Kelsey Grammer on ‘Boss’ Season 2

The veteran actor tells us about his current series on Starz, Emmy awards, “Frasier” and “Cheers.”

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

All the news about “Boss” at the Television Critics Association press tour was about how Kelsey Grammer took a phone call from his wife on stage. Grammer pleasantly told the journalists that his family comes first and he graciously stayed on stage to keep talking with reporters.

We joined the scrum to talk to Grammer about season two of his current dramatic series, in which he plays Tom Kane, the embattled and ruthless mayor of Chicago who is battling a debilitating diseases. Grammer also offered up some good reflections on “Frasier” and “Cheers” too.

CraveOnline: You're very menacing on the show when you want to be. Did you have to work on that skill because not everyone can do that?
Kelsey Grammer: No. I just think I've always had a theory about a career and you just don't show every note you can play until it's time to play it. So, it was always in there, something that I was capable of doing. I just didn't have the role to pull it out and show it yet. You keep your cards close to the vest and play them when it's time.
CraveOnline: You had it all along, you didn’t have to work on it for “Boss”?
Kelsey Grammer: I don't think it was anything I had to work on necessarily, just I had to access it. Tom is a very capable and palpable force and it also helps that other people think so in the show. If you're surrounded by a group of people who are scared of you, it’s like when you’re playing Macbeth, for instance, if the surrounding population of the show gives him that reverence then you believe it as well. So, I think that I'm getting help from my fellow actors as well, but yeah, Tom is menacing. It just seemed to come naturally.
CraveOnline: Is it better to go in and read from the page, to not know the history of Chicago politics, or is it better to have the historical perspective?
Kelsey Grammer: It's great to have the historical perspective for the foundation of the show. For my performance it has no value. This character is a man that believes he is all the mayors in Chicago, not just some recent one. So, this character we play and write for is a guy as big as the mayoralty of Chicago. He's not a guy that is specific to one or two mayors. It's more of an amalgam, a collection of them.
CraveOnline: He seems very self-aware of who he is and says, “I'm the same old pick I've ever been.”
Kelsey Grammer:
Yeah, I love that.
CraveOnline: Was Frasier ever that self-aware?
Kelsey Grammer: I think that Frasier was self-aware, but he was suffering under delusion most of the time because Frasier was always being dealt a disappointing blow and his ego was very fragile, but somehow he survived. He kept going. So, I think he needed to sort of delude himself to get up every morning, like, “Today is going to be a good day.”

That's what made him funny. He was a hero in many ways, to get up the next day and say, “I'm still going to give love a try. I'm still going to give this a chance.” Watching him fail was what made Frasier fun. Watching Tom die will be an interesting battle because he's a real fighter and he doesn't take no for an answer which is fascinating and great to play that part.
CraveOnline: Has this role and the reception you've gotten liberated you from the character of Frasier?
Kelsey Grammer: I think that they actually just saw, “Oh, he does something we didn't know he did.” I think it's that simple.
CraveOnline: What part of Tom came out of Kelsey Grammer?
Kelsey Grammer:
Just that there's that part in everybody, like, if there's something that I like about Tom Kane that I wish was more my story is that I'd be more of a fighter.
CraveOnline: What do you dislike the most about him?
Kelsey Grammer: Gosh, there's almost nothing. I mean, you’ve got to fall in love with the characters that you play. If I was playing Iago I'd love him to.
CraveOnline: Do you find that the heights of comedy and drama are similar?
Kelsey Grammer: I think the work is similar in that you actually have to earn the big moment. You have to believe, in a comedy for instance, if you don't lay the foundation in something that you don't believe is a real situation it doesn't seem possible that two guys can stand at a piano doing Gilbert and Sullivan songs while they're lives are crumbling.

Or in this case, that a man who's the elected mayor of a city would actually grab an alderman's ear and rip it off. But given the circumstances, and if you buy into the first one, it's almost like logistics, you have a first premise, a second premise and then…
CraveOnline: Is it thrilling?
Kelsey Grammer: It's very thrilling. It's thrilling to play. To play, that's what we're good at.

CraveOnline: Are we going to see Sideshow Bob again?
Kelsey Grammer: Gosh, I don't know. That's a question for the producers of “The Simpsons.” I haven't done a new one, no.
CraveOnline: What does an Emmy mean to you, and what does the lack of a nomination for “Boss” mean for you?
Kelsey Grammer: Well, I actually kind of took it personally, but that's for me to wrestle with.
CraveOnline: You've gotten a lot of accolades for this performance. What's does that organization conjure up and what does it mean?
Kelsey Grammer: To me it's just a mystery at this point. Listen, my relationship with Emmy has been pretty great. “Frasier” is the most successful show in the Emmy's. I think it's 37. I got four myself for “Frasier.” If this is the best work that I've ever done it seems a little funny that I wouldn't get nominated, but there must be some criteria out there that I'm not aware of.
CraveOnline: Life is not fair.
Kelsey Grammer: Life is not fair. You know what, it's been pretty good to me. So, it's okay.
CraveOnline: “Cheers” was honored with a Heritage award at TCA and it’s still always on TV. In the moment that you were doing that show, what did it mean to you?
Kelsey Grammer:
“Cheers” was like the best gift of my life, honestly. You look back on it and say, “Wow.” I never wanted to try to make it in L.A. so I was very fortunate to get plucked out of New York and get the job, but that's how I wanted it.

I wasn't going to come any other way because I was a happy, kind of legit theater guy. I was fine to just stay there. I did think it was going to change my life. It did. I was really glad that towards the end of “Cheers” they gave me that vote of confidence, that they wanted to do a spin-off or give me my own show, that was at Paramount. Then it became a spin-off. That was the beginning of a career that has been extraordinary.
CraveOnline: Were you introduced as a villain since you were Diane's boyfriend?
Kelsey Grammer: Well, I was certainly Diane's villain. He was just a funny guy. He was a tortured, wonderful, loving guy. What I loved about Frasier was, and this is what I said to them when I first read for the part, that first he was going to be her therapist, and I said, “He can't be, because if he had any ethics at all he wouldn't go out with her.” They said okay, and they invented a new story where he met her when she was hitting a woman over the head with a croquet mallet which I thought was prett funny.

Then I just said, “Whatever it is with Frasier, that love for her had to be real.” That had be his greatest love at that time, so that that was sincere. Like you said, in comedy it's built on something real and then you can go anywhere.
CraveOnline: When you read the script for “Boss,” the last one in this season where he was going to sell out his daughter, how did you feel?
Kelsey Grammer: Well, I kind of knew that was coming because we had talked about it, but that's a bit Lear-ish. Lear banishes his daughter in the first act. It's tough, but it's because he's not thinking clearly. In this case, Tom had no other card to play. Power at that point was more important than that allegiance. Would he make the same choice three years from now? Who knows?
When you were playing Frasier and now Tom Kane, do you get a feeling when things are clicking with you and the character?
Kelsey Grammer: Oh yeah, you always have that. You know when it's good and you know when it's not. It’s like ew, eggy or successful, you can feel the success of a character as it unfolds, in performance. You can feel it. Some of the accompanying cast members were saying things like when they'd do a job, they'd say, “Holy sh*t.” I'd go, “Yeah, that was pretty good, wasn't it?”

I don't know what to say about it really, except that yeah, you just know when you're doing something that’s different and working, when it’sfiring on all cylinders. It's fun to be in that machinery. It's a great ride.
CraveOnline: Is there a type of role you haven't gotten to play?
Kelsey Grammer: Oh, a couple. I'd love to do a western villain. I'd love to do a gunslinger. There's a couple of other guys I'd love to do. There's a guy named Emmet Fox,  my wife and I have been talking about maybe trying to do a biopic about him, that we find so engaging and interesting, a guy about faith. One of the reasons we named our daughter Faith is his writings.
CraveOnline: Is there a day you wake up and go, “I don’t feel like being Tom Kane today?”
Kelsey Grammer: Yeah, sure. Well, you’ve got to go to work. You have a cup of coffee and go to work.