The movie begins as Warwick Wilson (Pierce) is preparing a dinner party for several guests, when a stranger (Clayne Crawford) appears on his Los Angeles doorstep. What the audience knows -- but Warwick doesn't -- is that the stranger has just robbed a bank. What happens from then on doesn't play out as either character (or the audience) might expect.
"It starts with a character not unlike Niles -- he's throwing a dinner party, his home is in very good taste and he's drinking wine -- and if it were only that character, I'd have had no reason to do the film, because I did that for 11 years on Frasier," he says. "But if another actor had been cast in the part, you wouldn't say, 'Oh, that's Niles,' because the resemblances are really superficial. So I thought, 'Oh, this is excellent, with this movie we can take the audience from where they're used to seeing me and then continually upend their expectations.'"
Pierce may also upend some of his fans' expectations when he makes his directorial debut at New Jersey's George Street Playhouse in October with a new musical called It Shoulda Been You, about the wedding of an interfaith couple, starring Tyne Daly and Harriet Harris. During the show's final week in December, he also begins rehearsals for Manhattan Theater Club's Close Up Space, in which he will play a recently widowed literary editor.
His busy schedule wasn't exactly planned. "Everything just kept shifting," he explains. "I had done a reading of this new play with no thought of a production, and then as the schedule for the musical started to coalesce, MTC decided to produce it. And then it was just a bunch of negotiating because the other element was that Tyne had come onboard, and we had to keep juggling because of her Master Class schedule."
What attracted Pierce to this directorial project? "I had seen it in workshops and it's very funny and I've always found it very moving," he says. "They'd wanted a name director, but no one was available, and while I'm not a director, I'm kind of a name. For many years, people have said I ought to direct and I never wanted to. But I thought about this script and I thought, 'I'll throw my hat in if you guys think it's a good idea' -- because I wasn't sure it was a good idea -- and they said yes."
And what kind of director will Pierce be? "Oh, pretty hands on," he says. "I won't be there every night, but I plan to be there a lot, especially because it's my first time directing, I think this is the time you learn. If directing is about who you've studied with, then I have an incredible resume because I've worked with Mike Nichols, Dan Sullivan, Matthew Warchus, and back in the early days, Peter Brook. What I'm very excited about is that I've worked with people like Dan and Mike who tend to cast and then seem to let a production shape itself; of course, they do much more than that. I think all of this will be useful because in terms of the acting work, I like to allow the actors to find their characters."