He’s probably best known for playing Nate Fisher, the eternally angsty funeral home director who struggled to hold his dysfunctional family together on “Six Feet Under.” Indie-movie fans may identify him with the drama “We Don’t Live Here Anymore,” in which he starred as a loutish writer having an affair with his best friend’s wife. But even if you remember him on the sitcom “Sports Night,” well, you probably don’t think of Peter Krause as an especially lighthearted guy.
In person, however, Krause (pronounced KROW-zuh) turns out to be engaging, polite and exceedingly soft-spoken—a far cry from the Very Serious Person you might expect. Recently he was promoting his new film, “Civic Duty,” in which he plays perhaps his biggest jerk yet: an angry, disenfranchised man who becomes convinced that his Middle Eastern neighbor is a terrorist. The film is a button-pusher that tries to address just about every major social issue of the day, from post-Sept. 11 paranoia to the outsourcing of American jobs to foreign countries.
Peter Krause, Khaled Abol Naga, Richard Schiff, Kari Matchett, Ian Tracey
US theatrical: 4 May 2007 (Limited release)
We talked to Krause, 41, about this potentially controversial movie, his impressive run on “Six Feet Under” and the general perception that he’s not the nicest guy in the world.
Q: I mentioned to two people today that I was going to be interviewing you. They both said the same thing: “He seems like he’ll be a jerk.” Do you think that’s because you played such a dark character on Six Feet Under?
A: Wow. I don’t know. Sometimes I think in interviews I’m not necessarily the George Clooney guy who makes a joke. But I don’t think that’s a widely held opinion of me. Though there are some people I’ve had creative differences with in the business who probably don’t think very highly of me.
Q: When did you feel like things starting coming together for you in your career?
A: Probably with “Sports Night” (which premiered in 1998). There was a time before that when I thought of quitting. (I was working on) “Cybill,” with Cybill Shepherd, and I just wasn’t satisfied with what I was doing. It just didn’t really turn me on creatively. “Sports Night” was a real creative gold mine, between Aaron Sorkin’s writing and the fellow actors. It reminded me of being a young actor doing theater. And from that I went right into “Six Feet Under.”
Q: The first few episodes of “Six Feet Under” were so different from anything that was on TV at the time. Were you surprised that it found an audience?
A: I wasn’t. I just felt like it was something we hadn’t seen before. I knew that it was well written. I knew (the show’s creator) Alan Ball from “Cybill.” And once I got to know the cast, after we started doing those first episodes, I knew it was going to be good. I think we had a couple of seasons left in us. But I think Alan ended it at the right time. I think the theme of the show was that death is sudden and final—so I think the sudden and final end of the show was appropriate.
Q: Do you miss it?
A: I miss that world. I miss the Fisher house. I miss Frances (Conroy) as my mom. I miss Lauren (Ambrose) as my sister. Michael (Hall) as my brother. The only thing I got tired of ... is that there were times when playing Nate was a really hard job. Alan told me at the start of the third season, `Be ready, because you’re going to be like Job now. You’re character is really going to suffer.’ And it got hard to live inside his skin.
Q: Your new movie, “Civic Duty,” seems like a cross between “Rear Window” and “Falling Down.” Is that what you were aiming for?
A: “Rear Window” is definitely something that we wanted to reference. We wanted to make it very claustrophobic. The world shrunk for those of us in the United States after Sept. 11. For a long time, we felt very safe over here and protected from the rest of the world.
Q: Have you gotten any negative reactions from people who’ve seen the film?
A: There have been people of Arabic and Middle East heritage who didn’t like (the portrayal of the Middle Eastern character). But they’re the targets of racial profiling all the time, so their experience of this film is going to be different from yours or mine. Other people say they can’t relate to the main character, which I find strange. I can relate to him. I can definitely relate to feeling paranoid after Sept. 11, especially if you’ve ever lived in New York.
Q: There’s been a lot of Sept. 11-related films and novels recently, and a lot of people argue that it’s still too soon for these kinds of works. Do you agree?
A: I think “Civic Duty” might be a little touchier than a movie like “World Trade Center” or “United 93,” which are historical accounts of events that pretty quickly became mythic. This isn’t really about myth. This is about the psychological state of many people in the country. And it’s dumping a lot of questions in the audience’s lap. It’s a movie about how paranoid we’ve all become.