Topher Grace must love going back in time – after eight years on TV’s popular sitcom That ‘70s Show, the young actor is executive producing and starring in a new comedy movie set in the 1980s called Take Me Home Tonight.
Grace plays Matt Franklin, a recent MIT graduate working as a clerk at Suncoast Video, who is stunned when his unrequited high school crush, Tori (Teresa Palmer) walks into the store. When she invites him to an epic end-of-summer party, he decides to go, accompanied by his cynical sister (Anna Farris) and his best friend Barry (Dan Fogler).
How much of this movie is autobiographical?
The original answer is none. Then I started talking to people at this press thing and I’m like, what a second, I did work at Suncoast Video. You’re not going to believe this, but I actually wasn’t that smooth with the ladies when I was younger. It’s unbelievable. But there are a lot of fictional elements too.
How would you describe the tone of the picture?
This film was created in the spirit of American Graffiti or Dazed and Confused, which (were made) about 20 years (after the time they were set) They didn’t make fun of the decade, they really celebrated it. We wanted to be the first [film about] the ‘80s that wasn’t spoofing it but was really about it.
Were there songs you wanted to use but they were too expensive?
There was one song we didn’t get which was Hot for Teacher, which was literally like half a million dollars. Way to go Van Halen. They don’t get to be in the seminal film about the ‘80s! Eazy E’s estate was really cooperative with N.W.A. album which is a really hard to get. We have 12 or 13 songs on the soundtrack that is coming out on iTunes, and we have 28 songs left over. It was hard to choose.
Why the ‘80s? Will kids today relate?
There are two reasons. One, and I learned this on That ‘70s Show, it attracts two audiences. There’s the audience that lived through it so when they’re watching it, they’re swimming in nostalgia for that stuff and it’s time travel. Then there’s the audience that’s the age of the characters, who are discovering it. And it’s just as valid.
I didn’t know anything about the ‘70s about ten years ago. I’ve certainly learned a lot. The second answer to your question is all these films I was referencing take place 20 years in the past. The Wedding Singer, which I love, is a great romantic comedy. It spoofs the ‘80s. It points out, ‘Look at this crazy cell phone. Can they get any smaller? The compact disk will never take off. That makes sense because it was made eight years after the ‘80s ended.
(Now) it’s the right amount of time to look at the ‘80s, and not make fun of it. The third answer to your question is, it’s a trick. It makes it seem like you’re going to escape and you do totally escape your time, your problems, what’s going on, and yet the protagonist and the situations are completely timeless. That’s important too. It’s a sugar-coated pill.
Were there certain beats from John Hughes films that you had to have in this movie?
Sure. It was more ‘80s movies than John Hughes, though tonally John Hughes has both heart and raunch, which we wanted to go for. We wanted to have someone steal a red car; we wanted to have someone chasing a girl and wanted to have that moment where the whole party starts singing to one song.
We also wanted to mess with all those conventions so they steal the car but they get caught, and he has a platonic best friend, but it’s his twin sister, so it’s not going to go in that [romantic] direction so we also wanted to subvert those [conventions]. We had them get together in the middle of the movie, which is not [typical]. So we had some of those conventions, but challenged them a little bit.
What are you glad we don’t have from the ‘80s and what do you wish we had from the ‘80s?
All of the exterior fashions were horrible. I had a tie in this that they had to hunt down the ugliest fabrics. It’s a skinny tie but there’s a lot of ugliness in it. But I liked walking into the party with the shades and being able to look over the top.
It was very Rob Lowe.
What other types of characters would you like to play?
I played a psychopath killer in Predators, my last movie, and I played a bad guy in Spider-Man 3. This new one I have with Richard Gere [The Double] is a serious drama about the FBI, so I’m pretty happy in terms of getting to try tons of stuff.