Life After 70s:
The Topher Grace Interview

by Tony Phillips

There’s been a lot of ink spilled over whether Topher Grace is diametrically opposite That 70s Show castmate Ashton Kutcher. If that means not as drop dead gorgeous, but somehow more intelligent, then fine. Dude, where’s my anti-Kutch? But both actors are 26, well out of the target market for the hit television program they both came straight out of nowhere to land at odds of about a million to one.

Not bad for a kid from Darien, CT. The seven-year gig was essentially Family Ties with pot, but calls it quits after this season leaving the cautious planner Grace holding the bag with only a small part in Traffic to his film resume. But Grace under pressure throws caution to the wind opening two new films this year. In Dylan Kidd’s P.S., he plays a fast-talking college applicant who beds his admissions officer Laura Linney as part of the Columbia drill, while Wietz Brothers’ In Good Company pairs him against Dennis Quaid’s crusty ad exec who finds himself working for this bright young thing.

Clearly, he walks the line between a new face established actors want to play opposite and an anti-hero 20-somethings feel confident throwing up against the establishment. And he always gets the girl, even if she’s not Demi.

Do you think of yourself as a comic actor?
No, but I don’t think I put any kind of label on. Just actor…attractive actor. No, I’m just kidding. I hope I can do lots of different types of work. I do like odd things like any kind of project that has both comedy and drama in it. It’s like in life, you don’t have one day where everything is funny and then the next day everything is dramatic. I don’t even think you could label these movies as to what they are. You could say P.S. is a drama, but when I saw people were laughing out loud and while In Good Company is more of a comedy, it’s a serious subject.

Can you say more about Company?
It comes out in December and it’s a Weitz’ Brothers movie. Like I said, I don’t even think you could label it, but I play an ad exec who comes into a company and becomes Dennis Quaid’s boss.

Both characters are very aggressive and self-assured, was that an intentional break from your previous roles?
I certainly didn’t take them because they were different, but I realized I would have to be different for them. It was a great opportunity, especially in the juxtaposition to older characters that are so almost dead. It was great to have this whole dark world and then to be the ray of light.

How did you know your chemistry with Laura Linney would be so on?
I just hoped it would because the movie lives or dies on whether or not you believe these two people could get together. Dylan described my character as your friend’s older brother. He’s not your friend, whose flaws you can see, but a guy you just look at and think he’s got it together.

I would imagine your character on That 70s Show is almost easy to slip into by now.
Yeah, I don’t know. I feel like on 70s I don’t really know what my character is. I’ve been really careful to never have a catchphrase, which they will give to you, and to never be the sarcastic guy or the dumb guy. There is a way people like to compartmentalize you on sitcoms and I’ve been very cognizant of not letting that happen. Plus I waited to do my first film, Traffic. I waited to do something that was opposite of the sitcom to show I could do something different.

Is your approach to film and television fairly similar?
Oh sure. Basically, on a week-to-week basis, I look at a 70s Show script and say, what is Eric’s role here? Because it’s different week-to-week. Some weeks the role is of the protagonist, you’re on this journey where he’s going to ask a girl out, let’s say. But other weeks you’re just the other guy and it’s the episode that’s about Fez. In terms film, you just kind of see your utility and then have fun with it.

It’s got to be hard remembering that opposite Laura Linney and Dennis Quaid.
I thought it was going to be way harder and I was nervous but it’s like playing tennis against someone better than you. You up your game to match the other person. You can’t get away with a minute of bad acting with them because they’re just so in it. At my audition, Laura was crying off-camera. Most people don’t cry off camera when you’re actually shooting.

Were you more nervous than she was during your sex scene?
Oh, by far! She’s had experience and it was my screen virginity. I was so nervous. I wanted to be the gentleman and hold her hand through it, but she wound up totally guiding me through.

Did you have to wear that weird sock during the sex scenes?
No, I had on a little one piece thing.

Have you ever gone out with someone older?
I don’t talk about my personal life with the press.

Without getting personal, then, could you talk about the proliferation of these May/December romance films?
Certainly. I think if two people are right for each other then great, go for it.

Who do you really want to work with next?
It’s a long list. Richard Linkletter, P.J. Hogan, Robert Zemeckis, Peter Sollett, Michel Gondry, Spike Jonze. I’ve worked with Steven Soderbergh three times, but I would go back for more. My one dream is to work on a movie version of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, I love that novel. In terms of actors, definitely Bill Murray.

So you’re moving back to New York when you wrap 70s?
Yes, the sitcom is done for me at the end of this year. Then come April, I’m living in New York.

Why New York?
I’m really cautious about my private life and it’s getting harder to handle it in LA. I will have a private life here and work out there.