It has been five years since the final episode of That '70s Show aired. A finale that the show's star, Topher Grace (whose films include Traffic, Win a Date with Tad Hamilton, Ocean's 11 & 12, In Good Company, and Spider-Man 3), only made a brief appearance in (after starring on the show for seven seasons playing the loveable loser Eric Forman, Grace decided not to sign on for an eighth season). Grace is definitely a guy who knows his craft, knows who he is and when it's time to try something new. After meeting him, I found that Grace is beyond intelligent, confident, and extremely fascinating. Joining him on the press junket for his upcoming movie Take Me Home Tonight, a retro-1980s movie which originated from a story idea that Grace co-created (he also serves as an executive-producer), is his co-star in the film, Demetri Martin, a stand-up comedian, former writer for Late Night with Conan O'Brien, and the star of two seasons of Comedy Central's Important Things with Demetri Martin. Martin is every bit as fascinating as Grace, and vastly knowledgeable in his craft as well. Together they make quite a comedic pair in Take Me Home Tonight.
Grace and Martin recently sat down with MovieRetriever, Tom Santilli from the Examiner, and Perry Seibert from Allmovieguide. Upon meeting him, Martin comments on the interior design of the restaurant that we are in, while Grace orders lunch. Both are larger than life on-screen, but are extremely relatable in person. Although they appear a bit tired, and have been on the interview circuit for countless hours already, they still manage to act like it's their first discussion of the day. Before we begin, Grace jokes about our time for the interview being up before we even begin. It appears that he is not that different from the Topher that we are accustomed to seeing on both the big and small screens.
Allmovieguide: So Topher, you are an executive producer and have a story credit on this [Take Me Home Tonight], where did the idea start?
TOPHER GRACE: The idea started with, for a while I thought you know everyone makes fun of the Brat Pack, but they had a great opportunity , with John Hughes along with some other filmmakers, for a group of young people to make movies that had everything you know. Now, there's like a movie that's like a raunchy comedy and it's great, or it's just a romance and these movies [from the 1980s] had everything and I was kind of jealous of the kids.
Then at the same time my producing partner, who's a life-long friend of mine, were growing up, we went to boarding school together, and we were watching Dazed and Confused and thought about how great that was. We didn't know anything about the 1970s, you know it was made in the 1990s about the 1970s. Now this kind of the same young cast you know like Dazed and Confused [had] [Ben] Affleck, [Matthew] McConaughey, Renee Zellweger, so we started thinking wait a second, that would be the 1980s now and no one's done that movie about the 1980s where they're not spoofing it, where it's literally really the 1980s. .…There's going to be one opportunity to do the real quintessential 1980s movie.
DEMETRI MARTIN: It's not just about going for the easy nostalgia jokes. It seems like they tried to make more a movie that could've been made in the 1980s in a sense where it's like just people going through [a] certain stage of their lives with that kind of perspective you know, that kind of lens.
MovieRetriever.com: Yeah it definitely has an anti-Wedding Singer kind of vibe.
GRACE: I love the Wedding Singer.
MovieRetriever.com: I do too.
MARTIN: But you're right.
GRACE: But it was only eight years out of the 1980s. You don't really have a focus on that period of time you know it's like if we made a 1990s movie now, it's going to be about grunge and Seattle or something; you'd have to make fun of it. But in about twelve years they'll be able to make a really good 1990s movie you know.
MARTIN: It comes into sharper focus maybe with a little more distance.
MovieRetriever: I love the Suncoast [video store] reference. It's a little more subtle, but hilarious!
GRACE: I actually did grow up working at Suncoast.
MovieRetriever: Did you?
GRACE: It's kind of a personal thing. It started with Sam Goody then Suncoast. It was our idea because there are kids who are like "What are those stores? What is the stuff they are buying?"
Allmovieguide: I have a friend who I work with who worked at Suncoast also and he said he had panic attacks just from the trailer. It brought it right back.
GRACE: Seriously after having worked there, it was a little too spot on.
Examiner: Were there specific [parts of the movie] that you wrote or was just the story idea yours?
GRACE: The story idea was a fancy way of us saying, "There has to be a dance off, there has to be a threesome," all these kind of conventions.
Examiner: Was there a specific film you guys were trying to go for, you mentioned John Hughes.
GRACE: Oh yeah it really started with John Hughes but also Cameron Crowe is a close second when you think about the 1980s being [the time] that he wrote Fast Times (at Ridgemont High) and directed Say Anything. We wanted that element in there and then we wanted like a Less Than Zero, kind of like the dirtier 1980s. We wanted it to be a cross-section of like not time travel, but genre travel. There are kids who don't know those movies that we talked about and they will be at boarding school like me and my buddy were, watching this movie [Take Me Home Tonight] and it will have the same effect, hopefully.
MovieRetriever: Topher, we were born the same year by the way, 1978, so what was your first MTV experience, your first video?
GRACE: "Don't Come Around Here No More," [by Tom Petty]. It creeps me out! It's a great video.
MARTIN: It's a great video.
GRACE: But when you're a kid you are used to the other Alice in Wonderland and that one was crazy! (To Martin) What was yours?
MARTIN: That's a good question. I don't know my first video, but I remember when Peter Gabriel videos were really breaking, "Sledge Hammer," and "Big Time" at that time I remember that period [as] so cool … a lot of the interstitials more than specific videos. I remember videos as events. When I see them re-run somewhere I think "oh yeah right, that video.…"
MovieRetriever: When MTV was actually playing videos.
MARTIN: Yeah when MTV was, we were just talking about this yesterday. Someone asked me, "What was the most underrated thing about the 1980s?" And I said, "MTV, for what it was, and the promise that it held that it totally pissed away. That's just gone forever."
MovieRetriever: Isn't that horrible?
MARTIN: Yeah it's horrible. [I remember] those interstitial things like a cake with the MTV logo candles popping out of it and weird stop motion animation. And a lot of videos were like [made by] young filmmakers. I got to work a little bit with Dayton and Faris who directed Little Miss Sunshine. They are a married couple, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris.
GRACE: They were the last great video makers.
MARTIN: They were awesome! They were telling all this stuff about videos, like they were at South by Southwest the year Daniel Johnston, you guys know Daniel Johnston, was on stage going live from Austin, they [Dayton and Faris] were like, "We shot that [footage]!" They told me how they got to meet him [Johnston] and I thought what a cool time to be doing that for it [the music] wasn't really called Indie music yet right?
GRACE: Was it called Indie?
MARTIN: I don't remember it being called that, was it alternative?
Allmovieguide: It was alternative.
MARTIN: It was alternative, or the beginning of alternative.
MovieRetriever: I want to talk about a specific scene from [Take Me Home Tonight] where you (to Demetri) are in a wheelchair and I'm still … laughing about it. Topher, your response to him, because you (again, Demetri) are so angry and so funny at the same time, was great.
MovieRetriever: I love how your (to Topher) character is aloof to the lunacy that is going on around him. Your reaction is like "Hmmm." Most people would be like, "What the hell is wrong with this guy?"
MARTIN: When we shot this scene, I got to do the line and Topher said, "Improvise." There was a bunch of different stuff. On that day we were like "What will work and what is reality?" I remember when I first did ADR [automated dialogue replacement] you know when you fix some of the audio where there's noise in the background and you are kind of listening to yourself, and … my reaction to [Topher] was like, "Cool, thanks. I think that's a funny scene." I like your reaction because you [Topher] are allowing it, that's what finishes it. Without that, it's just some guy acting kind of crazy.
MovieRetriever: Moonwalking in his wheelchair.
MARTIN: Yeah, you're (gesturing to Topher) reaction kind of keeps it tethered to reality.
MovieRetriever: It was perfect.
GRACE: The dream is to have an actor, and I've never produced before so now I really know how great it is to have an actor come into a scene and add stuff to it, that's what you want from every actor, to make it better especially if they're a writer like Demetri. They can really add a lot not just like a funny face, but content. There's a thing in the red band that's not in the actual movie it's in the red band trailer that came out, but it makes you [Demetri] look like a rock star. I oversaw the script and I saw you [Demetri], it was great.
Examiner: Was there a lot of stuff from other actors, a lot of improv stuff?
GRACE: I would say Demetri stole the show in that regard. Dan Fogler you know it's his real break out movie; he knocked it right out of the park. It is great to see someone find his role.
MARTIN: I got to read the script and go to the audition and I remember certain lines and can see what the actors did with them. Even if it's not improv, it's like a choice. I remember thinking that with Dan, that [line] really comes to life or that becomes more of a joke because of what he's doing.
GRACE: Everyone laughs when he's like high on cocaine the entire movie; it was definitely the right role for him. Chris Pratt also did some really great stuff.
MovieRetriever: Wasn't he Anna Farris's boyfriend, always saying to her character, Wendy, "Wenders!"
GRACE: Yeah. Although the "Wenders" line was actually written, he [Pratt] added a lot. Anna and I are more script-specific, although we would change it up in rehearsal. For me, that's the dream of doing this movie, it's really why you do it. I've worked with older actors who are established, who I've learned a lot from. It's great to be around people who are huge stars and you learn by just working with them. But then I really wanted to be with my peer group. I've been telling this story a lot, but it's true. It's how I really feel. I read that Saturday Night Live book, and in it, everyone was together in this little room you know Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, and others and I thought "Man, why couldn't I have lived then?" We'd go to IHOP at the end of the night because that was the only place open at 6 am at the end of our work day, and I'd feel that way. Watching Demetri do a bit with Dan [Fogler] and you guys [the audience] would love it but unfortunately you don't get to see it, you have to pay to go see it [the movie]. I mean I have to pay too in a different way, but I got to be there with Dan and Demetri doing a bit and then Anna Farris joins in, and I'm like, "wow, I'm here in the beginning!" It's a lucky thing.
MARTIN: I know for me I'm psyched if I can just work. You don't know where this goes or how long you get [to] work or what kinds of things you get to be in.
MovieRetriever: You are so funny though. I saw you on YouTube and your bit about kids was great. When did you realize you were funny?
GRACE: I think it was just a couple days ago. No really we were laughing about it. It's true.
MARTIN: My dad was a priest, a Greek Orthodox Priest.
MovieRetriever: Yeah, I read that.
MARTIN: Yeah, the deal with the Greeks is that you can get married before you become a priest but not after. A lot of guys go get the degree and everything and before they get ordained they go out and try to find a wife. My dad met my mom when they were really young, it all worked out. He was a really funny person. I was an altar boy until I went to college you know when my dad was the priest, so I was on the altar and I could see his podium thing from behind and there were no notes, like no typewritten speech or notes, just the back of an envelope with like two words on it. He'd be talking for twenty minutes. I don't know anything about The Bible, he was not one of those guys like "And Jesus said" [this], he liked Bill Cosby. He [my dad] was very anecdotal, very personal. And as a kid it's funny to try to remember what your lens is on people. I remember my parents having people over and my dad would say stuff and he was really funny, he was so [funny] with the people. So I guess to fast-forward to the future, that's how I found my way into stand-up. When I was in college it was like almost recreating that kind of stuff like my dad. In college I had a meal plan, I don't know if you guys had a meal plan, but you know you have to eat there a certain number of days a week, so I would go to dinner and just hang out the whole time. I would go early and just go from table to table hanging out with my friends and just joking around. So around then I started thinking wow, people are laughing at what I'm doing. So then it takes a while to figure out if you can do bits, on demand, when you do stand-up you only have four minutes and it's like "Ok here's this guy," and then you're on. So [to answer the question] I guess it was in college.
Examiner: How hard is it go from TV to film? I mean is it a huge transition?
MARTIN: Yeah we talked about that. Even though Topher never did stand-up, doing a multi-camera sitcom like That '70s Show, your timing is very dependent on the live audience. They feel your rhythm, you know your dialogue. [In] stand-up, that's like a huge thing. One of my favorite quotes is from Woody Allen and he said "The audience teaches you how to be funny." And I thought that is a smart thing. What a smart guy, clearly a prolific man. But it's like you pay attention. I think about some things like dirty jokes, and I tried them like at open mics and they don't want that from me.
GRACE: The dirty guys get up there and are you are like, "yeah right!"
MARTIN: They [the dirty comedians] could not do my jokes, they'd [the audience] be like, "this guy is corny." Maybe they do that with me too! So with film, there is so much trust involved. In stand-up it's kind of the opposite. You can kind of only trust yourself. If you let your guard down, they're going to devour you. You'll get heckled, something will happen, or there's too much silence. But on the set, you can't be defensive like that. You've got to trust everybody. Trust the lighting people, trust make-up [people], and you really have to trust the director and the editor. In comedy, and I know you [Topher] found this as a producer, you can take the same footage and have a terrible movie. But if you really work with it and kind of find those little magic spots where timing works you know. Isn't that true?
GRACE: I'm actually thinking about it. I remember, I literally had never acted and I had a week of rehearsal and then we shot the first episode of That '70s Show. To think about it now, I was 19, and how did I not like just pass out or something! I'm like, "alright, oh yeah, we can do this." If I was any older I would've have failed!
MARTIN: Because there are all these lights, there's like producers on the side and …
GRACE: (interjects) and they take pictures of you for continuity the guy's like "make sure you do this, that." I tried my hardest. I do remember the first couple episodes the audience laughing, and me thinking they already [like it] at this point, we're [there] before they'd even seen the show. The show wasn't even on the air [yet] and they saw a couple of the first episodes.
MARTIN: Sure, they didn't know what they were coming to see.
GRACE: Those [early episodes] taught me the most about my character. Mostly about a situation that my character was in, but it's the same thing. They [the audience] would laugh at stuff and I would think, "Oh, they think that I'm this." And I could play into that.