Moviegoers know Greg Kinnear as an Average Joe.
He’s played a string of likeable Everymen in recent years — the stressed-out motivational speaker in “Little Miss Sunshine,” the struggling businessman in “The Matador,” the hard-working inventor in “Flash of Genius.” Most recently, he played Miley Cyrus’s music-loving dad in “The Last Song.”
Underneath it all, Kinnear insisted, there’s a “smoldering badass just waiting to come out.”
“Obviously, I don’t get called to do that many action movies,” Kinnear, 47, quipped.
Kinnear will take the stage tonight at the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival to accept the King Vidor Career Achievement Award. Jill Sprecher, director of “The Convincer” and “Thirteen Conversations About One Thing,” will present the award.
According to the festival’s executive director, Wendy Eidson, Kinnear is a talented, versatile performer.
“He’s a popular actor with so many people because he has that Everyman quality that people can appreciate,” said Eidson of Kinnear, who earned an Oscar nomination for his role as a gay artist in “As Good As It Gets.” “He’s still got so much good stuff left in his career.”
Born in Logansport, Ind., Kinnear spent most of his childhood abroad — following his father, a diplomat with the U.S. State Department, to such exotic locales as Lebanon and Greece.
He made his first foray into show business while attending the American Community Schools in Athens, hosting a radio show called “School Daze with Greg Kinnear.”
Back in the United States, Kinnear studied drama at the University of Arizona — he switched his major to broadcast journalism when a teacher informed his class that “less than 1 percent of us would ever make it as an actor.”
“That was all I needed to hear,” Kinnear recalled. “If there was a myth (about) Hollywood, I believed it I didn’t see how that could be a viable career.”
Instead, in 1991, he found himself hosting the “absolutely ludicrous” “Talk Soup” on the E! cable network. Kinnear spent four seasons with the Emmy Award-winning show before briefly hosting NBC’s “Later with Greg Kinnear.”
His “first real acting job” came when director Sydney Pollack cast him as wealthy playboy David Larrabe in his 1995 remake of “Sabrina.”
“Sydney was a very interesting, pragmatic guy who genuinely gave me the confidence that I could play the role,” Kinnear said. “The whole process ended up feeling reasonably survivable.”
Kinnear got a second shot at stardom in 1997’s “As Good As It Gets,” playing Jack Nicholson’s neighbor. Salon critic Andrew O’Hehir praised “Kinnear’s nuanced, fearless performance” in the film, writing, “Simon is captivatingly real, from his diction to his sly half-smile to his lavender shirts.”
Over the years, Kinnear has established a reputation as an affable leading man and character actor, appearing in the romantic comedies “You’ve Got Mail” and “Feast of Love,” the war drama “We Were Soldiers” and the sports biopic “Invincible.” Other memorable movies include “Baby Mama,” “Bad News Bears,” “Fast Food Nation,” “The Gift” and “Nurse Betty.”
He’s also tried biographies, playing “Hogan’s Heroes” star Bob Crane in 2002’s “Auto Focus” and Robert Schrader, the embattled inventor of the intermittent windshield wiper, in 2008’s “Flash of Genius.”
Kinnear plays President John F. Kennedy in “The Kennedys,” which premieres April 3 on Reelzchannel. He described the controversial miniseries as “a compelling look at one of the most dynamic political families of the 1960s.”
“When you’re asked to take on that kind of role, there’s a heavy responsibility,” Kinnear said. “You’re trying to translate for the audience some sense of who that person was. (And there’s) plenty of documentation out there that can contradict your interpretation or confirm your interpretation.”
“I think that’s a challenge worth taking,” he added.
Later this year, Kinnear will appear in “The Convincer,” a crime drama about a rare violin, and the comedy thriller “Salvation Boulevard,” which takes satirical aim at mega-churches.
Like 2006’s “Little Miss Sunshine,” both films boast large, talented casts.
“All movies are the result of some sort of ensemble equation, some strange experiment getting all of those people together,” Kinnear said.
“I think I’ve been really fortunate in that sense,” he said. “The opportunities that come to me are real character roles that you love.”