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Dec. 18-20, 1998

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"Being from Indiana has its benefits."

The disarming charm of Greg Kinnear

Sharing movie credits with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan in this week's You've Got Mail, the TV-host-turned-actor hasn't let riches and fame go to his head - yet.

In this article:
blue_bull.gif (152 bytes) Want mail? Here are some tips.
blue_bull.gif (152 bytes) Movies coming out this holiday season.

By Jill Nelson

981220kinnear.jpg (38836 bytes)i.gif (933 bytes)t's 85 degrees in the shade outside the Authentic Café in Los Angeles, but the temperature seems cool compared to the heat Greg Kinnear puts into explaining why he's a few minutes late. His expression as he talks changes as rapidly as clouds in the Caribbean. It's a funny, convoluted tale about a 34-year-old's yearning for a mountain bike, an early morning ride, a flat tire, a long trek home. "So that's why I'm late, and I apologize," Kinnear, relaxed in a silk shirt and jeans, finishes.

Kinnear is also gearing up for this week's opening of You've Got Mail, the movie everyone is calling Sleepless in Seattle II, because it again teams Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan and is written and directed by Nora Ephron. This time romance blooms against the odds between battling bookstore owners who meet on the Internet.

Kinnear plays Ryan's boyfriend. Once again he holds his own amid a cast of big names. His performance is at once funny, wicked and touching, and should establish once and for all that this talk-show-host-turned-actor is more than just a cute cad with great eyebrows. In a Hollywood defined by actors who are young and beautiful, aging icons, egomaniacal or just plain silly, Greg Kinnear is comfortingly normal. Says co-star Ryan, "He's very humble, not in a gross way, but a great way." Childhood pal Mark M. Wolper, a TV producer, agrees. "The real him is him. He's normal."

Kinnear seems to capture the current cultural and political Zeitgeist that shies away from extremes. Sure, he's cute and funny, but in a familiar, grounded way, the boy next door who made it big and didn't need a gimmick or gargantuan ego to get there, just persistence, luck and, he insists, old-fashioned hard work.

"I've been out here for 14 years and worked non-stop," Kinnear says, bristling, but only slightly, and with charm. "I refuse to go down that it happened effortlessly."

The sanity underlying the kinetic Kinnear is rooted in a world defined by old and close friends, family and work. The youngest son of a father who worked for the State Department and a homemaker mother, Kinnear grew up in Logansport, Ind. When he was a teen, the family moved overseas with his father's job, ending up in Athens, Greece. High school friends remember Kinnear as an affable class cutup who loved starring in high school plays and hosted his own radio show -- School Dazes With Greg Kinnear -- on the Armed Forces Radio Network.

Just beneath the cute-cad façade lurks a soon-to-be-wed traditionalist. Next year he'll marry his long-time girlfriend, Helen Labdon, a British model-turned-writer - a much anticipated step for a man whose parents have been married for 40 years, whose two brothers are married and who speaks of his nephews with affectionate reverence.

"I'm someone who's always looked forward to marriage,'' says Kinnear. "My parents being together for so long made marriage that much more important. Helen's the same way. Her parents have been married for over 40 years." At press time, they hadn't announced a wedding date. But Kinnear says kids are a definite. "I say 16. Helen says two. So we're just trying to work that out."

Kinnear, known as a glib, charming TV talk-show host - first for Talk Soup on E! Entertainment and then NBC's Later With Greg Kinnear -- stunned outsiders when he landed the plum role of Harrison Ford's younger brother in the 1995 remake of Sabrina. But it was as Jack Nicholson's gay neighbor in As Good As It Gets that Kinnear emerged as more than a pretty face and was nominated for an Academy Award.

"It was amazing to me that someone who hadn't been an actor until a couple of years ago was that good," says You've Got Mail director Ephron.

Today, Kinnear owns a $1.4 million house in the Hollywood Hills, drives a silver Jaguar and is said to command a salary in the low seven figures for a movie. He talks breezily about "Jack'' (Nicholson) and "Harrison" (Ford).

"I'd like to believe as much of myself as possible is unaffected by the things that can get a little heady," Kinnear says about success in Hollywood. "Being from Indiana," he adds slyly, "has its benefits."

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Want mail? A guide to cyberdating

Step 1: Try a chat room or a matchmaking Web site. Get out there. Online services such as America Online have chat rooms where members "talk" with like-minded people. And sites like (, with more than 1 million members, and the novel Animal Lovers Personals  ( match people with special interests.

Step 2: Flirt, but take it slowly. Build an electronic relationship. Humor helps, and candor - but be cautious. Don't share last names until you know a lot about your cyberbeaus. Use "emoticons," such as sending a rose [-->-->--}@], but sparingly. Through e-mail or prearranged chat room "dates," ask lots of questions. Does she want kids? Can he dance? Do your views on God jibe? Then, if you aren't interested, say so. Don't waste anybody's time.

Step 3: Dial L for Love, then go 3D. If things click online, move into the real world with a phone call. (The woman should call the man.) If that goes well, arrange to meet in a public place. Be smart and stress safety: Tell a friend where you're going and plan for a casual first encounter at a café or coffee shop. If you live in separate cities, the person traveling should stay in a hotel. If the initial encounter seems right, proceed as you would with any other romance.

- Michele Hatty

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Opening now through Christmas:

You've Got Mail. A can't-miss reunion of "Sleepless in Seattle" stars Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks.

The Prince of Egypt. A breathtaking animated retelling of the Moses story.

The Theory of Flight. Kenneth Branagh and Helena Bonham Carter are getting Oscar buzz for their roles as a man forced to perform community service and the wheelchair-bound woman he cares for.

A Civil Action. John Travolta takes a risky career move by playing a cynical, flawed lawyer who spent years fighting a toxic-waste lawsuit. From the best seller.

Down in the Delta. A Chicago family rediscovers its Southern roots. With Alfre Woodard and Wesley Snipes. Poet Maya Angelou's directorial debut.

The Faculty. This part- "X-Files," part- "Scream" flick will have Miramax screaming all the way to the bank. With Salma Hayek and Usher.

Hurlyburly. This year's "Leaving Las Vegas." Grim portrait of morally bankrupt Hollywood lives. Stars Kevin Spacey, Sean Penn, Chazz Palminteri, Meg Ryan.

Patch Adams. Robin Williams could strike Oscar again as a physician with an unorthodox approach to healing.

Stepmom. A dying Susan Sarandon forges a friendship with her ex-husband's future wife, Julia Roberts. Bring hankies.

The Thin Red Line. "Saving Private Ryan"'s likely Oscar competition comes from acclaimed director Terrence Malick. Stars Sean Penn, John Cusack, George Clooney, Woody Harrelson.

-- Jennifer Mendelsohn

Note: Check local listings; not all movies playing nationwide yet.

Contributing Editor Jill Nelson last wrote for USA WEEKEND about comedian Chris Rock.
Photo Credit: GEORGE STANGE for USA WEEKEND (Kinnear)


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