Press tour: Kelsey Grammer gets serious with Starz’s ‘Boss’

Senior Television Writer
07.29.11 9 Comments


Like Sideshow Bob Terwilliger, Kelsey Grammer never set out to be a clown, but he became so famous as one that it became hard for him to be taken seriously.

“I didn’t start out as a comic actor,” the “Cheers” and “Frasier” star explained at a press conference for his new Starz drama “Boss” (premiere date TBD), in which he plays the scheming mayor of Chicago. “I started out as a classical theater actor playing tragedies. This particular role probably couldn’t have taken place right after ‘Frasier’ – probably would have been too big a jolt.”

Not that doing a drama was ever his intention in those immediate post-“Frasier” days. He did some comedy production work, starred in FOX’s short-lived “Back to You,” starred in ABC’s even shorter-lived “Hank” – which, he admitted, “nobody liked that, and it wasn’t very funny, so we thought we’d do something different.”

And, of course, there were the many appearances in the tabloids due to his problems with addiction, marriages, divorces, and other tabloid fodder. 

“I just took a break for a while,” he told reporters. “There were a lot of reasons I did. For the last couple of years, I decided I needed to make a life change, honestly. I mean, you’re all familiar with what’s gone on in my personal life. Maybe not the details, because i don’t talk about them. But I will say this: after my heart attack, which was three years ago, I spent the next several months just looking at my own life. I cast my imaginative net, basically, over the next 20 or 30 or 40 years, whatever it may be. And I just decided I didn’t want that story to be my last story. So I decided it was time to make changes that involved my career as well as my personal life.

“Doing a drama started to make sense,” he continued. “It took me back to my roots, back to things I believed in: telling good stories… Someone asked me earlier why won’t I leave television. I thought that was the most ridiculous thing I’d heard in my life. I love my work. I love telling stories, the blessing of being allowed to tell them on television. It’s an incredible medium. There’s room to tell stories in a unique, individual way, and that’s what we’ve done here. It’s been a remarkable experience for me. I’ve said some of the most extraordinary language I’ve ever said in my life in this role. It’s compelling stuff. I’ll never leave if I’m allowed to do this kind of stuff for the rest of my life.”

As you can tell, Grammer is prone to monologuing. But he has the experience, the stage presence, and the voice (even if he was fairly soft-spoken throughout this press conference) to make those monologues seem very compelling in person. And some of the best moments on “Frasier” tended to be those scenes where the jokes took a break and some combination of Grammer, David Hyde Pierce and John Mahoney would get serious with each other. So even though the “Boss” trailer Starz showed us looked like Cable Drama 101 – among other things, Grammer’s character has a health issue that sparks him to make major changes in his life – I’m very curious to see him tackle a purely dramatic role.

Still, I couldn’t let the brief mention of the awful “Hank” go, so near the end of the session I asked at what point he realized the show wasn’t working.

“It happened early on,” he said, “and I thought, ‘Maybe we can hatch this if we nurture it a little bit.’  Honestly, we didn’t have people in place that could expand on what was basically one idea. When you’re stuck on one idea, you can’t make one idea funny all the time… I have this particular caveat about the way you do work, you can never let the audience know where you’re going, can never get ahead of you. In a long-running character, that changes on you: the audience always knows where you’re going. And the entertainment quotient becomes “How does he get there?”… We had one idea for Hank that just kept being retold, until finally, about 8 shows into it, I called the head of Warner Bros. and I said – oh, I know you guys are gonna love this – I said, ‘Peter, how are we gonna put a bullet in the head of this thing?” And we did. Three days later, it was dead on arrival. But then I ended up (here). That was the catalyst for the most extraordinary journey of my life.”

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