Usually, I start roundtable interview pieces with a rather large amount of biographical information about whoever’s involved. In the case of Topher Grace, former star of “That 70’s Show” as well as movies like “In Good Company” and “Predators,” I’ve already covered him pretty thoroughly in my one-on-one interview with him over at Bullz-Eye.com. Nevertheless, it’s worth noting that as a hands-on executive producer and coauthor of the film’s story, he has a lot riding on the profitability of “Take Me Home Tonight,” a comedy about post-collegiate growing pains in the 1980s. Although I liked the film quite a bit, my review is but one, and to be honest, I appear to be something of an outlier. The good news for actor-producer Grace is that reviews mean next to nothing commercially for youth comedies, and people are laughing in screenings.
As for the striking, Australian-born Teresa Palmer, she’s still something of a newcomer to the American screen, having gotten good notices in the otherwise critically bashed, “I Am Number 4,” as well as Disney’s “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and “Bedtime Stories.” She shows every sign of becoming a more familiar face to audiences — and her face is definitely one of the prettier ones you’re likely to see right now.
While one journo tried to use a then-upcoming holiday to pull some personal info out of Palmer and Grace — at more than one point in the past, the pair have been rumored to be dating — the business and pleasure of making a youth oriented comedy was the chief topic during this mass interview from the “Take Me Home Tonight” junket.
Journalist: So how much of this is autobiographical?
Topher Grace: The original answer is none. Then I started talking to people at this press things and I’m, like, “Wait a second, I did work at Suncoast Video.” You’re not going to believe this, but I actually wasn’t that smooth with ladies when I was younger, it’s unbelievable — but there’s a lot of fictional elements to it, also.
Journalist: Like riding [down a hill in a giant ball]?
TG: I never…well, I did actually wind up, in the movie, riding a ball [for the movie], but I never did anything that crazy.
Journalist: This movie talks about how high school sort of sets you on a course. Can you just talk about your high school days and what kind of cliques you were in?
Teresa Palmer: I was what they refer to as a “floater,” which meant I would go from group to group, hoping that someone would want to accept me. So at one point I was listening to Marilyn Manson and really trying to get in with the Goth gang. They weren’t that into having a blond-haired, blue-eyed girl join the crew.
TG: What a bunch of idiots.
Journalist: And your group?
TG: My group? It is easier to believe, but I wasn’t that popular in high school.
TP: “Didn’t you have any friends?” is what he’s trying to say.
TG: My roommate from boarding school is my producing partner on this film, Gordon Kaywin.
Journalist: Miss Palmer, I’m curious, you were about three when the film was set.
TP: Two, actually.
Journalist: Two. Sorry — not to imply anything. And you’re clearly not from around these parts; did you go to American 1980’s boot camp to get a sense of the slang and the style?
TP: I did. Topher is the one that put me in that boot camp.
TG: Tiffany is the headmaster and it’s a weird kind of school. [Laughter]
TP: It was really bizarre.
Journalist: I do have a follow-up question. As a producer, Mr. Grace, for a film like this, where music is such an intrinsic part of it, you know that some of these washed-up 80’s acts are just sitting at home, waiting for anybody to offer them any sum of money…
TG: Are you talking about for acting or for music?
Journalist: For music.
TG: No, that is not true. You know, this film was created in the spirit of, like, “American Graffiti” or “Dazed and Confused”…We want to be the first one about the 80’s that wasn’t spoofing it, that was really about it. That being said, George Lucas messed it all up by making “American Graffiti,” because [at the time] he could only use oldies because there was no market for them [and they were cheap for filmmakers to purchase]…that’s why there’s no score in the movie except when they think the serial killer is closing in. So there’s a little bit of score, that’s weird, and then the rest is all oldies because that’s all he could afford. Whereas now a soundtrack of all these oldies, trust me, is insane numbers.
Journalist: Well, the gist of my question was, were there specific songs you really wanted, where, say, Falco said, “No, I’m sorry, it’s a million dollars”? [Note: Falco would have had a hard time saying anything; he died in 1998.]
TG: There was one song we didn’t get, which was “Hot For Teacher,” which was literally half a million dollars. So, way to go, Van Halen, you don’t get to be in the seminal film about the 80’s. But [late NWA rapper] Eazy-E’s estate was really cooperative with [“Straight Outta Compton”], which is a really hard song to get. I mean, that soundtrack is insane. We have about 12 or 13 of the songs on the soundtrack that is coming out on iTunes, and we have, like, 28 songs left over. It was hard to choose. You know, [our music supervisor] Kathy Nelson helped us sit down with [famed music producer and film composer] Trevor Horn, who did a lot of those soundtracks in the 80’s. The soundtrack is just like everything else. We didn’t want to be making fun of it and have, like, “Rock Me Amadeus” or “Get Out of My Dreams,” we wanted to have songs that have stood the test of time, but were great back then, and make it kind of the ultimate soundtrack.
Journalist: Did your Canadian director [Michael Dowse] pick “Safety Dance” for the big dance off?
TG: He did. I think originally…the dance off was to INXS. But it’s like when [Dan Fogler’s character] gets blasted on coke for the first time. I think originally it was…because we shot it to that music. So when Teresa is coming out at the party, “Bette Davis Eyes” would be playing on set.
TP: Yeah, we actually had that, and that’s a rarity, because usually, for sound reasons, they can’t play the music [during shooting]. But for whatever reason, they decided to do it. It really helped me get into the slow motion.
Journalist: Was it weird just going to a party everyday?
TP: It was amazing.
TG: Somehow, we got into it.
Journalist: The story that you tell of kids at crossroads, I mean, that’s timeless, but why the ‘80’s and do you think kids now who watch this can even relate to [the time period]?
TG: …I learned this on “That ‘70s Show,” it attracts two audiences. There’s the audience that lived through it, so when they’re watching it, they are kind of just swimming in nostalgia for that stuff. It’s time travel, when they hear the song, it takes them to that place. Then there’s an audience that is the age of the characters, who are discovering it, and that’s just as valid. I didn’t know anything about the ‘70s [when I started on the show]. I certainly learned a lot…“The Wedding Singer,” which I love, is a really great romantic comedy, but it spoofs the ‘80s. It points out, “Oh, look at this crazy cell phone, can they get any smaller?” “The compact disc will never take off,” or whatever. But it makes sense because it was made eight years after the ‘80s ended, so it hadn’t been over that long. And it would be like if we made a movie out of the ‘90s now, you can’t really…
TP: You’re not far enough away from it to really appreciate it.
Journalist: I appreciated the videotapes in the store.
TG: Right. It was just kind of the right amount of time to look at it and not make fun of it. The third answer to your question [about setting the film in 1980’s] is, it’s a trick…it’s sugarcoating the pill.
Journalist: Did you guys ever have a time in your life where you were directionless? Your acting careers are great right now, but did you have a time where you went, “What the hell am I doing? Why am I doing this job?”
TP: For me, it was the period between finishing high school in 2003 and becoming an actor. There was like two years in between that time and I dabbled in lots of different things. I went to journalism school, I wanted to do what you guys are doing. I didn’t like that. Then. I went to teachers college for a couple of lectures and then dropped out of that also. Then acting just landed in my lap.
TG: So look at that, she fell back on being a movie star.
Journalist: So [Topher], what was your period of “What the hell am I doing?”
TG: You know, I was directionless in my first year of college as to what I was going to major in or do, but that ended quickly because I got [“That 70’s Show”]. You know it was a real fluke, I had never auditioned for anything, it was a bizarre thing that happened. Even when I started the show, I didn’t know if I wanted to act, which is a shame because I had signed a six year contract. Luckily, I really fell in love with it and the process and working with great ensembles.
Journalist: So you’re both kind of the same age as your characters, basically. [Note: That’s not exactly true for Grace, who is in his early thirties. However, he was closer to that age when the film was shot in 2008.]
TG: I think now there are some statistics where 60-70% of all kids graduating college have to go home and live with their folks. This is people who would be getting jobs a couple of years ago.
TP: It’s quite overwhelming to think that your peers in society…and to know what you’re going to be doing for the rest of your life [can be set] at 22 or 23 years of age. I don’t even know who I am at that age. I’m 24 now and I’m still just becoming a woman. I don’t really know what I want to do for the rest of my life. It’s quite scary, I think.
Journalist: Topher, do you think it will be hard now to go back to just a picture where you’re not producing and you don’t get to be in charge?
TG: I have. Right after this film I did a film with Richard Gere, which is exactly the opposite [situation]. It’s like a CIA, FBI thriller. There was nothing more fun than, when the directors and the producers start talking about some budget thing, being like “I’ll be in my trailer.” I mean it actually makes it all more fun because you understand more about it; you understand when you could be doing work and you don’t have to, which is wonderful. The reason I really wanted to do [“Take Me Home Tonight] was because these films we’re talking about — “American Graffiti”, “Dazed and Confused” — they have tons of people that came out of them in a big way. “American Graffiti” had Harrison Ford before he was Harrison Ford; and Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard was a producer of our film, Cindy Williams, Suzanne Somers. Then “Dazed and Confused” has Matthew McConaughey, Ben Affleck, Parker Posey, Renée Zellweger, Milla Jovovich. It’s my hope…[that] there are three or four movie stars here that are 20 million dollar movie stars in the year 2020. So we would be at like an IHOP or something, at like 6:00 AM, which is the end of our shooting day because we had to shoot at night. And you would see Demetri Martin doing a bit with Dan Fogler and then Anna Faris would pitch in and I’m thinking this is what it felt like to be at “Saturday Night Live” and [thinking], you know, this Belushi guy is funny and so is Bill Murray.
I’ve done movies with people like Richard and Dennis Quaid, it’s great to work with masters. But there’s something about working with your peers as they’re discovering it. Tes gives an amazing performance, where she’s very distant from the audience at the beginning of the movie. Then, in the middle of the movie, the audience starts to get to know her really well and it’s very endearing. So it was just great, that sense of discovery is really fun. It’s a reason to make it happen.
Bullz-Eye [to Teresa Palmer]: Since you had to work on an accent for this movie, did you choose a specific kind of Los Angeles accent, or did you just kind of go with generic American?
TP: Generic American. I worked with Liz Himelstein, who’s a wonderful dialect coach. She works with a lot of the Australians. She was on set with me every day and it was very liberating to have that there because you’re not so up in your head about the accent and I could focus on the work I was doing. She would come in and she’s like “oh, oh, no” and I was like “I didn’t know.” So yeah, it was grand. Relatively easy for me because, being in Australia, we grow up watching a ton of American television so the transition was pretty organic.
Journalist: Topher, let me ask you, when you talk about this movie you always mention John Hughes movies. Was there a certain beats from John Hughes movies that you had to have in this film, certain things?
TG: Sure, but it was more ‘80s movies than John Hughes movies — although John Hughes has handfuls of heart and can be kind of raunchy, which we wanted to go for. We wanted to have someone steal a red car. We wanted to have someone chasing a girl. We wanted to have that moment where everyone at the party starts singing to one song. We wanted to have a platonic best friend that was a girl, we just made [Anna Faris’s character my] twin because we wanted to also mess with all of those conventions.
Journalist: Valentine’s Day is coming up. Do either of you have any special plans?
TG: I’m going to rent “Valentine’s Day.” Good film, good film.
TP: We’re on the road, promoting the film. I think we’re going to be in Miami.
Journalist: What things from the ‘80s do you kind of wish we still had now? And what things are like “Thank God, we don’t still do have to deal with that?”
TP: Thank god we don’t have a side ponytail. I think they’re bringing back some of the great things of the ‘80s, in terms of fashion. The shoulder pads…
Journalist: What about [Topher]?
TG: I think all of the exterior fashions were horrible. All of them. I had a tie in this…they actually had to hunt down the ugliest fabric, skinny tie and there’s a lot of ugliness on it. But I kind of liked walking into the party with the shades and being able to look over the top. I’ll never be able to do that in the real world.
Journalist: It was very Rob Lowe.
TP: Yeah. Totally.
Journalist: You really like comedy and I think you’re very funny, but is there something else that you’d like to try out, like maybe some crazy villain?
TG: Well I played a psychopath killer in “Predators,” that was my last movie. I was a bad guy in “Spider-Man 3.” This new one that I have with Richard Gere is a really serious drama about the FBI. So, I’m pretty happy in terms of getting to try tons of stuff.
[Co-star Dan Fogler walks by the room and makes a funny face. We writers are easily amused and break up.]
Journalist: Was [shooting the movie] a lot like that?
TP: Yes, it was very spontaneous.
TG: All of us, we were really close. I know you’ve probably interviewed a billion casts who go “we were all really close; we went to so and so’s house and made dinner.” But really, truly, we all had that kind of bond.
TP: We’re still such good friends now, which is really refreshing. Because you’re right, usually it’s summer camp and you go and have that experience and then it’s over. But for us, it was summer camp and then it kind of continued on. It’s really lovely.
TG: Dan’s my roommate sometimes because he lives in New York, so when he comes out here he stays with me.
Journalist: Is that a good thing?
TG: It’s surprisingly not as messy as I thought it was going to be.
Journalist: You have some pretty funny stunts in this film, did you have any injuries? Or were there any crazy challenges?
TG: Dan got hurt a lot.
Journalist: Did he?
TG: Yeah. I think his finger slammed in a door once, but because of that pinky ring he has on it totally didn’t hurt him at all. He wears all of this jewelry with his character. Some of the stuff in the ball was just not fun. And then [when the ball hit the pool that] was really scary…That was probably the scariest day of any stunt I’ve ever done on film, to be honest.
Journalist: Can you talk about the delay in this release?
TG: Well you know it’s a “hard R” that you’re talking about. Anyone going should know it’s a realistic look at the ‘80’s. We didn’t want to pull any punches. The same way “Dazed and Confused” has a lot of marijuana use, which is very apropos to the ‘70’s, and there’s a lot of drinking and cigarettes in “American Graffiti.” We think if you’re at a party with twenty-somethings, who graduated college in the mid-80’s, in Beverly Hills, I’m going to go out on a limb and say there was a lot of coke there. So we wanted it to be a real cross section. Anna’s character deals with something really different than what my character deals with with Tori [played by Teresa Palmer]. Silly Dan has a very specific experience [involving a lot of cocaine]. There was a lot of trepidation at the studio about that. Then, luckily we had another studio come in. We had Ron Howard and Brian Grazer on it, so it wasn’t like I figured it out. These guys are some of the best producers of all time. So they helped navigate it to a place where, instead of cutting stuff out and neutering the film…they’re really embracing it. You guys saw the film. I don’t think it’s actually that bad.
TG: But it is real. I think when you make one of these films, if you’re going to talk about one night in someone’s life that’s amazing, you can’t pull any punches.
Journalist: Angie Everhart’s boobs was about it for nudity.
TP: And they’re amazing boobs.
Journalist: Why pick investment bankers for the profession your character lies about?
TG: Oh man, I actually don’t remember…I think the feeling was, what is the most intimidating thing Tori could be doing that Matt knows something about? He knows math, but not enough about it to be able to fake it [as an investment banker]. And, also, to have an internship at Drexel Burnham right out of college, while he’s working at Suncoast Video…We really wanted to go across the tracks. You guys know, because we’re in L.A, but a lot of people don’t, I didn’t understand before I came here, the Valley is kind of its own thing. Then, you go right over the hill and you’re in an entirely different culture.