Topher Grace had a few charming years, with roles in BlacKkKlansman, The hot zone and black mirror under his belt. And he’s coming back to sitcoms this season with Domestical economy, about a group of adult siblings struggling with very different financial situations. This is his first role in a sitcom since breaking through with That 70s show, more than 20 years ago. Here he reflects on his career memories and recalls some favorite movies and TV series.
My first film lesson
My mom only let me watch black and white movies. I was not allowed to watch television when I was a child. At the time, I was angry with her, because everyone was talking about what had happened The good years. But I look back now and I think it was awesome. She also took us to MGM studios in Orlando, which is a fictional mini version of Hollywood. I thought, could it be this wonderful? When I was thrown That 70s show straight out of high school, the set was built so they could close off the whole house, because they wanted to do a long tracking shot in the opening. It was kind of like this fictional Hollywood experiment brought to life. The reverse happened when I made my first film, Traffic, because Steven Soderbergh comes from the documentary. There wasn’t a single light on this film – it used available light – and I had never shot anything outdoors before. So I was in some dodgy parts of Cincinnati, and this was the lesson: sometimes cinema is artifice and sometimes it’s reality, and there’s no wrong way to do it.
The masters I studied
Nobody ever pulls you aside and says, “Here’s how to wear a suit,” or anything. But whenever you get the chance to work with great actors at the top of their game, you learn by osmosis. Watching brad pittWhere Cate Blanchett Where julia robert do their thing. I had to take dance lessons with Julia Roberts on Mona Lisa smile, and just seeing how she behaved was a lesson to an idiot like me who kept stepping on her toes. The first one I really remember was on Traffic, and I was nervous because Soderbergh is not the kind of director who tells you what he wants you to do. Maybe on the second day of shooting, I said, “Should I do something different?” And he said, “Oh, I don’t know,” and he kind of walked away. Then one day he got a note for me. I must have been really out of place with something, and he walked towards me as I was standing with Michael Douglas, who was the first big star I worked with. When Steven arrived, Michael just whistled and walked away. It took a while before I realized how gracious that was because he was such a consummate professional that he knew the moment might be embarrassing for me. So he walked away and gave me my time.
The part I always wanted
I don’t have many, but I tried for Anakin Skywalker in attack of the clones. At the time, someone saw me in a school play, and I was only cast for That 70s show, and I thought, Oh my god, this is obviously meant to be. I guess I’m less sad that I didn’t understand now [laughs]. But I think I would have taken it anyway because it would have been fun. I was there basically because my haircut looked like Jake Lloyd’s, I think. And I would always like to be in a star wars movie one day, but I can’t imagine I’m the right guy for them. Guess I’ll have to make do with the ride to Disneyland.
My most difficult role
Playing David Duke in BlacKkKlansman was not as difficult as do research for David Duke, which was just awful. I read his autobiography, which is basically like his Mein Kampf, and I watched a lot of footage. Watching and reading these things makes you feel complicit just by engaging in them. Spike Lee actually maintains a fun set for heavy material, but the research of those previous two months was heavy, and my wife, Ashley, was very kind to let me be in the funk. Charlottesville happened around this time too, so it was very present in our lives. But when I finally saw how Spike put the movie together and how forcefully he said what he said, I was so proud to have been a part of it.
The movie that makes me cry
I’m not a big screamer. I went to boarding school at a young age, so you kind of learn not to cry. But I saw Upside down with my wife on one of our first dates, and that part of Bing Bong… Oh man, I was crying. And when you hold it back a lot, let me tell you, when it’s okay, it’s really okay. The faucet is running full blast. Pixar knows how to get you.
My most tortured co-stars
I will always be sorry for Kurtwood Smith and Debra Jo Ruppwho played parents on That 70s show. It was literally my first audition, Wilmer. [Valderrama] barely spoke English, Laura [Preppon] and Ashton [Kutcher] had never acted, they were role models. Now that I have a bunch of years ahead of me, I can see how brave it was for them to choose these kids who had no experience. It was brave and quite smart because we had time to really learn. And when we learned, we were fresh and ready to learn. The only people who got caught in the middle of it were those wonderful professionals who played our parents. Every time I see them now, I apologize, not for anything in particular, just because I was so green.
The most fun I’ve had on set
I’m not just saying that: it’s really by doing Domestical economy. You can say, I think, too. Acting is pretending – you should be able to have chemistry with people – but I’ve done things where it just doesn’t come from. I remember driving to the set the first day and thinking, Oh man, who knows? But maybe 48 hours later, I was overconfident. Everyone is individually talented, which I knew when I walked in, but then we all clicked instantly. The last day of filming for season 1 was like the last day of camp. When you get comfortable with people like that in comedy, it’s just an elixir. When we were renewed, I’m telling you, you’ve never seen five more excited adults.
The characters who resemble me the most
I looked a lot like Eric Forman when we were doing That 70s show, obviously. And I’m a very different person now, but I think I’m a lot like Tom Hayward in Domestical economy. He has twins – I don’t have any, but we had a second baby during the pandemic – and it was like, is that even acting? I would be at home changing diapers and then I would show up at work and they would hand me two diapers. I think every time you do a show like this, where you work for so many months a year, you can’t help but cross paths with your real life. You steal it.
My most cited role
Oh, it’s probably people calling me a fool from That 70s show. It’s not the best thing to have you yelled at in the street. But I guess it could be worse.
my guilty pleasure
My wife is really into The single person, and she put me in. Now, when she’s out of town, I’m like, “Well, I’m just going to watch it so I can follow what you’re watching.” But I’m on an ABC show myself now, so I guess I can admit it: I love it.
Who would play me in my biopic
Well I think everyone would agree that it should be Harry Styles. I mean, I don’t even need to explain why, it’s so obvious. Everyone knows, why even bother?
My Karaoke Playlist
I love karaoke. I’m not saying I’m good at it, but I like doing it. But if I’m in a competitive karaoke situation, which sometimes breaks out, especially with me, then my go-to is “A Whole New World” by Aladdin. I pull my wife in duet with me. The trick is to indicate all the cities you see from the magic carpet. Really sell the emotion. “Oh look, there are the pyramids! This is the Great Wall! He gets a big crowd.