Q&A: Kelsey Grammer Talks ABC's New Series 'Hank,' His Health And More
Hank is a disgraced Fortune 500 honcho who has to adjust to small town sitcom life. Moving back home with his family provides a culture clash with Grammer clinging to the sort of highbrow luxuries familiar to Frasier Crane. Reality provides the humor.
Over the summer, Grammer presented the new show to the Television Critics Association and spoke about his return to TV after health issues. Hank premieres September 30 on ABC.
Starpulse: We love you as these sophisticated characters. How cultured are you really?
Kelsey Grammer: Not that much. I'm well spoken. That's my trick. I mean, honestly, I probably enjoy the art language more than most people and so that is the distinction in my persona that is probably misinterpreted as a sophistication in terms of language, the English language specifically.
Do you secretly like wrestling then?
Sure. I think that wrestling is great. I secretly like a ton of things. I take great pleasure in almost all endeavor that's about pitting yourself in a situation of impossible odds and succeeding. I love that story, the human struggle. I really think it's fantastic. Even if it's a rigged game sometimes I love the showmanship. I enjoy different things for different reasons, but I love, for instance, sumo wrestling. I think it's fantastic.
How did you bounce back from your health scare?
Actually, really well. As it turns out I was fortunate to survive and then you just start to exercise and watch your diet more and get with it. I've always been a pretty resilient guy and I've certainly been through difficulties before. So you get on track.
Were you excited or concerned about going back to work?
I'm always concerned about going to work now, going back to work now because I've established such a connection with my family that's different than it used to be when I was on Frasier. I started the family then and in the last five years I've spent a lot of time with them. So I find that more precious than I did before so it's important to me. So it's very important that the work not really intrude on that. So it's a weird balancing act again.
How do you feel today?
Great. Physically you mean? Yeah. Fantastic. Honestly, never better.
You look tan. Were you on vacation?
I was just in Hawaii. I was floating in the ocean twelve hours ago.
The same place you were where it happened?
So you're not afraid to go back there?
No, no. I revisit it. I'm all for sort of getting over those things.
Have you made any lifestyle changes since then?
I don't eat salt. That's about it.
Yeah, honestly. I exercise. I always did that anyway.
What are you doing to manage stress levels these days and what advice do you have for others about that?
I'm breathing. That's my big thing. I stopped breathing a while ago and I thought that I better get back to it.
You were also in the Fame remake. Who do you think will be the big breakout out of that?
I don't remember, honestly. I was in and out of that film a lot. So it was like a day of shooting, and then they were very respectful about my schedule and they didn't waste my time. They'd have the shot setup, I'd walk in and say something to somebody and then walk out. It felt like being Fred McMurray.
What do you think of your daughter's hit show Greek?
It's great. I mean, I always knew she'd do well.
Did you have an inkling that she was going to be a successful actress?
Well, she really wanted to be in the business, and I told her to go be an actress first. So she went off to New York. Her stepmother told her the same thing. I'm not sure what her mom said to her. We weren't talking at the time.
But you were encouraging the whole time?
Yeah, sure. I want people to follow their own dreams and figure out their own lives. If she'd had been an astronaut I would've been happy.
We've gotten to ask her what she learned from you. What have you learned from her?
I'm thankful that I was never a teenage girl. That was my chief lesson from my daughter. I have learned that it is gratifying and satisfying to offer a life to someone, a child and to watch them grow up and to see them come to fruition and flourish. It's still a work in progress. She's twenty five years old. She'll probably get mad at me saying that because twenty five is impossible in this town. I'm very proud of her.
What else do you watch on TV?
Television is mostly sports. Football, basketball, baseball. Pretty boring.
What's the last movie that you saw that you liked?
I was at Harry Potter. It broke my heart. I didn't know he died.
With Obama in office what's it like being a conservative in Hollywood right now?
Well, that's always been the same. We're on the outskirts of the Hollywood community because, frankly, it's just more fun to be liberal I guess. Conservatives are a little more measured, a little more studied in what they think is right or wrong. We take a sort of slower approach to coming up with ideas than most people in Hollywood do. I admire that and respect them for it. My thing is a little more different.
What are you the most proud of in your life to this point, and what are you looking forward to accomplishing that you haven't yet?
Oh, I'm proudest of my family. Haven't yet? It's still a work in progress.
What are your thoughts on some of you Frasier and Cheers costars appearing on this new show?
I don't see that as a likelihood. We did a little bit of that on Frasier with Cheers, but I didn't think that it was a great success, honestly. I like the clean break idea. I mean, I'd love to work with David [Hyde Pierce] and John [Mahoney] but whether or not it's really important I don't know.
Is Hank similar to Frasier in going back home and getting shaken up?
The premise really has more to do with the emotional growth of the character, and that's what I find, say, opportunistic in the fact that he has to. He's forced into a situation where he has to grow up. Yes, that was a similar quality in the previous show, Back to You, with Chuck. But it wasn't quite the same thing because he was a lothario. This is a guy who's just been sort of blissfully ignorant about some of the basic tasks of human existence. That's what he's going to learn to do here but basically it's the opportunity to grow up, for a man to actually become a fully realized man.
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We're trying to work on that specifically, but to my mind, Hank sacrificed his parachute to make some other people whole. I mean, we haven't quite figured out what the numbers are exactly and stuff like that, but because he did take the brunt of the responsibility for what went wrong with his company, he took it.
There's a lot of drama in real life about these situations where companies go bankrupt. What do you think comedy brings to the table in that particular area?
Hopefully a good laugh. That's really about it. I mean, listen, probably one of the greatest human characteristics is our ability to laugh at our situation. I think irony is our strong suit. Humans are at their best when things are at their very worst, and I think comedy is a necessary part of that.
What happened with Back to You and were you ready to jump right back in and try again?
We started on Back to You. Good show, Patricia Heaton. I enjoyed her immensely. I thought we had a really great chemistry, and I thought we actually were onto something pretty good. Then FOX hired what's his name, Reilly? Hired Reilly, who actually hadn't bought the show. We had pitched it to him at NBC. So I had bad feelings about that. Then we had the writers' strike. And the writers' strike I really think, well, basically we sort of like preempted the recession for ourselves and got in there six months early. I was very happy about that. We were rehearsing for the real recession. There was very little ability, especially on FOX anyway, to kind of have a sense of continuity about the show and a sense of commitment because that's just kind of the way they work with shows. It's their thing. And we were at sea pretty much once Idol came on. And finally, there was some friction between the guy that never wanted the show in the first place, who was now running FOX, and our writers. And off we went. Then there was a heart attack, and there was the idea that maybe we would toy with the idea of going back to something. But I thought, and I said this to my agent, I said, "Listen, I haven't seen a traditional family show in a long time on television. You know, what happened to them? They're still part of America, I think." So that became the area that I was interested in. I was pitched one other thing about a successful 50-year-old guy that was always trying to score with teenage women and I just thought, "This is really awful." I thought it's bound to be something someone would want to pick up, but I said, "I will not put myself in that show." Then somebody responded to the idea of a family. This fellow came in the room and started talking about it. So I survived a turgid pitch, and I heard the one line that made me think, "That, I can play, and that would be interesting, and it would be fun." And Tucker [Cawley] has a pretty good track record. He's got some funny ideas and a very droll manner. I thought, "That's interesting."
You've played some slightly pompous characters. How do you walk that fine line with this? Is he more clueless than pompous?
I just hope that I can lend myself to the character in the same way I did to Frasier. He has far less equipment in terms of his life. Frasier loved clutter and conflict. This guy is not that comfortable with all that stuff. He is a simpler man. I mean, he made his living in sports basically. He loves sports. He loves competition. He loves the American dream. He loves the idea of somebody working their way up from the bottom, and he loves the idea of making something of his life and of his family and of himself by virtue of the sweat of his brow. There's sort of traditional cliched concepts, but he actually embodies those. So he's far less complicated than maybe some of the pompous people. What might be seen as pompous in this character would really be just the fact that he's out of touch with some things that he's either forgot about. Like the other day I was trying to make a pot of coffee in my house, and I have a particularly complicated coffee maker. I actually had three friends trying to make a pot of coffee with me, and none successfully. I thought it might be a funny thing for Hank because he hasn't made coffee probably for 20 years.
What's Sideshow Bob's latest adventure on The Simpsons?
You know, I'm not really sure. They sent me a script, and honestly, I haven't read it yet but I'm going to be recording it in a couple of weeks.
Would you hope that they do a second movie that would feature Sideshow prominently?
Well, honestly, I was a little upset that he wasn't in the first movie, but it's okay. I thought the first movie was really funny.
Story/Interview by Fred Topel
Starpulse contributing writer
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