Greg Kinnear admits that the idea of playing Joe Biden in the HBO movie “Confirmation” was “daunting.” But nonetheless, the actor saw an opportunity to “kind of look under the hood at the machinations of all that was going on” as Anita Hill accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harrassment.
Digging into the brutality of the Thomas confirmation hearings, and the treatment of law professor Hill by then-Senator Biden and the committee which tore her apart in the public eye, Kinnear tried to understand where the future Vice President was coming from. Kinnear has played public figures before, but he admitted to IndieWire that he isn’t a great impressionist — and there’s one role he didn’t think he could play.
How did this project come to you?
Susannah Grant, who’s a wonderful writer, had captured the story that I, of course, remember playing out in my living room with everybody else back in the early ’90s. But I had no idea about the machinations going on behind the scenes. That was instantly interesting to me. And to play a guy like Joe, it was a little daunting, but whatever. [laughs]
What was daunting about it?
If you look at the group of people that were involved in this event, many of them have retired, many of them have gone back to their lives. Even Anita or Clarence Thomas, I don’t think are hugely well-known public figures. Whereas Joe Biden is a [laughs] fairly front and center politician — for, what, 44 years of his life — leading to the culmination of a vice presidency, which he’s had for eight years. You have a man here whose DNA and public fingerprint is fairly well-known to the general populus. So I felt daunted by that, because I was playing him!
When you come at a public figure vs. a completely original character, is there a difference to the process?
There is to some degree. A fictitious character is somebody who you can, as an actor, build yourself without any sort of preconceived ideas or expectations from the audience. But somebody who people have a strong identity with, or have a strong understanding with, I think they come in with their own bias. When they work, movies are very effective at ultimately letting the audience let go of that and just hopefully follow the story. But still, you feel some obligation to try to do it. Not only for selling it to the audience, but just believing in yourself and wanting to feel like you’re truly and clearly articulating what your interpretation of that person is all about.
Tina Fey wrote in her book “Bossypants” about how Darrell Hammond does an impression versus Will Ferrell: Hammond is very meticulous, but Will Ferrell’s more of an impressionist. Where do you fall, between those two extremes?
It’s probably some sort of combination of the two. There’s certainly no shortage of material or YouTube clips of the Vice President of the United States as not only as Vice President, throughout his career. And certainly from these hearings, many of the moments where we’re sitting there handling the confirmation hearings themselves, we’re playing those scenes out. There is a literal guide track that exists on YouTube, so you can kinda see what was there and what was happening. But at the same time, I don’t know. I don’t do good impressions. I don’t think I can. I’m not a good impressionist, but I try to just get a sense of who they are. Hopefully, something will translate to the audience.
Let’s say hypothetically you hadn’t been offered Biden, let’s say you were offered–
Anita Hill? [laughs]
It’d be a bold choice.
Well, I don’t know. I’m worried I couldn’t do it. [laughs]
I have to tell you, I think that Joe Biden, as I say to you, who is such an enormous public figure, I never met him. I never talked to him. But he’s a very interesting guy for me. They came to me with the right role. Because this is an interesting character, I understood his predicament, I understood the situation that he was in and I felt like that would be a great part to play.
Had you ever seen a photo of Joe Biden and thought, “Oh yeah, I could play that”?
No, I hadn’t.
So that was a complete surprise?
It wasn’t like I was quietly saying, “Boy, when’s the day coming where they’re going to ask me to play Joe Biden?”
For sure, I was really happy to get the opportunity. Especially with HBO, who I think genuinely has a great track record of telling these types of stories. These are tough stories to tell, in a way, but they’re very good at the believability in these types of stories and making them as authentic as possible. Right down to sitting in a chair for two or three hours to get Joe’s 1991 hair follicles put onto my head properly, as well as popping in blue contacts that were a slightly darker shade than my eyes. It caused great pain, but I’m happy to have made it through the other side.
[Editor’s Note: Indiewire’s Consider This campaign is an ongoing series meant to raise awareness for Emmy contenders our editorial staff and readership find compelling, fascinating and deserving. Running throughout awards season, Consider This contenders may be underdogs, frontrunners or somewhere in between. More importantly, they’re making damn good television we all should be watching, whether they’re nominated or not.]