Topher Grace: ‘I Had Enough Money’ From ‘That ’70s Show’ to Stop Making Studio Films and Start Working With Auteurs

Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” and David Robert Mitchell’s “Under the Silver Lake” are the only two American films competing at Cannes, and Topher Grace stars in both of them.

You wouldn’t expect former sitcom star Topher Grace to be one of the faces of American cinema at the world’s most prestigious film festival, but such is the case at Cannes this year. The actor appears in the only two U.S. films competing for the Palme d’Or, Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” and David Robert Mitchell’s “Under the Silver Lake,” but coming to Cannes for the first time with two high profile movies is no accident on his part. As Grace told IndieWire’s Eric Kohn at Cannes during a conversation at the American Pavilion, working with auteurs like Lee and Mitchell has become his golden rule when signing on to projects.

“You see a film like ‘It Follows’ and you say to yourself, ‘I’ll do anything to work like an auteur like this,'” Grace said. “The same thing is true with Spike. For me, five or six years ago, I looked around at my life and I had just met the woman who is now my wife. I was feeling really confident and good, and it occurred to me that I was really lucky to have been on a sitcom for a lot of years. I realized then that I didn’t really need a lot more money.”

The realization, which he admitted sounds terribly cocky, changed the direction of Grace’s career. The actor starred as Eric Forman for seven seasons of the popular Fox comedy series “That ’70s Show,” which continues to air in syndication on cable. Grace remembered telling his agents, “I don’t want to do anything but work with auteurs,” which didn’t go over so well. Grace was told that making this choice would mean taking smaller parts for not a lot of money, but a big paycheck was no longer a concern for Grace.

“I didn’t care [about the size of the role or the salary]. It’s what I wanted to do with my life,” Grace said. “The most wonderful thing about having two movies here at Cannes, which is a total coincidence, is that I feel like it’s a confirmation of how I’ve been working with for the past few years. I just want to work with people where I see their film and go: ‘I will do whatever your next film is.” I don’t have to sit there and decide if it’s going to be good or not.”

Lee and Mitchell are the latest names Grace has added to his list of auteur collaborations, a list that also includes Christopher Nolan (“Interstellar”) and David Michôd (“War Machine”). Grace also had a supporting turn opposite Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford in “Zodiac” screenwriter James Vanderbilt’s directorial debut “Truth.” Although most moviegoers will always associate the actor with his infamous turn as Eddie Brock/Venom in “Spider-Man 3,” Grace no longer has a desire to be a part of studio tentpoles.

“I don’t want to slam it, because it really works for some people, but I think it’s financially motivated,” Grace said about stepping away from studio films. “If you play the same thing over and over again, it’s very easy to make it a commodity: ‘We know what that guy does, so we can pay him to do it over and over again.’ It’s not financially a good decision to keep changing it up on the audience, but for me personally it gives me the chance to work with creatives. You feel so much more alive than doing things that are preprogrammed.”

Grace’s role in “Under the Silver Lake” is minor, but his work as Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke in “BlacKkKlansman” earned rave reviews after the film premiered at Cannes. Both films open in theaters this summer, with “Lake” landing on June 22 and “BlacKkKlansman” opening August 10. Other projects Grace has lined up for the future include the Blumhouse thriller “Delirium.”

The Renaissance Of Topher Grace: Two Movies In Cannes & A Feted Turn As David Duke In ‘BlacKkKlansman’ – Cannes Studio

It’s rare for a Cannes first-timer to come to the festival with more than one project to promote, but that’s what Topher Grace has done these past two days, with roles in Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman and David Robert Mitchell’s Under the Silver Lake, the…

It's rare for a Cannes first-timer to come to the festival with more than one project to promote, but that's what Topher Grace has done these past two days, with roles in Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman and David Robert Mitchell's Under the Silver Lake, the two American movies with competition berths this year. His turn in the latter is small, but all part of Grace’s grand plan to turn his attention towards auteur directors, he told Deadline at our Cannes Studio. It began when…

‘Under The Silver Lake’ Film Review: Andrew Garfield Lives Dirtbag Dream in LA Story

How’s this for irony? Those very same qualities that allow “Under The Silver Lake” to so thoroughly evoke both the city of Los Angeles and a certain Angelino lifestyle also turn the film into a bit of a mess. Sprawling, indulgent and with many pockets of pleasure, David Robert Mitchell ‘s film – which premiered Tuesday night in Cannes – is L.A. in the same way that “Apocalypse Now” was Vietnam.

Think of it as “Ready Stoner One,” as it wrangles a rather overwhelming compendium of references, easter-eggs and winks to some of the foundational texts of contemporary millennial culture and offers them as clues in a Galaxy Brain conspiracy.

Channeling Shaggy from “Scooby-Doo,” Andrew Garfield stars as Sam, a grade-A underachiever living the dirtbag dream in (where else but) the city’s Eastside hipster neighborhood of Silver Lake. Rent is long past due and the threat of eviction looms alarmingly close, but Sam’s not too concerned. He’s got bigger fish to fry, like snooping on his topless neighbor and, uh, drinking beer with Topher Grace.

Also Read: Cannes Report, Day 7: Spike Lee Curses Trump; Lars von Trier Sparks Walkouts; Chewbacca Storms Croisette

But all is not well on Glendale Boulevard. A shadowy dog killer is decimating the neighborhood’s many four-legged friends, the city’s most prominent philanthropists are up and vanishing, and Sam has finally met a girl he can vibe with, only for her to ghost him the next day.

Or did she? Because everything in seductive Sarah’s (Riley Keough) apartment has disappeared with her, leaving nothing but a cryptic insignia on the wall. So Sam diligently slips into detective mode, using his limitless supply of parking tickets as notepaper and rounding up all the usual suspects.

This being California’s throbbing hipster heart, those potential leads include alt-rockers, call-girls and aspiring actresses, played by the likes of Grace Van Patten, Riki Lindhome and Zosia Mamet, all of them delivering fresh and funny spins on different local archetypes.

Also Read: The Scene at TheWrap and The Female Quotient’s Cannes Panel on Gender Equity (Photos)

The film is often quite appealing in the scene-to-scene, circling through various well-known landmarks and whichever hilariously extravagant cool-kid bar is in vogue that day. Walking into one crypt-themed watering hole below the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Sam receives a warm welcome from one barely north-of-twenty ingénue. “It’s old music night!,” she exclaims as the opening bars to Cornershop’s “Brimful of Asha” take over and we all cringe, thinking that we didn’t feel that old when that Britpop earworm swept the radio waves of 1997.

So Mitchell can be funny at times, in fact he often is. And those familiar with his previous efforts “The Myth of the American Sleepover” and “It Follows” (both of which premiered at the Critic’s Week sidebar in Cannes) know that he intuitively grasps youth culture, and is able to wring it for tension or pathos.

He’s lost none of his verve here, but has opted to push it into overdrive, maxing out the already generous space of the film’s nearly two-and-a-half-hour runtime. With animated sequences, unresolved sideplots and some devilish set-pieces that are nevertheless wholly peripheral to the overall plot, “Under The Silver Lake” often feels like the product of a talented filmmaker using his first hefty budget to empty a long developed inventory of ideas, throwing them all against the wall to see what sticks.

Also Read: ‘Shoplifters’ Cannes Review: Is the Seventh Time a Charm for Hirokazu Kore-eda?

To the film’s credit, much of the bug-eyed exhaustion it engenders is a deliberate artistic choice. “Under The Silver Lake” is not just a gleeful tour down memory lane, you see; the film has Something To Say.

While documentarian Adam Curtis labeled the phenomenon “HyperNormalisation,” Bob Dylan just stated “something happening here, but you don’t know it is,” and that’s Mitchell’s guiding inspiration. How can one hear the signal through the noise in the age of unceasing stimuli? How does one look for clues embedded in various media at a point where all media, old and new, is available at all times?

These are heady and worthy questions to ask, and it’s a testament to the film’s ambition that it seeks to do so. And hey, maybe the only way to treat those concerns was with an equally expansive, intriguing-if-not-quite satisfying film. Just like L.A., I suppose. Lots of great places to visit, but god help you once you get lost.

Related stories from TheWrap:

‘Shoplifters’ Cannes Review: Is the Seventh Time a Charm for Hirokazu Kore-eda?

‘The House That Jack Built’ Film Review: The Real Shocker Is How Dull Lars von Trier’s Film Is

‘Deadpool 2’ Film Review: Ryan Reynolds Gives His All to a Joke Told the Second Time

‘Asako I & II’ Film Review: Leisurely Japanese Drama Explores Nature of Love

‘BlacKkKlansman’ Cannes Review: Spike Lee Looks Back – and Forward – in Anger

How’s this for irony? Those very same qualities that allow “Under The Silver Lake” to so thoroughly evoke both the city of Los Angeles and a certain Angelino lifestyle also turn the film into a bit of a mess. Sprawling, indulgent and with many pockets of pleasure, David Robert Mitchell ‘s film – which premiered Tuesday night in Cannes – is L.A. in the same way that “Apocalypse Now” was Vietnam.

Think of it as “Ready Stoner One,” as it wrangles a rather overwhelming compendium of references, easter-eggs and winks to some of the foundational texts of contemporary millennial culture and offers them as clues in a Galaxy Brain conspiracy.

Channeling Shaggy from “Scooby-Doo,” Andrew Garfield stars as Sam, a grade-A underachiever living the dirtbag dream in (where else but) the city’s Eastside hipster neighborhood of Silver Lake. Rent is long past due and the threat of eviction looms alarmingly close, but Sam’s not too concerned. He’s got bigger fish to fry, like snooping on his topless neighbor and, uh, drinking beer with Topher Grace.

But all is not well on Glendale Boulevard. A shadowy dog killer is decimating the neighborhood’s many four-legged friends, the city’s most prominent philanthropists are up and vanishing, and Sam has finally met a girl he can vibe with, only for her to ghost him the next day.

Or did she? Because everything in seductive Sarah’s (Riley Keough) apartment has disappeared with her, leaving nothing but a cryptic insignia on the wall. So Sam diligently slips into detective mode, using his limitless supply of parking tickets as notepaper and rounding up all the usual suspects.

This being California’s throbbing hipster heart, those potential leads include alt-rockers, call-girls and aspiring actresses, played by the likes of Grace Van Patten, Riki Lindhome and Zosia Mamet, all of them delivering fresh and funny spins on different local archetypes.

The film is often quite appealing in the scene-to-scene, circling through various well-known landmarks and whichever hilariously extravagant cool-kid bar is in vogue that day. Walking into one crypt-themed watering hole below the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Sam receives a warm welcome from one barely north-of-twenty ingénue. “It’s old music night!,” she exclaims as the opening bars to Cornershop’s “Brimful of Asha” take over and we all cringe, thinking that we didn’t feel that old when that Britpop earworm swept the radio waves of 1997.

So Mitchell can be funny at times, in fact he often is. And those familiar with his previous efforts “The Myth of the American Sleepover” and “It Follows” (both of which premiered at the Critic’s Week sidebar in Cannes) know that he intuitively grasps youth culture, and is able to wring it for tension or pathos.

He’s lost none of his verve here, but has opted to push it into overdrive, maxing out the already generous space of the film’s nearly two-and-a-half-hour runtime. With animated sequences, unresolved sideplots and some devilish set-pieces that are nevertheless wholly peripheral to the overall plot, “Under The Silver Lake” often feels like the product of a talented filmmaker using his first hefty budget to empty a long developed inventory of ideas, throwing them all against the wall to see what sticks.

To the film’s credit, much of the bug-eyed exhaustion it engenders is a deliberate artistic choice. “Under The Silver Lake” is not just a gleeful tour down memory lane, you see; the film has Something To Say.

While documentarian Adam Curtis labeled the phenomenon “HyperNormalisation,” Bob Dylan just stated “something happening here, but you don’t know it is,” and that’s Mitchell’s guiding inspiration. How can one hear the signal through the noise in the age of unceasing stimuli? How does one look for clues embedded in various media at a point where all media, old and new, is available at all times?

These are heady and worthy questions to ask, and it’s a testament to the film’s ambition that it seeks to do so. And hey, maybe the only way to treat those concerns was with an equally expansive, intriguing-if-not-quite satisfying film. Just like L.A., I suppose. Lots of great places to visit, but god help you once you get lost.

Related stories from TheWrap:

'Shoplifters' Cannes Review: Is the Seventh Time a Charm for Hirokazu Kore-eda?

'The House That Jack Built' Film Review: The Real Shocker Is How Dull Lars von Trier's Film Is

'Deadpool 2' Film Review: Ryan Reynolds Gives His All to a Joke Told the Second Time

'Asako I & II' Film Review: Leisurely Japanese Drama Explores Nature of Love

'BlacKkKlansman' Cannes Review: Spike Lee Looks Back – and Forward – in Anger

Cannes Lineup Is Mixed Bag; Additions To Raise Pulse In Coming Weeks?

Cannes Film Festival chief Thierry Frémaux said this morning that the finishing touches on the lineup announced today were honed until about 3 AM local time. It’s not unusual for him to go down to the wire, and there will be more titles announced in the coming weeks as the 71st edition of the venerable seaside shindig approaches. But what we got today was a mixed bag of new and familiar faces with a number of tipped movies not in the preliminary cut.
The selection looks…

Cannes Film Festival chief Thierry Frémaux said this morning that the finishing touches on the lineup announced today were honed until about 3 AM local time. It's not unusual for him to go down to the wire, and there will be more titles announced in the coming weeks as the 71st edition of the venerable seaside shindig approaches. But what we got today was a mixed bag of new and familiar faces with a number of tipped movies not in the preliminary cut. The selection looks…

Film News Roundup: Topher Grace Joins Faith-Based Movie ‘The Impossible’

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In today’s film news roundup, Topher Grace will play a man of God, the AMC movie chain names a new chairman, and Jillian Clare will star in romantic comedy “Roasted.” CASTING Topher Grace is joining “This Is Us” star Chrissy Metz in Fox 2000’s faith-based movie “The Impossible,” set up with “Miracles From Heaven” producer […]

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He will play Pastor Jason Noble, the small town’s new hip man of God who helps the mother of a drowned son through this horrific time, galvanizing the town.
That means the actor goes…

EXCLUSIVE: After a weekend where the faith-based film I Can Only Imagine overperformed with $17M at the box office, another one over at Fox 2000 just found its pastor. Topher Grace has been cast in the label’s faith-based drama feature The Impossible, which is being directed by Roxann Dawson. He will play Pastor Jason Noble, the small town’s new hip man of God who helps the mother of a drowned son through this horrific time, galvanizing the town. That means the actor goes…

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Topher Grace, next to appear on the silver screen opposite James Franco in William Faulkner adaptation “Mississippi Requiem,” as well as in the Spike Lee bio-thriller “Black Klansman,” has recently made substantial real estate moves on both the East and West coasts. In May 2004, the former “That ’70s Show” star paid $2.2 million for […]