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INT: Topher Grace

Apr. 30, 2007by: JoBlo

From his success on the long-lasting hit series 'That '70s Show' to work on critically acclaimed films like IN GOOD COMPANY, Topher Grace has taken the entertainment world by storm. Further solidifying his soon-to-be-huge career is SPIDER-MAN 3, where he plays wise-cracking asshole photographer Eddie Brock. And we all know what happens to Eddie Brock, don't we? That's right. He gets covered with a certain black stuff that turns him into a certain hulking monster. Some may know him as Venom. Others may know him as Spider-Man's greatest nemesis. I personally know him as, "One creepy sonofabitch." But no matter what you call him, I think we can all agree that Topher Grace's cocky charm makes for a perfect balance to Tobey Maguire's goofy affability.

JoBlo.com was recently invited to talk to the cast and crew of SPIDER-MAN 3 at the Four Seasons Hotel in LA, where Grace was a definite standout. He appeared to capture all the best aspects of the characters he's played, whether that meant being clever, charismatic, or incredibly funny – you can just mark him as all of the above. During our time with the guy, he talked all about what it's like being a young actor hitting the big-time so suddenly, and what is was like playing Venom, a character so vastly different than anything else he's done. But now that he has 'playing-a-badass-superhero-villain' under his acting belt, we just have to wait and see what else he has in store for us. SPIDER-MAN 3 swings into theaters Friday, May 4.

Topher Grace

You're a 'Spider-Man' fan?

Oh yeah. I was not just a huge fan of the first two films. I told Sam when we got together I thought there were only two films, two franchises, where the sequel's been better than the first one. And it's 'Aliens' and 'The Godfather' and the New Testament. [Laughter] So I was a huge fan of his films. I thought he was a great director beforehand. The comic book I was an even bigger fan of, in the late Eighties. Ironically, it was when Venom, the character I play was being born by the great Todd McFarlane who kind of revolutionized comics at that time. So I felt like when he offered me the role, I had this inside track. And I kind of had to sit on my hands and not say yes too quickly, because I hadn't negotiated my deal yet. But I wanted to say, "I'll pay you to do it."

You provided a lot of input into what the character should be before they scripted it. Sam and Laura said you came up with these ideas and the fact that you and Tobey were similar.

Well, the evil doppelganger idea came from Alvin Sargent, the writer, but the script wasn't done when I signed on, so there was kind of like places open for ideas in terms of how that could play out. Something I was nervous about, because I was such a huge fan of the comic book, was that Eddie Brock was much older than me and really muscle-bound, and even though I worked out for like six months, I could never get to where he was.

What about steroids?

Even so. The body types and... [Laughs] But thanks for the suggestion. But Sam kind of put my mind at ease by saying, "Don't worry, we've got a really cool idea for the origin. There's a retelling of the Spider-Man story in a comic book called Ultimate Spider-Man. It's kind of taken from that comic book, a little bit too. It's kind of a case study in that somebody had received kind of very similar powers to Spider-Man but didn't have a great father figure like Uncle Ben telling him, "With great power comes great responsibility." He probably would use it for evil. Even Peter kind of used it for personal gain when he first got the power.

So then I thought, this is neat, because I know I'm like Tobey. I've lost roles to him before, and we work at the same place in the film and we're after the same girl, and something I loved about it was that they gave Eddie the edge at the beginning, which is weird. Everything is kind of rolling his way. He's a better photographer, he dresses better, he's got more of a flourish. But then as is so often the case, if someone's got it all going on in the exterior, it's probably hiding a very shallow interior, and although Peter might not have as polished an exterior as Eddie, he has a very solid core, and so it was great because it showed two people who are very similar and who ultimately are totally opposite.

The thing about you losing roles to Tobey came up earlier...

Did Tobey bring that up?

[Laughter] No, but did you use that at all? Like, as a means to channel Brock going against Parker?

No. I've been fortunate enough to like a lot of the people who are in the group I compete in, in Hollywood, kids my age, and while Tobey's – I think he's only like two years older than me, he's been working a lot longer, and he really served as a wonderful kind of role model when I was starting off on ''70s.' He was just kind of doing 'The Ice Storm,' and then he did 'Cider House Rules' and 'Wonder Boys.' He was a great role model in terms of, he didn't take that paycheck job. Even this – these are basically the biggest art house films around. And Sam Raimi's an amazing actor's director, and I really always admired that about Tobey before I knew him, that he was able to follow his heart and not his wallet in terms of acting and so it was great to be able to work with him because I wanted to learn more about where that strength of character came from.

Where did you first meet him?

I think I met him years ago through his manager briefly, like at a party or something. But when I got this film, I saw him in the parking lot at Sony a couple of days later, and I'd just been meeting with Sam, and he walked right up to me and said, "Hey, if you have any questions or you need anything, here's my phone number. I'm so excited that…" These guys – James and Tobey and Kirsten and Sam – have the biggest movie of all time, like twice, so I was nervous to come in like the new kid, and he couldn't have been more warm and open. The thing a lot of people don't know about Tobey is that he's really, really funny. Both him and Sam are very quiet and reserved, but they're wickedly funny. So it's weird because even though it's such a dark film, a lot of my memories are us – me and Sam and Tobey , because I worked with them the most – just kind of cracking up all the time and making each other laugh.

In the movie the black symbiote appeared to be CG, but the press kit seems to indicate that there was some goo they were pouring on you.

They tried at the beginning. Like the first day we did, they actually poured some kind of tar-like substance on me, and I remember the stuff was getting in my eyes and I remember thinking this is going to be a long shoot. They tried lots of different things. There was a kind of goop that they'd smear on the suit to give it the effect of being more liquid. That remained to the end. It was kind of unpleasant. But the good thing about Sam in terms of CGI – and there is a bunch of CGI, especially the character of Venom – but the good thing about him is that if it can be done in camera, meaning if there can be no special effects, or if it can be done physically. My personal belief is that that character and the way he looks in the comic books came out of a reaction to like CGI, which at the time was like that water in 'The Abyss,' kind of hard water, or in 'T2.' I admire Sam for that. When I was watching the movie, the more that he filmed it on the set, the more it feels kind of authentic.

After finishing 'That '70s Show,' you made such a great transition into films. How did that work? Was your decision to leave the show early helpful?

That's a good point. First of all, sitcoms are the best things that can happen to a young actor in the world. Not that when you're a young actor you have a choice as to how you're gonna start. But I feel bad for young actors who become huge stars too quickly, 'cause you haven't had a chance to practice your craft a lot. The great thing about a sitcom is that you're in front of a live audience, so you really get in touch with what audience reaction is, but also there are lots of elements of film that you're dealing with and there's kind of a great boot camp or graduate school mentality to it, because you're gonna suck.

I was 18 years old and I'd never acted before. So it was great to be able to do something where it could be sent out to millions of people and they judge it – so it was for real, but then the next week you get to come back and get back up on the horse and try again. It's kind of a batting average and you work it out, and then what's even a better value is you get four months off in the summer and you get to go try something and then you get to come back home.

So I look at that as easily the greatest creative, artistic, best experience, plus it's like epic storytelling. You know, you're telling one story for seven years so there's something kind of neat about it. At a certain point though, you've got to realize when you're not being as challenged by it any more. So I had to do six seasons, and then both Ashton and I decided to so a seventh season, which was fun, and that one was kind of for us.

We just wanted to hang out. I love the people who were on that show. I kind of grew up with them. And then I wanted to be more open to opportunities like this and have more than just four months of the year to make a movie. And this definitely took that, although there was a day when I finished here, took off like four hours of prosthetic makeup and took out my fangs and ran over to 'That '70s Show' and put on the wig that I wore on that show and did the Season 8 finale.

You said some actors don't stay grounded when they get famous, yet you got famous and seem very grounded now. Why?

That's funny. My food taster was just giving me the same compliment. Thank you for saying that. I don't know. I have a lot of friends who were my friends before this whole experience, and I work with good people, like the people in this film, who are all very grounded people and I find the people who are really successful don't have a problem with that. It's kind of the people in the middle.

What about the security that the sitcom gave you because you always had something to go back to? Was that a big adjustment when you started doing film?

Well, another good thing that a sitcom does is that they pay really well. So it kind of sets you up financially in a way. This is probably what I'm most thankful for is that I don't have to do movies that I'm not passionate about and I can kind of take time off when I want to and work on stuff that... I mean, I didn't do this movie for free, but it's great to have the ability to wait for stuff that really – there's something that it says to you that you really have to…

But you don't have that thing where your picture is in the paper and people are looking at you every week?

I don't think that was ever really happening for me. Look, by the way, the reruns are watched more now than they were when the show was...

But some actors are nervous that people are going to forget about them.

Right. I think if your main concern is staying in the public eye 365 days a year, first of all people will hate you. I think it's good. Look, my personal theory as an actor is that you should only be visible when you have a film coming out. I think I've done a pretty good job of that. I think it's good when people forget about you and then when they see you in a preview or something, they go, "Oh yeah, this guy. Where's he been?" If you go to a party every night, people get sick of you, but if you show up at every fifth party, then it's, "Oh, you're never out. This is great. You showed up."

I know you grew up watching 'Indiana Jones' and 'Star Wars' and all those films. Now that you have your own action figure, how does that feel?

Oh yeah, someone just gave that to me. That's great. The tongue is not to scale by the way. [Laughs] That was CGI. Yeah, it's great. There's part of me that wishes at the end of these movies that you could be 10 years old again and go experience it the way you would have when you were younger. I'm probably the geekiest dude to ever be in one of these films so I'm enjoying it pretty much on that level anyway.

Did you keep your fangs?

No, I don't want to see those again. They were like really painful. It was weird. It was an hour to put on the suit, but that's actually not very painful. The only thing about the suit is there's no way to go to the bathroom in [it], which Tobey never told me. You have to be kind of careful with that. I mean, just not drinking a lot of liquids in the morning. The make-up is 4 hours, the prosthetic make-up, which really wasn't painful. It just took a lot of patience because you sit there. There's nothing to do. You can't read a newspaper. You have to keep your head straight and they would glue all the vines onto my face. They'd pull me up on wires, which was a little bit of a wedgie situation – which is not that awful – but the fangs were actually bruising my gums. It's good though. I guess it's kind of a method way to get into being mean.

Can you talk a little about 'Kids in America'?

'Kids in America' is a movie that Imagine and Universal are doing. It was actually an idea that I had.

Are you producing it too?

Yes, I'm producing it. It's my virgin producing effort and it was good. I don't know how soon again I'll be doing that but it was great.

What's it about?

Do you guys know 'American Graffiti'? Some of the kids that were in it did not know 'American Graffiti.' But we're at Imagine, which is great because Ron Howard is a part of it, and it's basically like that except it's set in the late '80s. So it's very much like an 'American Graffiti' in the '80s, I guess.

It is like the Kim Wilde song 'Kids in America'?

Yeah, the title's from the Kim Wilde song. It's great. Anna Faris is in it, Dan Fogler, Chris Pratt, and Teresa Palmer. We wanted to do a movie that was all the kids that we loved that were peers of mine that we thought were hilarious. Anna Faris is a genius. So it was great. I just came back from shooting that. It's the opposite of 'Spider-Man' by the way. There are zero special effects, and it's very funny. Dan Fogler is also pretty genius in it.

Were you a fan of Venom coming into this, and do you have any of the original artwork by Todd McFarlane?

He illustrated 'The Amazing Spider-Man' which is the main Spider-Man comic book but then he had his own title – just to let you know I'm legit – he had his own title which was just 'Spider-Man' and he did the first 17 issues or so of it. I bought the first issue and he signed it for me when I was younger at some mall signing or something. I don't know if he knows that so write about that because he'll probably [read that] and go, "What?!" [Laughs]

What hard was it when you were in costume and all you had to work with were your eyes and part of your face?

It was great. The best thing about what Sam does is he's an actor's director, which is easier said than done in a huge budget movie like this. You would never know that you were in this huge blockbuster the way he directs you and I think he got a lot of it out of me. I was actually surprised when I was watching the film that it was so moving at certain points. Most of the time directors can't wait to get to the big action scene but he's just the opposite. Obviously he's really good at those action scenes, but the way he works with his actors, he cares about every little nuance. It was an amazing experience working with someone who can balance those two things. I don't know if I'll ever be that lucky again.

The first indication we seem to have with your character not being quite right is when we find out he's not really involved with Gwen.

Yeah, that was a thing that came late to the film. I love that. You kind of plant all these seeds like, "Oh, I guess they're together," and then like, "they're not." "What's going on?" But I love that. Look, everyone will see the previews to these movies. You can't avoid the previews, but if they didn't see the previews, I think you might actually think I'm a good guy at the beginning, which I love. I just love roles where you can play lots of different notes.

You mentioned working out for the role. Is that something you normally do? Are you a big exercise buff?

[Jokingly] You know it, big time. [Laughs] No, it might surprise you all to learn that I had never actually worked out before. The minute the film wrapped I quit. They told me at the first meeting that it's going to be really intense, the suit's going to be intense and the fangs and they're going to put you up on wires. Six months before, I hit the gym with this guy named Duffy who trains Brad Pitt and also helped train Tobey on the first one. It was two hours a day, six days a week. It was crazy. But what really surprised me was that it wasn't so hard. He's a nice guy and it was kind of fun. First of all, I thought, "Gain weight, alright... Krispy Kreme." You have to gain a specific kind of weight so it's really kind of boring, protein-filled meals and shakes and it's eating past the point of being full. That part for me was really hard and just something to get used to. I'm actually glad I started it well before the film so I could just concentrate on that and then it was kind of second nature when I was doing the film.

Were you able to improvise at all? There were a couple of lines that stood out, like the "tingling" thing.

Yeah, it was good, but a lot of it was me talking to Sam. I had a couple [lines] Sam ixnayed, which he was probably right to do so. But yeah, that "spider sense is tingling" was one of [the improvised lines].

What did he suggest that was too much?

He let me do it and then we watched on playback and realized that's probably too much. It's when I landed on the car and Mary Jane's in the car. Originally I go, "Ooh, looks like I traded up from vanilla to strawberry." [Laughs]

In past projects you've played more the sensitive, nice guy, but in "Spider-Man" you veer away from that a little.

The whole acting thing is a buffet. One, in terms of role choice and movie choice, I like to do lots of different things and I think that's the whole fun of it. But I also see it as a buffet in terms of the character. I'd just come off 'In Good Company' when I started this film and that's where I'm kind of playing a jerk at the beginning. I become a lot nicer through the film. This just seemed like exactly the opposite where I'm a nice, jovial guy at the beginning and then become more of a jerk. I thought it's a great challenge. It's literally the opposite. It's a different form.

Are you going to pop up in 'Ocean's 13'?

No, I was doing re-shoots on this. I was bummed. I actually talked to Steven Soderbergh about that and we had a thing and then I couldn't do it. I'm bummed because there's nothing more fun than dropping in on that set for one or two days and hanging out with that crew. That film looks great by the way.

Are you prepared for some of the changes that could come from a big Hollywood movie like this?

Maybe I'm being naοve, but I don't feel like a lot's going to change. It's funny because Tobey and Kirsten, while we were doing the movie, would look at me like, "Get ready," and I'd say, "For what?" [Laughs] I don't know. I would say that another good thing that a sitcom provides you, especially one like ''70s', which wasn't as popular as something like 'Friends.' There was an ability to understand what it was to be famous and be on television but not really be that famous. I've used this metaphor [before]. It's not like having this white-hot spotlight on you. It's more like having a nightlight on you for a long period of time. I didn't work outside 'That '70s Show' for the first two years and it wasn't really that big a hit until the third year. It was kind of a great way to see what people were doing outside the show that were in films and yet not have to participate yet. It was kind of a great way to ease your way into fame.

Got questions? Got comments? Send me a line at: quigles@joblo.com.

Source: JoBlo.com

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