Moving forward a decade from '70s spoof (That '70s Show) to a movie paying homage to the '80s, Topher Grace helped write, produce, and stars in Take Me Home Tonight--a John Hughes-esque comedy/drama. He rolls down a hill in a ball and vomits on himself. Better let him tell what that was like:
Izumi Hasegawa: Anna [Faris] told us her character is three minutes older than your character. Is that true?
Topher Grace: It's true. [I know] because I'm a producer on the film. It's egotistical that I could assume that Anna Faris could play my twin. That's assuming a lot. She's better looking and funnier, but it helps if she's three minutes older. Explains that a little bit.
IH: How did you develop the twin bond between you two?
TG: We rented a house and lived in it together for two years prior to the film, and my parents...she'd only come home with me for Christmas. No. It's really easy. She's got a really dry sense of humor; I kind of have a dry sense of humor. Like I said, it's egotistical for me to sit here and say I'm like her because she's so great, but there are some similarities. I've really admired her work for so long and thought [there were] very few peers my age I was dying to work with, but she was one of them.
IH: Is it true that you worked at a Suncoast?
TG: My story is from Norwalk, and I worked at a Stanford Mall Suncoast for two summers, and my theory was that I would watch movies all summer long–that's what I was going to do anyway. I wasn't that social at that time. Then I got there and they played one movie, which is Space Jam. Space Jam, as you know, is one of the finest films ever made, so I was lucky to be able to watch that over 3,000 times.
IH: Were there any great '80s movies that you couldn't clear for the background of the Suncoast scene?
TG: No, I wanted Back to the Future because it's my favorite movie, and then we thought we wanted something... The '80s had all these weird characters, like E.T., and all these families that get weirdly close, like *batteries not included, ALF...so we thought Harry and the Hendersons would be just hilarious. You wouldn't make that movie now. [Jokes] But I'd like to announce that Teresa [Palmer] and I are starring in a reboot of Harry and the Hendersons.
IH: Can you tell us about casting?
TG: I'd seen Dan [Fogler] in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee on Broadway. He won a Tony for that. I'd seen Chris Pratt, who's hilarious. I wasn't as aware of Teresa's work... No, we met in audition for another film! We'd met before, and I thought she was excellent, and I thought, even though the director hated me in the audition, that she liked my work.
IH: Did you audition together?
TG: We did, for something... When it came up that she was in the States, because at the time I think you were splitting your time more between, and I'd never auditioned actors before. I'd been in many auditions, but I'd never been the one on the other side of the room. You learn so much by doing that as an actor. It would be like if I was writing an article on you guys...which I'm not. It was amazing because you have so many people come in and they're all really good–there are no bad actors that come in; they're all professional actors, but then when someone like Teresa walks in--who is obviously beautiful, which is really important for the role, but also has an amazing sense of humor and really invests in the material...it's a light comedy movie, but there's some heavier undertones--it was like a grand-slam. I remember Joanna Colbert, who's the casting director, running out of the room at the end over to Brian Grazer's office, not even asking, it was so obvious. No one was like, "Hey, what do you think? You guys think so?" She was like, "Oh, shit!" And just ran. Then we went in there with Brian Grazer.
IH: Could you talk about your high school crushes and reunions?
TG: Oh, I had many, and I did not kiss any of them. Yes, I did get a sitcom around when I was 19, so that changed the playing field just a little bit.
IH: Any time you do an '80s period piece, obviously the soundtrack is important. Where did you come up with the N.W.A. "Straight Outta Compton" in the car? Wayne's World had "Bohemian Rhapsody." People remember those things, so is that important to have that car playing the song?
TG: My producing partner and I came up with the idea for the film before we hired writers–we didn't write it. [We had a] loose idea for the story, which was actually not much because we all just go to a party one night, but we came up with an ultimate '80s mix, and it was under the guidelines that–and we felt like this for everything–for wardrobe, for the jokes in the film, that none of it is making fun of the '80s. We want to be the first movie that doesn't spoof the '80s, the first movie that actually is like it was made in the '80s and has affection for the '80s and how great one of these nights can be--the way Dazed and Confused did it in the '90s about the '70s, and American Graffiti did it in the '70s about the '50s. No one had done it for this generation. Ninety percent of that mix is the actual soundtrack of the film. When you're spoofing a movie from any time period–the '80s is really easy to spoof–you can lay songs over it, like "Rock Me Amadeus" or "Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car," and people go, "Oh yeah, wow, we were so crazy back then to believe that was a hit." This is a horrible way to sell the movie, and rest assured, all your readers should know there's a lot of cocaine and titties–but we wanted it to kind of be like a musical where the music comes out of the characters; at moments, it is really of the characters and what they're going through, meaning, if they're stealing a car, you gotta have "Straight Outta Compton." They're feeling that at that moment. Or if he sees a girl walking, it's gotta be "Bette Davis Eyes." We wanted it to be before the film was even written, those songs. I know how successful the soundtrack is with those feelings. That's what pop music is--that kind of manipulation.
IH: How important is it to have boobies and cocaine in an '80s comedy?
TG: Literally imperative. It's like air. Oxygen. It was really important to us because we wanted to go for a really hard-R, mostly because that's what real life feels like. It's one thing if you're making Up and you're experiencing it through that kid's point of view. That's the right rating for that movie. But for something like this, if you're in your twenties in the mid-'80s...yeah. We can't do Prohibition without showing people drinking. It wouldn't be realistic.
IH: Is there a danger or temptation to throw in almost too many pop culture references? Were there things that you wanted to allude to but didn't have the chance? With regards to the music, the most obvious question is: where's Eddie Money?
TG: I'll start with your last question. We are all going to be sick of that song, as a nation, by the time the movie actually comes out. I've seen all the ads, and they all have that song in it. So we thought: I don't know if that's going to be a song people want to hear by the time the film comes out. Although the point wasn't just to celebrate the song. That's not why we're making the film, although it is the greatest song ever written. In terms of those references, we wanted to make sure we didn't spoof it. That means the first couple of things that have to go are saying, "Check out this tiny cell phone!" or, "The CD will never take off!"--these things that are saying that we know what happens in the future--the ones that really stick out.
IH: Well, not in a spoofing kind of way. I meant, for example, did you really want to put in something like a shot of Max Headroom at some point?
TG: We couldn't clear Max Headroom for the opening credit sequence. The opening credit sequence we took as a time to say... We wanted to start in the mall, one, because it's an '80s movie so you gotta start in a mall, and two, we wanted to start in Sam Goody, then we're at Suncoast, and you're seeing a lot more references and you're saying to the audience that the songs are poppier at the beginning, and then as the movie goes forward, you try to make it more about the timeless issues that are buried under, and the songs get more eclectic: "Doot Doot" by Freur; "Jet Fighter" and "Ship of Fools" are all great songs.
IH: You said earlier that there are heavier themes. This song is very topical because it's talking about the boomerang generation and people who don't really know what they're doing...
TG: That's what Matt Franklin is. He would be a beautiful swan today, and he is an ugly duckling in the Go-Go '80s. We wanted to do that, and even more so since we needed the movie to be honest. I think there's something like 70% of college grads now that are living at home with their folks, and these are smart kids--it's just what's happening with the economy.
IH: You couldn't even have known what was happening with Goldman Sachs when you made the movie...
TG: Yes, although that joke is much funnier now. But Drexel Burnham is hilarious. I work at Drexel Burnham.
IH: In the time that it took to get the movie released, did it change at all?
TG: No, that's what's so great about Relativity, and we're so thankful, is that because it's an indie film, it's a hard-R. We were on the cusp about having to change stuff, and we were at a place where... I mean, I promise you I had the idea for it with my producing partner–everything is in there that we wanted. We had to put stuff back in. Some studios might not be into all that stuff. You can't pull any punches if you're going to do... I mean, it's not a documentary, it is fiction. The fact that I get with her is probably the most fictional element. [Laughs] But you do have a responsibility, the way studios probably had a problem with Dazed and Confused when they're smoking pot, and probably with all the drinking in American Graffiti. I promise you there's a kid who's probably 18 now, and he'll be making a movie about the '90s in ten years, and everyone will be giving him shit about ecstasy. And it'll go forward like that forever. I was in Traffic when I was a teenager, so I have done enough powder, milk powder or whatever it is, for a lifetime.
IH: You should ask for Pixy Stix one time. It's so good...
TG: Certainly. I think I did try that when I was younger, like in elementary school. It's a stick that has powdered sugar in it. I don't even know why--snorting it does absolutely nothing. Makes you feel like a badass, I guess. It hurts a little bit. The drip is the best part, though, man!
IH: Can you imagine kids today staying up late at slumber parties watching this movie?
TG: I hope so, yeah. We all hope it does really well when it comes out, but the real test to a movie like this is will it have the staying power of those '80s movies? A lot of films are all raunch, and these are good films, but they're all raunchy and geared towards one audience, or all rom-com and good, but we want to do one of those movies they had in the '80s--those John Hughes movies where they had everything.
IH: So stealing the car is Ferris Bueller's Day Off?
TG: Yeah, stealing the car, then a real romance, but then some funny, hilarious stuff happens.
IH: Could you talk about your experience rolling around in the ball?
TG: That was fake, by the way, the vomit. They gave me, I think, cookies that were crushed up into something. It was still really gross.
IH: But did you actually roll in it?
TG: Yeah, I wasn't in the ball when it was going down the hill; obviously there would be no reason because you didn't even see me. They did have a thing where they cut out half of the ball and put a camera on one side, and then on the other side, some guy with a rotisserie would just spin it. That's why all that stuff's flying around, and when I throw up, it goes upside down. It was one of the worst days of shooting a movie in my life. It was terrible. But it looked so good, and it's so cool to be ending a movie like that, with an action scene. American Graffiti had that, and that's where that came from when we were developing it, is that they had that great drag racing scene. You know someone's going to race Harrison Ford that entire movie, but you don't know who. Similarly, I don't think you know who's going to ride the ball or how it's going to go down, but the Filgos, who were the writers, were really smart to have... Because if not, it's me coming back and apologizing to the girl. You know where it's going, so to throwing in a hardcore action scene at the end was a really good idea.
IH: Would you ride the ball in that situation?
IH: Speaking of great '80s films--Aliens--and your dad is Michael Biehn. How cool is that to get him in the movie?
TG: Amazing. I'm a big fan of his. What we wanted to do with that role was have someone who was really synonymous with the '80s but not completely trapped by the '80s. There are these celebrities who literally don't exist outside of the '80s. Michael has done amazing work in '80s films, and he's in The Rock, and he's worked all the way up through. He's in that great Robert Rodriguez Grindhouse movie. I saw it, he was great, and the perfect actor to play that dad. Michael's really funny too. Have you seen the music video yet? He's in the music video, in a Terminator thing. You should see it. It's really good. And he's funny, so he gets the sense of humor, which the dad ultimately has about the situation, but also he's terrifying too, which is really important.
Relativity Media/Rogue Pictures' 'Take Me Home Tonight' is released in theaters on March 4, 2011.