Kelsey Grammar has played Frasier Crane now for almost 2 decades, first in Cheers, followed by the multi-award winning Frasier. Though a major star, the actor’s road to fame has not been easy. Once plagued with alcohol and drug addiction, the actor has finally settled down to a life of tranquillity thanks to his latest marriage. Ironically, as a man often on the receiving end of tabloid journalism, the Emmy Award-winning actor plays an irresponsible tabloid journalist in the new thriller, 15 Minutes. Grammar talked candidly about fame, alcoholism and Frasier, to Paul Fischer in New York.
There is something ironic about Kelsey Grammar playing a sleazy TV journalist in the movie 15 Minutes, a savage comment on the power of media manipulation in America. Kelsey agrees. “The poetic irony of playing this character did strike me, but I didn’t take the part with some axe to grind”, the actor explains with that familiar rich voice that has become his trademark. “I just did it because I thought I could play the guy and I thought it would be interesting to explore a man who is so FOCUSSED on getting a story and in getting that story out that he might actually obscure the lines of ethics. I mean he does go too far, but he probably has been going too far for a long time. But I’d like to think that there’s a kernel of MOST journalists in that character.”
15 Minutes revolves around superstar and media whore cop Eddie Flemming (Robert de Niro) who allows a young and talented Arson Investigator, Jordy Warsaw (Ed Burns) to team up with him to track down a pair of Eastern European killers on a rampage through the city. Ferocious, unpredictable and clever, the immigrants quickly learn how to use the celebrity of their pursuers to spin their own stardom into an explosion of media and judicial madness with Grammar as the sleazy and manipulative TV anchorman who has a unique relationship with Eddie. Getting past Frasier to play this character was not difficult, Grammar insists. “I’m an actor and I’ve created a lasting and memorable character named Frasier, who is not me, but who most people think is. So when I have a chance to play something that’s different, I embrace it because it’s fun; also in this case, he’s a memorable character. He’s got a real focus, he’s playable, he’s interesting, he has impact and that’s what appealed to me about it.”
It would be relatively easy for Grammar to also relate to the film’s somewhat acerbic comment on the nature of celebrity and fame and poses that unanswerable of questions: Why is society so obsessed with it? “Fame obviously has become a premium in everybody’s life. Everybody thinks they deserve it, everybody thinks they want it and most people really don’t enjoy it once they get it. You really learn how to live with fame to really enjoy it.” It took THIS celebrity, he says, “a couple of decades” to finally deal with his own celebrity but concedes that “it takes a very strange person to ENJOY fame, with all the by-products that come with it. It’s not necessarily a thrill.”
After years of having his once tortured life scrutinised by a perpetually hungry media, Grammar says that he is now comfortable with his celebrity. “Now I’m just comfortable with it, because I have nothing to hide anymore; I have nothing left. It’s all been done, so there’s a wonderful feeling about it, having been through a public cleansing, basically, all these years, so I am free from guilt, free from sin, I am open and just a genuine presence in the world. You can ask me any question and I will tell you the right answer, maybe even the correct answer. But it took me years to get there, because I WAS ashamed of myself years ago and I was drinking a lot.” Grammar’s success was initiated when he joined the cast of Cheers, a show that became larger than life. Grammar happily concedes that his alcoholism was a by-product of the celebrityism that emerged so quickly. “I became an actor, and because I had success as an actor, I became famous. I was acting for quite a while before I got famous; television made me famous. I guess that it’s television that is responsible for everybody’s desire to be famous.”
Yet ironically, the actor further muses, while it took him some time to come to terms with his celebrity and give up his drinking, the actor also feels that the press, in some twisted way, did him a favour when analysing his past behaviour. “I’ve also been given a great gift, because that ‘celebrity’ has been a forge for me, as a human being. I’ve been FORCED because of the scrutiny of the press, for instance, to deal with things that I might have been able to skirt, had I not been forced to look at it in the face, deal with it and the press has made me accountable for many things [even some things I DIDN’T do]”, he adds laughingly.
Grammar has played Frasier now for 17 years, and here in the US, Frasier is still one of the country’s top-rating shows, and still wins awards. Grammar might well have become sick of the character had it not been for the fact that, much like his real-life creator, Frasier has grown since first sitting on that bar stool back in Boston. “I think we’ve grown together. He of course is a fantasy and I’m me. The paths are not the same path, but what keeps the character interesting is that he DOES grow, which I think is what kept him interesting in Cheers as well. So what became interesting about keeping Frasier alive at the END of Cheers was that he was always on this path of evolving into a different human being, every year basically, and I think that’s still going on. He has a willingness to embrace change and to confront the world with a fresh set of eyes EVERY morning, and that’s one of the things I like about him.” In its eight year, Grammar still relishes doing the show. “It’s a great, great job. I can’t imagine making a better living.”
Getting rid of the TV stigma, however, remains a problem. Though convincing as the sleazy TV reporter in 15 Minutes, when the actor returned to the New York stage last year in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the critics were cruel and audiences stayed away. “It was a great experience and it was sobering to realise that you can’t go home again, because I was FROM New York, but I was DEFINITELY an outsider. But some of the criticisms were absurd. I mean one guy actually said that we wrote new lines. I think that’s probably a testament to the production because it’s probably the first time he ever heard them, as we didn’t write any new lines; I’m not THAT arrogant.”
Kelsey Grammar has finally been able to lay to rest a trouble and much publicised past. Blissfully happy in his marriage, Grammar says he is less nervous about the press and about life in general. After all, his life is an open book and “besides they don’t have the power to harm me anymore. I used to believe that maybe they did, but I’m still here.”
As for that most eloquent of psychiatrists, Dr Frasier Crane, will he ever get the girl one asks? “We’re addressing the girl thing at the end of this current season. At the moment, Frasier has won this Lifetime Achievement Award (I do tend to borrow from my own life, somewhat), and that has given him pause in terms of thinking about who he really is. Am I this guy who won this Lifetime Achievement Award? And for what, basically? So now he’s just identified the fact that he’s just an 8-year old who hasn’t really been working on himself for a long time but rather been working on him being a psychiatrist. And now he’s stuck exploring HIMSELF. And that’s the launching point for the next several years actually.” Perhaps there is more of Frasier in the actor, than he cares to admit. “I do borrow liberally from my own life and feed it in there. But it’s really my impressions about things and Frasier is the mouthpiece.”
As for Kelsey’s future plans, he concludes laughingly that they may well include revisiting that elusive New York stage. “I’m going to go back and do Macbeth again, for no other reason than to beat it down their throats!”