Kelsey Grammer is Still the "Boss"

The actor talks political dishonor and finding the upside to failure.

By Scott Huver
|  Tuesday, Aug 14, 2012  |  Updated 4:45 PM EDT
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Actor Kelsey Grammer returns to Starz in "Boss"

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Through his bravura – and Golden Globe-winning – dramatic turn on Starz’s “Boss,” playing the power-hungry Chicago mayor hiding a disease that might force him from office, Kelsey Grammer showed viewers his full intensity and broad range. Now Grammer’s ready to bring Tom Kane back to city hall for a second season, beginning Friday. He promises that, along with the hardball politics, equally play will be given to Kane’s ebbing emotional life.

“Tom, in this part of the story, has discovered there are gaps in his life that maybe he would like to fill in – or at least try to,” reveals Grammer. “He realizes that he's not a fully realized human being and only has so many avenues to explore to actually make that different; one, of course, being his daughter – and even his wife.  So he makes some attempt.  Whether or not they're successful, of course, is left up to conjecture and whatever future we may find, but it doesn't go so well.”

The actor reveals even more to PopcornBiz, including his now-happy personal life, reflections on his “Cheers” and “Frasier” success and a candid admission about wishing he’d made the Emmy short list for “Boss.”

You’vie said that you don’t wish to immerse yourself too much in the real version of the world Mayor Kane inhabits because politics are “disgusting” – can you elaborate?

Well, it's an interesting world. I'm actually saying that more for entertainment value than anything else. It's a very complex world. I think some good can be accomplished in it, but I think you have to make a lot of bad choices to get there.

You're very menacing when you want to be, on the show. Did you have to work on that skill, having played likeable for so long?

No. I just think I've always had a theory about a career and you just don't show every note that you can play until it's time to play it. So it was always in there, something that I was capable of doing, but I 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…I wouldn't say that it's something that I had to work on, necessarily, but I just 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 that are scared of you, like when you play 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.

Is it better to go in and read straight from the page, to not know the colorful, controversial history of Chicago politics, or is it better to have the historical perspective?

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 that we play and write for is a guy as big as the mayors of Chicago. He's not a guy is specific to one or two mayors. It's more of an amalgam, a collection of them.

He seems very self-aware of who he is.

Yeah, I love that.

Was Frasier Crane ever that self-aware?

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.

What part of Tom came out of Kelsey Grammer?

There's that part in everybody: if there's something that I like about Tom Kane that was my story is that I'd be more of a fighter.

What do you dislike the most about him?

Gosh, there's almost nothing. I mean, you have to fall in love with the characters that you play. If I was playing Iago I'd love him to.

Do you find that the heart of comedy and drama are similar?

I think the work is similar in that you actually have to earn the big moments. You have to believe. Take 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 on a piano doing Gilbert and Sullivan songs while their 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 – It's very thrilling. It's thrilling to play.

When you read the script for the last episode in the first season, where Kane was going to sell out his daughter, how did you feel?

Well, I kind of knew that was coming because we had talked about it, but that's a bit [King] Lear-ish: Lear banishes his daughter in the first act. It's tough, but it's because he's not thinking straight. 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?

What about parenting in real life?

Parenting in real life is actually a wonderful trip. You're bound to fail, but I guess that's why we keep going. That failure just becomes an opportunity for them to thrive. I think that kids are fantastic and they do shape themselves very much, and hopefully you lay a couple of good things in their head and they can actually find a way to navigate the universe based on, hopefully, one or two times you told them something good.

What's different about this time around?

This is the first time…oh, gosh, this is very hard to say. It's the first time I was in a place with someone in my life that having a child was the best thing that both of us could do. That's new for me and it's fantastic. I love being a dad.

'Cheers' was just honored with the Television Critics Association’s prestigious Heritage award. In the moment that you were doing that show what did it mean to you?

'Cheers' was like the best gift of my life, honestly. You look back on it and say, 'Wow!' I never wanted to try and make it in L.A. and 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' that they gave me that vote of confidence, that they wanted to do give me my own show at Paramount. Then it became a spin-off. That was the beginning of a career that's been extraordinary.

Is there a type of role you haven't been able to play?

Oh, a couple. I'd love to do a Western. I'd love to be 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 of him, that we find so interesting and engaging, a guy about faith. One of the reasons we named our daughter Faith is his writings.

Were you a little surprised that you didn’t receive an Emmy nomination for “Boss,” even after winning the Golden Globe?

Well, I actually kind of took it personally, but that's for me to wrestle with. To me it's just a mystery at this point. Listen, my relationship with Emmy up to this point has been pretty great. 'Frasier' is the most successful show with Emmys: 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. You know what? – life's been pretty good to me, so it's okay.

"Boss" airs Fridays on Starz at 9 p.m. ET

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