Alan Arkin as Gorvy Hauer in THIN ICE, a film directed by Jill Sprecher. Picture courtesy ATO Pictures. All rights reserved.
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Thin Ice (2011/2012)
Also Known As: The Convincer
Opened: 02/17/2012 Limited
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Trailer: Click for trailer
Genre: Crime Comedy/Drama
Rated: R for for language, and brief violent and sexual content.
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 spiral of danger, deceit and double-crossing. Blending dark comedy and delirious Midwestern noir, THIN ICE reaches a breaking point that no one -- least of all Mickey Prohaska -- could ever see coming.
A Conversation with Greg Kinnear
Who is Mickey Prohaska in your own words?
Mickey is an opportunist with qualities that I responded to, namely the idea of a guy smack dab from the Midwest having that kind of confidence and swagger in his ability to squeeze people -- while at the same time being oblivious to the notion of what's really going on around him. Everyone is familiar with Mickey's route, the person who always takes the shortest cut. I liked the idea that he was kind of morally shallow without having any self-observance about that shallowness. It was this aspect of the character that made him quietly funny to me. I was totally along for the ride with Mickey -- he was despicable to me without being completely dislikeable. I found myself rooting for him even though I didn't necessarily approve of his methods.
He manages to be both conniving and endearing -- the sympathetic con artist to a fault. Was this tough to pull off?
The filmmakers did a nice job of finding a way to tell this kind of story that's been done before in movies. If you get a big ta-duh as an audience at the end of this kind of movie, there has to be a ride that you go on beforehand so that even if there isn't some sort of great reveal at the end -- if you don't learn great secrets -- you're still engaged and interested and enjoying that ride. I felt like they found a way to craft the story not only with Mickey at the center but will all the characters surrounding him that held my interest through the entire ride. I always felt like there was something Mickey was trying to pull off (at every turn of the story) -- he always had a clear agenda and there was never a dull moment with this guy, you never catch him sitting around idly. He's either being pulled down the current or wildly swimming up it, but he's never just sitting there floating. That aspect of Mickey was fun to play.
You play an insurance salesman who thinks he knows all the angles. Were you familiar with the world of insurance salesman, or did you have to delve into it for research?
Jill Sprecher's father was the inspiration for Mickey, he was an insurance salesman all his life; he was the greatest resource I could draw from. I have a few extended family members in the insurance business, but I don't really know that world so well myself. It seems like a fairly straightforward meat-and-potatoes kind of industry. Because so few of us truly know that world, we depend on the honest integrity of our local insurance agent. You can in some cases be over-insured and that's where it can get interesting (in the case of Mickey Prohaska). Obviously it's not a one-size-fits-all kind of character -- there are a lot of different kinds of insurance salesmen, but Mickey struck me as one of the more unique ones.
You co-starred with Alan Arkin in LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE and you're back working together again here. Can you describe your working relationship and how that affected the dynamic between your characters?
Our working relationship didn't change much at all, it was just as much fun this time around. He's someone I was lucky to work with once in my career, let alone twice. We had a lot of laughs making this movie and I have huge respect for Alan as an actor. He's funny and he has great stories but he is certainly not the curmudgeon you might think after watching some of his films. He's this very positive guy, just a bash to work with. In a way I knew what to expect, because we'd done this before in LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE. Alan was the one who sent me the script for this project. He told me he thought Jill was a really talented director. He liked the tone of what she'd created and he asked me to take a look. Coming from him that put the script in my premium basket from the start. Professionally, the relationship between Gorvy and Mickey becomes a kind of father-son dynamic. It was fun creating the relationship between the two of them. Mickey's frustrations come from the fact that Gorvy is someone whom he can't control. And Gorvy is a bit of a loose cannon in his own right. There were some similarities between the two of them in that regard.
Like the best capers, this is a story that's constantly veering off in surprising new directions. What were your immediate thoughts on the script -- was this something you felt you hadn't seen before?
Rarely do I read a script where I don't have preconceived ideas about where it's going, in terms of what I'm expecting story-wise or what it's moving towards. But I really didn't see anything coming with this one. I had never done a caper movie and I found this one to be bone-dry funny from beginning to end. Sitting front and center is a violin -- which I have no great passion for, by the way. I found myself wide-eyed with great excitement tracking the stupidity of this Mid-western crime gone wrong and I was thrilled with how it played out. I had to read it a few times, to be honest. I didn't really understand it on first glance. The script is filled with so many tiny little details that all lead to the next detail that lead to the next detail and so on -- you had to pay careful attention at every turn. It's a movie that lays a lot of breadcrumbs out for its audience. And on any subsequent viewing you can see that everything happens for a reason. That's a hard thing to put together when you're trying to keep a fun narrative in motion, in tandem with a really tight thriller element that plays out in the form of this vast crime that's happening in the background.
Some of your scenes with Billy Crudup almost verge on psychodrama; this is where the movie really springs to life. Can you talk about building these terrific scenes together, and your interplay as actors?
Billy is a flat-out great actor and the movie was lucky to have him on board. He's tremendous in this role. He showed up in Minnesota, where we shot it, in the dead of winter, looking and feeling like a legitimate badass who was a little bit on edge at all times. He did a great job of keeping the interplay between these two guys amusing and fun -- but at the same time genuinely terrifying. For the audience it's a little off-putting when he first shows up. You think there's fun and lightheartedness coming. But then you start to realize he's kind of scary. It's becomes almost gothically funny at times -- Billy's performance is really what puts the adrenaline in the movie. A lot of the thriller aspect comes from his work. For us, it was a great process to try to chart the relationship between these two guys. It's not one-sided; the balance of power shifts a few times and you realize only at the end of the movie that Mickey has a lot more power than you initially realize. But it's also what makes Billy's character such a great loose cannon. For me, I hadn't played opposite someone whose character was as menacing or dangerous or unpredictable as that. Playing off that danger, and getting to respond to those unexpected moments, was really one of the bonuses for me in this movie.
You hail from the Midwest yourself -- Indiana, specifically -- can you talk a bit about filming this movie in the Midwest, and what it means to be a Midwesterner? Did you bring any specific Midwesternisms of your own into the character of Mickey?
I don't think Midwesterners are aware of their Midwestern qualities -- those things are observed from the outside. The accent is somewhere in the middle of the coasts, there's no Valley Girls or New Yawk toughs. The Midwest is right in the middle of it all. And there's a kind of quiet simplicity to the goings-on in these small towns. It's not like we do a big tip of the hat to the Midwest in the movie, it doesn't play a huge role in the story. It just keeps it in a small, contained place. I think Jill did a nice job populating the movie with characters from this world, which felt very right to me. We were in Minnesota shooting this in the dead of winter, which is not a smart thing to do -- it's beyond cold. Best of all is the fact that the Guthrie Theater is from this neck of the woods and we were able to draw on a lot of local actors from that world -- who are so good here. They're all over the movie. The Midwestern element is just a byproduct of where we shot it, though it does have a Midwestern crime-noir aspect to it.
The centerpiece scene with Billy Crudup on the frozen lake stands out because it illustrates the almost screwball tension between your characters. But it also showcases the film's icy winter setting, which is so specific and crucial to the film. What are your memories of shooting that scene in particular?
That night of horrors? Or rather those two long nights of horrors? I'm in a business suit in that scene, and people always assume in movies that we wear special weatherproof suits created by NASA that protect the actor. But there's no such thing as protecting anybody from that kind of cold. You show up and they put you in the wardrobe, and it was just an ordinary business suit. Maybe I had on some silks underneath. But it was minus 10 degrees over two nights; you're out on a block of ice on a lake. The only thing that kept me warm was my paranoia and fear over the fact that we had 120 people sitting within a 25-foot radius on a piece of ice on a lake. I remember saying to myself, If the ice doesn't crack and we all don't go tumbling in, I can survive this, in my wool suit, out here in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere. Obviously conditions are rough in winter, and yet that scene has a great atmosphere to it. As cold as it was, that scene on the ice in the middle of the movie has an incredible look and feel to it that could have only been captured on a frozen Minnesota lake in the dead of winter.
You've played darker characters before, like Bob Crane in Auto Focus. Do you prefer these darker roles to lighter stuff like Sabrina or You've Got Mail, for example?
Mickey didn't seem that dark to me, to be honest, and nor did Bob Crane. The tone of those movies and perhaps their nature gives them the appearance of being darker movies and subsequently darker characters. But I don't think Bob Crane ever thought of himself as anything other than a one-woman man and an all-American guy going through some difficulties. It's the same thing with Mickey, he's just skating through his troubles, if one thing doesn't work out, he'll slide into something else, or so he believes. I don't think he's necessarily a guy who is menacing or evil or anything like that. I just didn't see him as being that way. I genuinely adore them both. In terms of gravitating between lighter and darker material, with me it always come down to the fact that when I'm doing a comedy I wish I was doing a drama and when I'm doing a drama I wish I was doing a comedy. I'm delighted to get to do both.