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INTERVIEW: Lonely I'm Not Star Topher Grace Takes a Giant Step

The popular actor discusses his roles in Paul Weitz's new Off-Broadway play and the film The Giant Mechanical Man.

Topher Grace
(© Tristan Fuge)
Topher Grace literally fell into an acting career during high school when a sprained ankle forced him to drop out of tennis and he joined the drama class. Since those days, he's gained worldwide fame as Eric Forman on FOX's That 70's Show and appeared in such films as In Good Company, Traffic and Spider-Man 3.

Now, he's making his Off-Broadway debut as an emotionally damaged corporate bigwig in Paul Weitz's comedy Lonely I'm Not at the Second Stage Theatre, and is on the big screen opposite Jenna Fischer in The Giant Mechanical Man, which premiered on April 23 at the Tribeca Film Festival. TheaterMania recently spoke with Grace about these projects and his career trajectory.

THEATERMANIA: Did you have anything to do with the timing of this double header?
TOPHER GRACE: Not at all. With indie films, you never know if they'll even be seen, so I never really thought about it. That's why we were so thrilled to have it premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival. And I certainly never thought I'd do a play -- it's not something you have a lot of opportunity to do in L.A.

TM: So how did Lonely I'm Not come about for you?
TG: It was only because Paul directed me in In Good Company and we have this fantastic relationship as friends. So he said, "Why don't you come do a reading of this play with Olivia?'" Paul's terrific at keeping his friends together; Olivia just did Being Flynn with him. And she's s-o-o-o good! Her character is physically blind but mine is blind in other ways -- maybe even more so.

TM: In The Giant Mechanical Man, you play a not-very-good life coach who loses the girl. Was this a new sort of part for you?
I've never played anyone like Doug, who was just so needy; I mean it all falls apart for him and still he says, "Read my book."

TM: Can you tell us about your look in the film?
TG: Well, I showed up with this long, scraggily hair and Jenna, who'd been involved with this script for years [and who is also a producer of the film and married to its writer/director, Lee Kirk], looked at me like, "This isn't what I had in mind." But there's a line in the script about the fact that he wears a sweater. So while we were shooting the HBO movie Too Big to Fail in New York, I went home to Connecticut and collected up all my sweaters that I'd never actually worn and brought them out to Detroit where we shot the film. So all those awful sweaters in the film are really mine.

TM: The Giant Mechanical Man and Lonely I'm Not are both dramedies -- works with lots of funny moments but some heartbreak in each. Do you prefer those kind of scripts over straight comedies?
TG: What I prefer is good writing. Paul is the master of what I call hairpin turns where you're laughing and then it gets serious. Only Paul could write a comedy about serious depression. And when I first read Lee's script, it had such a specific tone I was impressed -- and knew he was the one who should direct it.

TM: Do you finally have the kind of career you really want?
TG: In between doing The Giant Mechanical Man and this play, I also shot a big-budget film, The Wedding, in which I play the son of Robert DeNiro and Diane Keaton. During the filming, I got to live at home with my folks and sleep in my old bunk-bed. I'm young, single and I want to see what's out there and not have to try and control the situation. If you're really cheap like I am, you can afford to take whatever opportunities come your way. I can assure you my agents are not psyched about my doing an indie film or a play right now. But it's sustenance for me. I'm not in this for the money. I just want to do it all.

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