Kelsey Grammer is no stranger to the Emmy Awards. He’s won four for his career-defining role of Frasier Crane in the long-running sitcom Frasier. He won another for his moonlighting job of voicing Sideshow Bob on an even longer-running sitcom, The Simpsons. But the actor/producer/director – he’s received Emmy and/or DGA Awards nominations in all three fields – got his start in acting by performing Shakespeare. And he shows he’s much more than simply a comedy star by playing powerful, doomed Chicago mayor Tom Kane in Boss, the very serious drama series on Starz that earned him a surprise Golden Globe earlier this year. As Grammer reveals here, Shakespeare was indeed part of the source material for Boss.
AWARDSLINE: Tom Kane is an extraordinary character, really different from anything that I’ve seen on TV in recent years. He’s really quite Shakespearean.
KELSEY GRAMMER: Well he was a Shakespeare-based kind of character. We wanted to build him a world, at least a minor fiefdom. A kingdom of sorts. A feudal, violent and seething kingdom. That was the kind of guy we wanted to explore.
AWARDSLINE: Since you played a character so long, was there any trepidation on anybody’s part of you going in and you being accepted?
GRAMMER: Well you know, we created the very first scene in the show to allow the audience enough time to put their eyeballs on the guy that they knew was one thing. And then to at least achieve a little ease with the idea that he might do something else. You know, in Britain, they’re used to this; stage, screen, TV, they switch in and out all the time. They’re all Dames and Lords and Serfs and you love everything they do. In America it’s a little harder. They want you to stay the way you are because they love you that way. [laughs] It’s a very sweet sentiment. But you know as an actor it’s a little difficult to go on, and just be the same thing all the time. So we had a conscientious and a conscious task to undertake about allowing the audience in… to accepting me as somebody else. And you know, they came along. In every town I’ve been in since the show premiered, people come up in the most genuine way and say ‘It’s the best work you’ve ever done.’ They are so thrilled about it. They are really really charged about it, because it surprised them.
AWARDSLINE: What about the setting of Chicago for the show?
GRAMMER: Chicago, because it is historically… what’s the word? Rough and tumble, City with the Big Shoulders, all those images appealed to us about this thing, about this piece, and the idea that this city, more than almost any other, can reflect its leadership. In terms of its size of the imagination of a guy: Let’s change something, let’s change the course of the river, let’s make it go another way, let’s build buildings no one has ever built before. It’s terrific that way. We did a lot of research, or rather (series creator) Farhad (Safinia) did a lot of research, and it was so responsible and so comprehensive; it’s a testament to the idea that a city can become a character. It was the character of Chicago that drew us to it, in a profound way, and we thought, it’s the right city. It’s an American city.
AWARDSLINE: You won the Golden Globe right off the bat for this. How did that feel, that kind of recognition right away for this character?
GRAMMER: Well it was very rewarding and I know that it’s pretty rare that they do that. It was a great, great reflection on the show and for me certainly, to have won as a comedian, rather a comic actor and then as a serious, dramatic actor, was flattering.
AWARDSLINE: Actually very few have done that, been able to cross over and win key awards in both those categories. Or even be allowed to do it on television.
GRAMMER: Well that goes to my point about how it’s hard for an American audience to embrace a new performance. It was time for me to do that for my own sanity, as well.
AWARDSLINE: You touched on working on cable, maybe not as big of an audience but certainly it’s the place to go, I think, for actors and writers and directors. The stuff being done on cable, and basic cable too, is extraordinary right now.
GRAMMER: Right, well I don’t want to insult anybody. The major networks, I think, are still the greatest vehicle for entertainment in our culture. Even greater than film. It’s like, if you’d like to go see a movie, great, maybe several million people see it. Maybe even 30, 40 million people around the world see it in a couple of years’ time. But 10 years on a television show, that audience is dynamic and global, it’s extraordinary, the power of it. So, I would never pooh-pooh the quality of television on network or on cable. What is happening with cable, is there are people willing to take more risk and it doesn’t cost quite as much. And that is smart television and a smart move.