Nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in the comedy As Good as It Gets, Greg Kinnear has moved effortlessly between genres, starring in the acclaimed biopic of actor Bob Crane, Auto Focus, the supernatural thriller The Gift, the black comedy Nurse Betty and the recent action drama, Green Zone, starring Matt Damon.
But as the father of three daughters, it was an easy transition for him to play Miley Cyrus’ dad in the new movie based on Nicholas Sparks’ novel The Last Song. As Steve Miller, he portrays a man who is estranged from his family after leaving them to pursue a career as a concert pianist. When his children, Jonah (Bobby Coleman) and Ronnie (Cyrus) come to spend the summer with him at his beach house, he tries to reconnect with Ronnie through the only thing they have in common – music.
Can you talk about playing Miley’s dad?
I was a little nervous about that initially. The fact that he goes away (from his family) didn’t matter as much to me as the story of a man who’s trying to get to grips with stuff, that’s what was so interesting about the script. I think that’s what’s interesting about Nicholas Sparks’ work is that it is very much about people trying to survive things and trying to regroup.
Miley was a good daughter, I’ve got a lot of daughters in life, but in movies not so much. It was a fantastic location (Tybee Island off the coast of Georgia), a wonderful place to work, and I rode my bike to work. How tough could it be? It was great.
Were you worried at all about playing a man who deserted his family?
I was just afraid that I was going to look like the guy who’s just cut out on the family and living (on a island) listening to Jimmy Buffet songs, (saying things like), ” Hey what’s up guys, welcome to the island. It was great of you to stop by.’
It was all very subtle, but (we) just tried to establish that they had a relationship and that there had been problems on both sides, and that’s what had caused this rift, and that that was okay. There were no villains in that scenario.
Steve wants to reunite with his kids and get to know them again. There are a lot of things that are unknown at the start of this movie, and they’re revealed over the course of the summer.
What interested you in this role?
I read the script and I was so touched by it. Nicholas Sparks has an incredible sensitivity towards families. He’s written an interesting story about people who at the onset seem to have very little chance of connecting. In the end, not everything is tied up in a perfect bow – which is a lot like real life.
I was touched by the difficulty of trying to make permanent connections in a family that’s had a seismic rift in its infrastructure. The parents are split up for reasons we don’t explore, but it seems like no one is necessarily at fault. But, as always, kids have taken the hit and in this case, the oldest daughter Ronnie is in that vulnerable stage where anger and hostility can be a real outlet.
She’s mad as hell and she’s not going to take it anymore. My character is trying to repair that and resuscitate a sense of family. He (has a secret) and he’s trying to protect them, but until they have that information, there’s no way for this family to move forward. I think Nicholas Sparks has a wonderful way with secrets. It’s dealt with very effectively.
You have three daughters yourself
Father-daughter relationships are particularly complicated. Steve’s relationship with his daughter is strained, to put it nicely, but he’s trying. He’s swimming upstream, because she’s full of salt and vinegar and has a lot of preconceived ideas about her father. Some aren’t entirely true, and that will be discovered.
Steveis also tormented by the belief that he caused a fire that destroyed the local church, and is trying to rebuild the structure’s stained-glass window – did you have to learn to do that yourself?
It’s was amazing to learn about. You think of stained-glass and wonder how do they possibly do that? It seems like some crazy science that nobody could ever master. But there’s a simplicity to it that is great. You need to know exactly what you’re doing and it takes years of time and effort and skill to master it, but I ended up feeling like it’s a climbable mountain.
You play a concert pianist in this, was it hard to master playing the piano?
I would say I could fake the piano before, but when you’re training to be a concert pianist, the fake tinkering skill is the first thing that has to go. I had to start all over again and work with an instructor. I think I’m officially hooked on the ivories now. (Playing the piano) was my way of motivating the crew. All I had to do was threaten to play and they went to work!