This week, Marc Abraham’s new film Flash of Genius, starring Greg Kinnear will be hitting theaters. The story is about based off the real life of, Robert Kearns, a who fought a decades long battle with the Ford Motor company over ingenuity. No matter what the price, Kearns single-handedly took on the corporation and refused to be silenced. Greg Kinnear gives a stunning performance as Robert Kearns in the film. He represents the joy and the pain that it takes to be a self-made hero.
We were lucky enough to get to sit down with Kinnear, who seems like one of the most genuine human beings you’ll ever meet.We got to chat about the film, big business, the Wiggles and a whole lot more…
Very rarely does principle win over money these days, how do you feel the audience will be able to relate to his struggle?
Greg Kinnear: I think it was funny how the audience, in a way their sense is, as their watching it,Ã‚Â kind of mirrors the Ford motor company. It’s “come on, just take the money just bend, it’ll be ok.” I mean we live in a world where we have game shows about taking the money now, so I think people really feel like there’s a way out of this. What I was intrigued by all along with this story, was just his inability to do that and why, and ultimately it’s grounded in principle, not about money but real principle.Ã‚Â I thought is pretty incredible, and he’s not a perfect character, he’s not a guy who doesn’t have his own shortcomings. He’s abrupt and prickly and self destructive in a way, but inspite of all of those qualities,Ã‚Â I really felt myself championing his journey, I wanted him to find some satisfaction in all of this.
You have taken a number of risks to follow your dream with your own career, was this something you could relate to the character or did you find there to be things that were hard for you to connect with?
GK: I have kids, and obviously the part of him as a father that ended up setting his children aside to make this thing right was troubling to watch, kinda troubling to read when I first read the script. And its still kind of a difficult aspect of the story to swallow, but how do you ever put yourself in this guy’s shoes? I mean this was an idea that was manifested out of a personal handicap. I think he obviously felt that this was something deeply personal to him and the way in which he had been marginalized in all this created some sort of behavior; I wouldn’t call it obsessive, but it was obviously something he couldn’t let go of.Ã‚Â It’s akin to saying to somebody who has a drinking problem: you know what you really need to do, stop drinking. If you don’t drink any more you’ll be fine! And I think his family and certainly the ford motor company and a lot of people around him are unsettled by the idea that he can’t just work his way through this.
Having done both this film and Fast Food Nation, what’s your sense of which is the more formidable corporate adversary, fast food industry or the automotive industry?
GK: Well I don’t know, the fast food industry certainly isn’t the tobacco industry, but in terms of the dietary needs that would help make our country healthier and what their serving, does seem to be a little at a bit of odds with each-other in a pretty sever way. The automotive corporations, including Ford, are in the business of trying to make cars that people will drive. I think the fault with automotive cars right now is just the fact that were not getting as many miles for every gallon of gasoline in the year 2008 that all of us hoped we would be at this point. But in terms of the way Ford is portrayed in the movie, I liked the representation of them. I didn’t feel like these were guys in black hats twisting their mustaches, nor did I feel that way about Alan Alda’s character whose basically explaining to Bob how justice works in a very articulate way. Ford felt like they had been done wrong here, and thought buying him off like any corporation does today could remove this from their plate. Of course they came across the worst possible kind of adversary; a guy not driven buy money, a guy driven by principle.
Do you think this story has any relevance to the way the corporations work today?
GK: I’m not sure this kind of a story could exist even exist in 2008 right now. If a friend of yours told you they were gonna go fight Google, you’d give them a bottle of Prozac and put them to bed. In a way its a nostalgic story, I think the Bob Kern story is kind of the last chapter of an individual being able to takeÃ‚Â on a corporation, today it’ll be a class action suit, it would all be about money and settlements and that stuff, but this guy having the audacity to do what he did and at great costs, like I said I think he lost a lot in this, this is a story that I’m not sure can ever happen again.
When I first saw this film, I was very surprised, to see that the devise that he was fighting for was the intermittent windshield wiper, something we all take for granted.
GK: Yeah it’s a little like, you tell somebody about the intermittent windshield wiper and [there is] a brief moment that is like “oh yeah.” It’s true that it is something that everybody universally knows, and unless you mention it to them they’re kind of like “what?”. From the movie I think everything has a design, everything has an idea behind it. Somebody had to design this beautiful piece of whatever that holds that poster up that. That was a person that wasn’t a company that came up with that, and in a world were more and more of us worked for fewer and fewer people, I mean we all work for the same 5 guys don’t we? I feel like here’s a chance they’ll do a story about somebody who having been marginalized by that system actually chooses to go the full distance. I thought that was pretty amazing.
Do you know how he spent his settlement?
GK: Well most of it went to lawyers, other law firms, other assistants, people who helped him. He had some money, the family got some money, it’s not like he ended up with this windfall of money and ran off. As Phillis says in the movie, “I don’t think it’s ever over with you” and I dont think it was with him, he still felt that he had been grossly underpaid and what they had done to settle wasn’t a settlement at all, he was involved in other cases as well.
The original thing he wanted was for them to take out an add in the paper, did he ever get that?
GK: Never did, no. He never got that cause you know what was the thing, he never got the thing that I think he wanted most and I didn’t really fault him on this. I feel like if this was a guy that need his ego stroked or needed to be on the cover of reader’s digest or inventor magazine, or whatever, I would’ve felt less strongly about the character. I don’t think that was what he was looking for. I think he really just needed the smallest identification of this idea having been his. That’s really what he was chasing and they wouldn’t give it to him, and I still don’t understand why not. You know talking about corporations again, they’re so big there’s not a person at a corporation. It’s rules and ideas and I’m sure that part of it was that it was the policy that wouldn’t let them do that.
Were you ever able to meet Kearns?
GK: He died a year before I got involved with the project. I would’ve liked to have met him. I met his wife Phillis and his son Dennis was very helpful. I talked to him quite a bit before we started the movie and the other kids came by, and that was all very interesting. I meanÃ‚Â Mark showed the movie for the family and it was very emotional, and maybe some sort of cathartic process of having this realized as a film was in some ways more satisfying than even his lawsuit was, for them to say “ah theres’ the story of our dad.”
Did he and his wife have any sort of relationship after the trial?
GK: I think they were cordial, my sense was she still was in love with him… sequel (laughter). She just said he was a larger than life kind of guy for her. And she was telling me after he cracked the invent and had success with it he said, “I’m gonna buy you a Cadillac for each foot.” He was so excited, and I think everybody in the family kinda got caught up in the wake of that enthusiasm of his. At the same time, as is the case with somebody with that kind ofÃ‚Â manic behavior, the lows are really bad, but she was in a difficult position and I thought Lauren (Grahman) was really great in the movie because that’s a tricky role. She’s the one who leaves him and yet you need to understand why and you need to understand her limited options. It’s a fine line, and I thought Lauren did a nice job
In the film you had six children, would you ever consider having your own children play a part in a film you are in?
GK: I don’t know, I would call Will Smith first, and ask him what his experience was like. I certainly wouldn’t want to deny my kids of something they would want to do, but I would inherintely be very weary for countless reasons
What’s your favorite film and what music are you listening to right now?
GK: Well, my favorite movie is “Tell No One.” Music? (Joking) The Wiggles, pretty much the Wiggles right now, they’re just fantastic, so subtle, the music is just you know, “hot potato hot potato,” “fruit salad,” obviously I don’t want to get into all the songs right now, but you know, the classics.
You’ve been in some great films and had an Oscar nomination, do you consider your self a movie star?
GK: Uh, no, I don’t. Well I never know what that term means, I don’t consider any of actors that I admire movie stars. A movie star sounds to me like some-guy who takes jacuzzi and champagne baths and wears a boa. (Joking) So in that case I am.
Movie in theaters October 3rd.