RACHEL SLATTERY / THE EAGLE
When Topher Grace was in middle school, his father convinced him to ask out the most popular girl in school.
“He told me that when girls don’t talk to you that means they like you,” Grace said at AU’s Ward 1, “and somehow that made sense to me.” The next day he asked Joanna out to the winter formal. She laughed and said, “Oh, are you serious?”
Grace is no stranger to rejection, especially since many of his characters, from Eric Foreman in “That ‘70s Show” to Matt Franklin in his newest movie “Take Me Home Tonight,” are often losers with a heart of gold.
“I’m just a walking embarrassment machine,” Grace said. “Especially since I hit puberty.”
Following the success of last semester’s Edward Norton event, ThinkTalk — a college-oriented entertainment show based in D.C. — and the AU Film Society brought Grace and his co-star Dan Fogler to AU students for a question-and-answer session on Friday, Feb. 11. Grace and Fogler talked about everything from Grace’s name change from Christopher to Topher — Grace chalked it up to being fed up with people calling him Chris — to giving tips to aspiring student filmmakers about acting and producing.
“With film acting you’re under a magnifying glass,” said Fogler. “If you commit you can do whatever you want.”
Grace and Fogler came to AU as part of the D.C. leg of their tour promoting the new film “Take Me Home Tonight,” a coming-of-age comedy set in the 1980s and co-produced by Grace. As Matt Franklin, Grace plays a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate working at a video store as he contemplates his future.
When he gets invited to a party by his long-time high school crush Tori Frederking (Teresa Palmer), his friend Barry (Fogler) and his twin sister (Anna Faris) persuade him to let loose for one night, all set to the booming soundtrack of the late ‘80s.
“I kind of missed working with my peers in terms of my age group,” Grace said in an interview with The Eagle. “I wanted to make a film celebrating the ‘80s. It was really a wonderful decade.”
This sparked a decision for Grace to get on the production team to make a movie set in the ‘80s, but without parodying it or exaggerating it in any way. Grace cited the film “American Graffiti,” which was set in the ‘60s but made in the ‘70s, as an example.
“I think there’s only a certain period of time to make a good movie set in the ‘80s,” said Grace. “It’s really easy to make fun of.” Grace described how there were two audiences for products set in a different time period: one group that watches for nostalgia, and another that watches to learn about the era.
“Tragedy plus time equals comedy,” Fogler added.
Grace worked with his co-producer and high school friend Gordan Kaywin to create the story with modern sensibilities in mind, injecting the film with the concerns and worries of young adults today, as well as some of the more controversial activities like drug use in the film, which actually threatened the release because executives wanted it cut.
“We didn’t want to change the content of the film,” said Grace, who stated that Ron Howard stood by them when executives tried to make them cut it out of the movie.
The dilemmas the characters explore, like careers, marriage and the future provide a different perspective to the ‘80’s that were never really covered before. “The characters are kind of more like kids of today than kids of the ‘80s,” Grace said. “In the end, the message is ‘don’t worry about it.’”