Best known for his role as the nerdy pothead teen everyone loved on That ’70s Show (Eric Foreman), Topher Grace is back on the big screen in a movie he helped developed and star in, Opening Night. Opening Night is a musical comedy that follows stage manager Nick (Topher’s character) trying to hold everything together for the opening night of a show (very meta, I know). I got the chance to talk to Topher about how the movie came to be, other musicals, and the That ’70s Show cast! Check out what he had to say below!
I’m so happy to see you on my screen again, I watched Opening Night yesterday and I had so much fun! I love musicals, so it was really fun to see.
Thanks! I love musicals too, but I always thought it was weird when people would randomly start breaking into song. (laughs). Especially when I thought about me being in a musical. So it was great that I was actually able to be a part of developing it a bit. My character (Nick) expresses how I feel. In the beginning, Opening Night is not a musical but by the end, it transforms into almost a full-blown musical.
Tell me a little about what drew you to Opening Night?
I worked with director Isaac Rentz, who’s done all these great music videos, on a music video. I thought man, this guy is so great with music and theatricality. He’s a wonderful guy. He’s really fantastic. We were talking about what we would do if we were to ever make a film, and I had this really interesting experience where I was in an off-Broadway play that I was pushed to do. I never really wanted to do a play. Paul Weitz who wrote About a Boy wrote the play and he really pushed me to do it. I love him and his writing so much, so I did it. I had a great experience, but I thought it would be terrible, or that I would be terrible, and I actually really enjoyed it.
When I came back I was having lunch with Isaac and I said, “wow that experience was amazing”. I was cast out of a high school play, so that was the only experience I had before doing That ’70s Show, which was kind of live. I mean there was an audience there and stuff, but it was completely different. I had never really done a true theater experience and once I had I realized it’s so different than doing a movie or TV show. It’s so visceral and you’re in charge, everything really happens that night. And the real drama is backstage. (laughs). So Opening Night isn’t really like what my experience was like at all, but it’s kind of where it started. Then we found some writers and had a great time developing it. It’s funny, whatever drama is going on onstage, backstage is way more interesting, so that’s really the story for Opening Night.
Did you have any plays in mind when creating the story? Have you given up an arm and leg to see Hamilton yet?
You know, I have seen Hamilton, and it’s great! We decided that whatever this play is that’s in the movie, the fake play that’s in the movie probably closes a week later. We couldn’t try to make the movie good and the play in the movie good. (laughs). So I thought of it as like a rip-off of Rock of Ages where they used all the 80s songs. We did one hit wonders, so we didn’t think about the play too much, only to the extent that it should not be good. (laughs).
The cast of Opening Night seems pretty awesome, what was it like working with everyone?
I remember when we first got the script. There were all of these juicy roles, so when I read it I saw all these interesting types of characters and that was cool. I think we got our first choice(s). Taye Diggs has done like every musical ever. He did Chicago, Rent, Hedwig, etc. He’s done so much, he’s got so much personality and he’s confident like his character. It was just a great ensemble. Rob Riggle and Paul Scheer are pretty funny comedy guys, so we really got lucky.
Opening Night just premiered at the LA Film Festival, what were you most excited for people to see?
Not that many people saw it before last night, but I did show it to some friends. In developing it and being in it and playing a character that has a similar point of view on musicals that I have, I always think everyone likes being inside the world of film musicals, but it’s kind of hard to gain entry into them. You know the first moment someone starts singing you kind of go, “uh-oh, this isn’t real, this is not real life right now”. (laughs). If my character was the policeman, he could go from someone who isn’t in the musical in the beginning into someone who is singing at the end. I think that’s really interesting.
There’re so many great performances in it! I was excited for everyone to see them. Especially J.C. [Chasez], because he’s playing this dramatic version of himself. For me what was interesting was to see people watching it who don’t like musicals go and then sort of getting tricked into enjoying it.
Do you still get nervous going into things like these, showcasing your work?
Oh, no (laughs). I love it! I mean I really like the film. I’m just so thrilled that there are things like the LA Film Festival. I love big studio films, I’ve been in them before, but small films are special. It’s great for them that these venues exist. And you know I’m able to talk to you right now because of it and that’s pretty cool. (laughs).
The Ranch is Ashton Kutcher and Danny Masterson’s new show on Netflix and it’s been rumored that someone from the That ’70s show could be featured in an episode. I know you’ve probably been asked a thousand times but do you think people can look forward to seeing you on an episode?
(laughs). I would LOVE to do an episode. I mean, I saw Danny in something and I was pestering him into letting me do a guest shot. I would be totally down.
That would be awesome, I feel like That ’70s Show is timeless to this generation and we’ll take what we can get.
Aww, that’s really nice to hear! Thank you!
Our site is called Talk Nerdy W ith Us, so what’s one thing that you nerd out about?
First of all, it’s very appropriate that I be on this website (laughs). You know as a hobby, not as something that I really want to do, but as a hobby, I enjoy editing. (laughs). I like making different versions of movies. I made a cut of the Star Wars prequels. I cut them all into one film. Right now I’m doing a version of The Hobbit, and cutting all three Hobbit movies together. Yeah, it’s cool. It’s only two hours long, so it’s like the Cliff Notes version.
It’s so much easier to edit now than it’s ever been. When I was a kid you had to use VCRs and now you can do it on a MacBook Pro. It’s way better than what you could do on Avid back then. So yes, I definitely nerd out about that as you can tell (laughs). That might be like straight geek actually. But that’s how I spend my down time, I never really do anything I’m in because I feel weird watching myself, but it does help me think about things differently. It’s like when directors take acting classes.
What comes after this? What can we look forward to seeing you in?
I’m in a movie this fall called War Machine with Brad Pitt, and that was shot over in London. It was amazing. Brad gives such an amazing performance in that.
You know I have to mention it; I’ve always been a big fan. I’m not even joking when I say Spiderman 3 is one of my favorite movies of all time.
(laughs). Wow, that’s, uh… I think you’re alone in that. That’s rare.