The Sitcom Sultan
Kelsey Grammer keeps riding the wave looking for ways to please his audience through TV, film and stage
From the Print Edition:
Kelsey Grammer, January/February 2013
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So he began discussions with “Boss” creator Farhad Safinia about the possibility of a drama.
“I said I was interested in an updated King Lear,” Grammer says. “We thought about Washington, D.C., as a sort of central power place—but then we gravitated to Chicago. It’s possible for a man with big shoulders and vision to leave an impression on a city like Chicago. D.C. is a lot more amorphous; Chicago is like a fiefdom, a minor kingdom. And there’s definitely something Shakespearean about this character.”
Grammer was classically trained at the Juilliard School and had worked extensively in Shakespeare (including a limited run of Macbeth on Broadway in 2000). But he still had to convince Starz executives to consider him for the part.
Actor Martin Donovan, who played Tom Kane’s right-hand man in the first season of “Boss” (until Kane had him killed because of a betrayal), says, “Anybody who has played the same character for 20 years—well, I don’t know that I’d be able to shake it off. You get into patterns and rhythms. But when he was being Tom Kane, I’d have to remind myself that he had this background that he never got to show as Frasier.”
“I thought it was time to surprise people,” Grammer says. “Frasier was a successful character; now I wanted to go do the flip side.”
People make the mistake, says David Hyde Pierce, of assuming Grammer is like his most famous character. “Watching ‘Boss,’ I realized that Kelsey is a lot closer to that character than he was to Frasier,” says Pierce, who won multiple Emmy Awards playing Frasier’s brother Niles, and set a record by being nominated in each of the series’ 11 seasons.
“Kelsey is a very powerful guy. And he carries that power easily. It shows what a great actor he is. Frasier so frequently was confused, powerless, befuddled. Kelsey, however, is a leading actor with an incredible gift for character.”
Donovan adds, “He’s powerful—but he’s not intimidating. He was absolutely a strong presence. But he doesn’t wield it, or power-trip people. The guy has got a tremendous emotional reserve. He had a lot of pain and anguish in his life—so he has a lot to draw on emotionally. The role of Kane required emotional, volcanic volatility. You can see that in his work. But that’s what we do as actors—draw from our own emotional history.”
“Frasier is definitely more of a stretch for me than Tom Kane,” Grammer says. “ When I walk in to work at ‘Boss,’ I just learn my lines and I’m available. With Frasier, there was a lot more artifice; a lot more of it was about getting from laugh to laugh. Originally, in ‘Cheers,’ Frasier provided hit-and-run comedy: Get on with a bit of energy and get off. On ‘Cheers,’ Frasier was a satellite character. But on ‘Frasier,’ he was the center and everyone else was a satellite. And Frasier reaped a lot of what was funny about them; he was used to reflect what was going on. His reactions allowed the audience to participate in the show with him.”
But the well-meaning snob, the persnickety psychotherapist living in a world that seldom meets his expectations—that was only a character, not a reflection of the actor. “I’m not as affected as Frasier,” Grammer says. “I don’t live in that world. I’ve got a lot of issues. I guess I’m more emotional than Frasier. Frasier is a little more bogged down in the minutiae. Tom Kane lives big and I’ve always been that way. I try to live and love fully, with my whole heart.”
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