, how did that impact on your childhood and your adulthood?
GK: I don’t know. It’s hard to say. It was a great card to be dealt and to be able to grow up overseas for quite a few years was really an extraordinary thing. I’d love to be able to do it with my own kids, and I think about anything other than me ending up with some job that puts me over in Europe, which by the way has happened which is kind of nice, but just for short little periods of time. It was a great exposure to the world. I’m not sure how it reflects in my own life or how it’s affected my life and certainly what I do, but it was a damn good situation. I still have a lot of friends that I keep in very close touch with who were over there at the same time and had the same experience. I just did this movie with Julianne Moore and she gave me a book when we were done called “TCK” which is Third Culture Kids because she grew up in Germany and all these different places because her father was military. We were just talking about our shared experiences of moving around. Most people when they finish a movie, they’re like “Oh we’ve got to keep in touch” and hugs and we both basically had the same experience. Like when it’s done, it’s like “See ya later! Thanks!” And we’re both working on that to the point where she gave me a book about it. So look, see, I’m making progress in the classroom.
Q: Greg, there was so much turmoil surrounding “The Kennedys” before it ever got on the air.
GK: I never heard a thing about that. (laughs) I had no idea.
Q: How gratifying is it to you now, at the end of the road, to see not only how well received the show was by the public, but all of the acclaim and the accolades?
GK: It’s funny. We were just talking about that, because when I was making “Thin Ice,” I looked over at our lunch table one day in the commissary or whatever room it was, some cafeteria that was cold when we were having lunch, and I was sitting with Alan. He had his Gorvy hat on and everything, and I was telling him about this Kennedys thing, and he nicely offered some sage advice, which was to run! No. He actually said “Oh, it sounds interesting.” We talked about it and I was struggling with whether or not to do it because I was overwhelmed by obviously taking on a role like that. But I did it. Doing it and working with Barry (Pepper) and Tom Wilkinson and Katie (Holmes) and a really good group of actors, I had a great experience doing that and I was glad ultimately that I did it. I was shocked with what happened and I think the crew of like 150 people really, really worked hard on the movie to tell the best story that we all could. We’re all Big ReelzChannel fans now. We’re a little disheartened, but I don’t know really know what happened. To this day, I still get asked what did happen and there have been some interesting stories written about it, but what took place or who the characters were that were behind what took place, I keep waiting for the quintessential great article to come out and say “Here’s what happened!” People Magazine said it was the second biggest television story of last year and yet nobody has done this incredible story to tell exactly what happened and why a show of that size would have been moved off and lost its channel space. But I’ll look forward to that.
Q: Are you going to work with Pierce Brosnan again soon?
GK: Well three’s the charm. Right?
“Thin Ice” opens in theaters on February 17th.