Greg Kinnear learned early on that you can’t plot out your life like a three-act play.
That stood him in good stead, he said, when he chose to be an actor.
When he was 12 he was living with his family in Beirut, where his father was a diplomat. “There was a little bakery down below our temporary place we were living in in Lebanon run by a man named Amou.
“And one evening the civil war was starting, there was a huge, huge rocket explosion that went off, and the lights went off,” he said.
Kinnear and his brothers dropped to the ground. “I don’t know where my parents were, we went downstairs and saw this entire block, including Amou’s shop, had been destroyed by this bomb.
“And standing there hearing the sirens from far away and the firemen started to come in, and seeing the absolute damage and destruction of this thing that had happened — it was so foreign an experience — I definitely think it had an impact on my life,” he said.
“I guess I felt the sense of having come from the states in the ’70s and the notion of (his) security being OK — you’re going to be taken care of — suddenly spun upside down,” he said.
“The world outside my world that I’d come from could be very, very upside down and there wasn’t anything that should be taken for granted.”
Moving often as a kid also helped prepare him for an unpredictable future, he said. “It had an enormous effect on me in the sense that some of my closest friendships still come from that place … You learn to assess quickly a situation and adapting to it and studying behavior as you keep moving,” he said.
“You’re forced to study behavior because the view you’re looking at keeps changing. And that’s really useful when you’re in the job of being an actor.”
He didn’t make assumptions when he graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree either. He drifted to Los Angeles with the vague hope of working in broadcast news.
“I really didn’t have a great plan. That wasn’t all bad,” Kinnear said.
“I went back to college and spoke about the great advantage of staying loose and in finding opportunities as you go along.
“And you don’t have to have a perfect blueprint drafted for all your steps. You have to be open to the universe and kinda hear it,” he said.
Kinnear, who went on to host “Talk Soup” and star in films like “Sabrina,” “As Good as It Gets” and “Little Miss Sunshine,” uses that random access for his latest character in Fox’s spritely new dramedy, “Rake,” premiering Thursday.
He plays a brilliant lawyer whose personal life disintegrates into shambles.
Kinnear, 50, admits he shares his character’s tendency to goof up. “I get a lot of parking tickets,” he sighs. “Somebody follows me and waits for the moment. I’m a little behind time.”
“In addition to my poor gambling abilities, my inability to stay on time is a shared chart flaw with the character,” he said.
“In spite of all these shortcomings and problems in his life there’s a ray of optimism like one of those inflatable punching dolls when you’re a kid.
“No matter how many times the guy gets slammed, he pops back up. He’s impervious to attack in that way. And I’m not that way.”
But it’s not all whiplashes and broken windows for Kinnear. He and his wife have three children, 10, 7 and 4. And fatherhood is another endeavor one can’t navigate or pre-empt, he says.
“It’s the thing you’ve heard about: Nothing can prepare you for it. Nothing can set the stage for that experience.
“We have three kids, we’re very, very lucky every day. Thank God it’s all great and it’s all good.
“The job is to try to keep learning. Every moment that I think I have something figured out and I’ve got this down, I’m quickly reminded by someone half my size that I’m so-o-o off the mark,” he said.
“Rake” premieres at 9 p.m. Thursday on Fox.