Kelsey Grammer and his film “Breaking the Bank” were such a draw at the Louisiana International Film Festival Friday night that organizers added a second, later screening of the movie.
A few minutes past 7 p.m., Grammer, in a dark suit and white button-down shirt, arrived outside Cinemark Perkins Rowe, stopped for a few quick photos, walked the red carpet, and was whisked into the theater, bypassing the snaking line of patrons waiting to see the U.S. premiere of the 2014 Grammer-starring comedy.
The five-time Emmy winner, seated in a row near the front, watched the film along with the audience, who applauded and cheered at several points.
After the 7:30 p.m. screening, Grammer’s question-and-answer session with the audience revealed: his first paying acting gig was for $65 a week, he once slept on a park bench for over a month to save up $700 for a new chain for his motorcycle, and in the actor’s opinion, life experience is priceless when it comes to comic acting.
“I think life experience is the best thing you can get under your belt to become good at anything, especially in this industry. Of course, the one that really is most valuable I think for comedy is tragedy, is the hardest stuff,” he told the full house. “If comedy is not rooted in tragedy, or something we all recognize, we don’t understand the irony of it. So it’s a sense of irony, which is often not in the wheelhouse of a 16-, 17-, 18-year-old, you know, if they’re fortunate enough, and this is sort of a mixed blessing thing, if you’re fortunate enough to have a really challenging youth, you might be funny quicker.”
Case in point, Grammer said, was his former classmate, the late comic genius Robin Williams.
“He was probably the funniest guy I ever met, but he was so tortured, too, at the same time, and, Robin, he couldn’t stop talking,” Grammer said. “You could not have an actual conversation with him, because he was just trying to get a laugh, and I used to reflect quite a bit on that when we were young. And of course, we lost him a couple of years ago.”
Williams, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease and severe depression, committed suicide in August 2014.
Grammer’s character in “Breaking the Bank,” Charles Bunbury, contemplates “ending it all” after his incompetency as chairman of his British family’s bank, Tuftons, triggers its failure.
“The character I play is a man of some means who basically married into a situation in which he is in over his head, and his fault is his ignorance and sort of apathy,” Grammer told The Advocate on Friday afternoon. “He loses his wife, daughter, his bank, his wife’s bank, and figures out how to get it back. He’s kind of a simpleton in many ways, an innocent who becomes a better man, and I always love playing roles like that.”
He said Bunbury’s British brogue wasn’t the first such accent he has managed to master.
“I did a British accent for a film with Robert Halmi (production company), ‘London Suite,’ several years ago,” Grammer said of the 1996 TV movie. “I have an ear for dialects, I guess. There are some I really can’t do, for instance, a northern England accent, I just can’t get it. My wife (Kayte Walsh) was born in Hartlepool. She does that accent, I can’t even approximate it, it’s just extraordinary. I just end up sounding like some sort of a leprechaun.”
Grammer, most famous for his five-time Emmy-winning role as the fussy, intellectual psychiatrist Frasier Crane on three NBC comedies, “Cheers,” “Frasier” and “Wings” (guest-starring), has briefly returned to series comedy a few times since “Frasier” ended in 2004 after 11 seasons. Most recently he starred opposite Martin Lawrence in the 2014 FX comedy, “Partners,” which only lasted a season.
“Nobody’s really making sitcoms anymore, not the kind I want to be in,” he said. “If we’d had a chance to sort of spread our wings a little more, we might have gotten to a mark where I would have been happy with it, but it didn’t quite get there.
“The last one (of his comedy series) I thought was any good at all was ‘Back to You’ (FOX, 2007-2008) with Patricia Heaton, which was killed, basically, during the (television) writers’ strike,” he said. “Those people could have been fun.
“The trick to a good sitcom is you need to fall in love with the characters, and the audience needs a little time to do that and, of course, the way the business model is these days, they want it to happen instantly, and it just doesn’t work that way.”
Grammer also has voiced roles in several animated films, including “The Simpsons” (Sideshow Bob), “The Expendables 3” (Bonaparte) and “Toy Story 2” (Stinky Pete).
This year, he’ll voice Hunter, the head bird in the animated “Storks;” and Norm Blandsford, the mean landowner, and his twin brother, in “Bunyun and Babe.” He’s also starring in the Amazon drama remake of “The Last Tycoon,” due out in June.