For over twenty years, Kelsey Grammer portrayed the character of Frasier Crane in the popular sitcoms Cheers and its spin-off Frasier, winning four Emmys and two Golden Globe Awards.
In his new dramatic series Boss, he plays the mayor of Chicago, Tom Kane, a career politician who is no stranger to backroom politics for which Chicago is famous. But despite being the most effective mayor in recent history, a degenerative brain disorder is ripping everything away from Kane.
Grammer, who is also the Executive Producer of the series, spoke with enthusiasm about returning to television in such a unique and dramatic show.
This is a very intense role for you. Was it fun to be doing such a dramatic part?
He is an exciting character to play. Iago is one of the most liked characters in Shakespeare’s canon, and he’s the most evil, most extraordinarily manipulative person in history. He says the worst, most politically incorrect things, even for the time that the play is set in, and yet audiences adore that character.
I think there’s a kind of similarity with this one. He has been great for me to play. It’s almost supernatural for me because I approach the text every day we go to work as though I’ve never done anything like this before. And so the discovery of this man as I work through him has been a discovery of things I’ve never done or said before.
It’s been probably the greatest time of my life, creatively.
Why did you decide to move from comedy to drama? Did you feel you were getting into a rut with sitcoms?
The atmosphere changed for me in terms of that with Hank, nobody really liked that, and it wasn’t very funny. So we thought we’d try this other thing. (he laughs)
You have to have a sense of humor to sustain you through these awful chapters, but it has always been in my mind to play a more serious role. I didn’t start out as a comic actor. I started out in a classical theatre playing tragedies. And that was my first love, you might say.
But this particular role probably couldn’t have taken place directly after Frasier. I just think it would have been too big a jolt. And also, I think the prevailing assumption about a political drama at that time was something like The West Wing.
This is not The West Wing. Nor do I believe the viewing public would be able to accept this as possible until these last few years in the political arena that we’ve been experiencing as a country. I think this one is now apt, and it might not have been before. So I think people will be quite willing to watch this show, believe in it and embrace it.
Did you try to get dramatic work after Frasier, but weren’t able to?
No. Honestly, I just took a break for a while. There were a lot of reasons I did. But in the last couple of years, I decided I needed to make a life change. I’m sure you’re familiar with what’s been going on in my personal life. After my heart attack, which was three years ago, I spent the next several months looking at my own life.
I cast my imaginative net over the next 20, 30 years, whatever they may be. I just decided I didn’t want to have that story be my last story. And so I decided that it was time to make changes that involved my career as well as my personal life. And doing a drama started to make really good sense because it took me back to my roots.
It took me back to things I believed in, in telling good stories. That’s what I love to do.
Somebody earlier asked me why won’t I leave television? I thought, ‘That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard in my life.’ I love my work. I love telling stories. I have been given the blessing of being allowed to tell them on television. It’s an incredible medium.
It’s going through its own transitions, but there is room to tell stories in a unique, individual way. And I think that’s what we’ve done here. And it’s been a remarkable experience for me.
How does his illness, Lewy Body disease, work within the story?
It’s really a dramatic device honestly that’s been borrowed for the benefit of raising the stakes in this guy’s life and putting a bit of a ticking time bomb in it.
How villainous does Kane consider himself to be?
That’s interesting. I think he’s completely convinced that there’s a working model and justification for doing anything you have to do to remain in power.
It’s just for the better good. I do believe that on some level, he believes he’s the one that’s most qualified to make the decision that must be made to either eliminate an enemy or embrace an enemy and make something good happen.
What the overlay of this malady may do is force him into a position where he suddenly realizes that preserving his own place is the great good, and he has to make some very subtle adjustments on some things in order to still justify his actions. But staying in that place is what’s most important.
He’s a man of power, accustomed to power, and he will go kicking and screaming on his way down toward hell.
The first episode of Boss airs on Starz on October 21, 2011