Written and photographed by Pablo Portilla del Valle
“I’m not gonna bore you with any introductions ’cause you all know who he is,” said film and television chair, D.W. Moffett announcing Topher Grace’s entrance to the SCAD Museum of Art theater stage.
Although he’s known more popularly as Eric Foreman, Grace has many hits under his belt, including side roles in “Spiderman,” “Interstellar” and “Predator.” On March 1, he sat down with Moffett at the museum to discuss breaking into the entertainment industry.
Grace spoke highly of Moffett, calling him his “greatest teacher.” He expressed how, going into the industry, he didn’t have any experience or knowledge of acting.
“Is it mostly actors here?” asked Grace, followed by cheers from the audience.
Moffett and Grace discussed the kinds of roles they’ve played and how these characters have impacted their careers. Grace admitted that the kind of characters he loves are “usually kind of funny.”
“It’s just like life, one day is funny and the next is sad,” Grace said. “There’s elements of everything.”
Grace went on to talk about the importance of balance in a good show and how a mixture of comedy and drama brings out authenticity in the characters. This kind of “dimensionalizing” stories is a good thing, Grace said. It’s OK to make funny stuff serious and serious stuff funny.
“In ‘That ‘70s Show,’ my job was to ground the humor… My job was to be more serious. You know, the crowd is so excited to laugh, but it needs those couple of scenes where the tension is down and it’s more real.”
Moffett echoed those thoughts, recalling how earlier that day during a class visit Grace was asked what is something he wished all directors would do.
“I said ‘don’t be a director,’” said Grace, evoking a wave of laughs. “Don’t say anything.”
The relationship between cast and directors is inherently one-sided, Grace said, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“It’s not a democracy. It’s a dictatorship. If it were a democracy, it would be structured differently, but great directors are benevolent dictators,” Grace said.
And Moffett raised a point that he felt was key in the conversation, one that Grace himself raised during a master’s class visit. That in the film industry, there is a kind of courage that is required. Not the courage to perform, or to pursue your artistic vision, or to write or act.
“It’s a different kind of courage,” said Moffett. “It’s the courage to persevere in a business that is going to reject you again and again and again no matter how talented you are.”
Grace’s first audition was for that. (huh?)
His first audition was for “That ‘70s Show” back when he was in high school. He was asked to bring a headshot and a resume and he did just that. Except his resume had only Dunkin’ Doughnuts listed under work experience and his “headshot” was a picture of him and a friend at Six Flags.
Outside the casting office, he saw all these people waiting to audition, and he kept thinking to himself how cool they looked. And when he overheard their auditions, he just felt like a loser and a nerd.
“Luckily, the director was looking for a nerd loser, and I was perfect for the part,” said Grace, self-mockingly.
Before leaving the museum stage, Grace offered some encouraging words to students hoping to break in the TV and film industries.
“The thing that you guys have, that I’m so jealous of is that you’re at the bottom,” said Grace.
He expressed how freeing it is to start from a blank slate and be able to work on any film you can possibly imagine, without a reputation to precede or a set prejudice of the kind of acting you do.
“There’s nowhere to go but up.”