Topher Grace: The "Nice Guy" Syndrome

He struggles every week with relationships, parents, work, etc. as Eric on "That 70's Show". Cute actor Topher (short for Christopher) Grace, 25, still has it tough in his new film playing a home town guy hopelessly in love with a girl he's known since childhood in the new romantic comedy Win a Date with Tad Hamilton.

The director of the film says Topher reminds him of Tom Hanks in his early days. He's a sweet "everyman" that girls wanna cuddle with and guys identify with. He went against type as a drug user who corrupted Erika Christensen in Traffic, was a boyfriend in the recent Mona Lisa Smile and is in his element again as part of the "Tad" love triangle with Kate Bosworth and Josh Duhamel. In L.A., Topher told us about being discovered, his co-stars, his image and comparison to Tom Hanks.

TeenHollywood: Okay, Ginnifer Goodwin is really cute in the film. Why wasn't your character interested in her character?

Topher: I know, right? I'm actually glad we didn't do it like that, like a Japanese stand-off love triangle, where everyone's in love with every one of the lead characters. I mean everyone's in love with someone else and that someone has to lose. Ginny's Great. She and I were in Mona Lisa Smile together and she's one of my best friends, so when she got the part I was like, so happy.

TeenHollywood: Your character Pete has some pretty flip things to say. Were you worried that would make him less appealing?

Topher: No. I think the trap with these films sometimes is that there's that 'nice guy' and everyone's so defined by their character, and I think layering it is the whole point. I mean, it's pretty obvious where this film's going from the poster, so I'm really glad that we got to a place where the love triangle kind of turns a couple of times.

TeenHollywood: You confront Josh's character while he's in a bathroom stall. Was that a crazy scene to shoot?

Topher: It wasn't in a real men's room, so... Well, Josh was cracking me up. He does this little thing where he grabs the walls. It was great. I think I was more proud of that scene than any other scene, because it's both funny and sad. Those two things are really hard emotions to get into and I think it's the point of romantic comedies.

TeenHollywood: Your character Pete manages a supermarket. What was your hometown job?

Topher: Suncoast Video at the Stanford Mall, where I worked for two summers. I have a good friend who works at the movie theatre there now. That's funny, I wonder if this will play there?

TeenHollywood: The DVD will be at Suncoast someday.

Topher: [His eyes get big] Yeah, I didn't even think about that. Oh, man, some poor kid filing away, putting me under 'W'.

TeenHollywood: Did you research supermarkets?

Topher: I actually went and spent some time in a supermarket. I didn't work there but I did hang out with the manager for a little bit, and I realized that it gives you a feel for the fact that Pete is a strong, great guy. He's not weak. There's a cliché of playing this guy as very fragile or flawed, you know, and I think what's really important is that he's a victim of circumstance. It's like what are you gonna do, if the girl you like starts dating Brad Pitt? You know, no matter how great a guy you are, you're going to have a problem. So working at the supermarket, he was running a whole operation there, you know, more responsibility than I have, so that was fuel for that fire.

TeenHollywood: Which character is more challenging Eric or Pete?

Topher: Oh well, definitely I've had enough time to work on Eric on "'70s", and that role is really very close to who I am I think. When I first approached this role, I didn't understand why Pete hadn't asked her out, but yet he seemed so strong I knew it wasn't because he was a wimp. In my head he's known her forever, and he kind of had a shot in fifth grade, and missed it, and he's a great guy but he's actually willing to forego having a romantic relationship just for her to be in his life, because he knows it would get weird. What's great is this situation kind of makes it bubble up.

TeenHollywood: Would you have asked her out?

Topher: Yeah, yeah. He's very different from me. I mean, but then again, I've never known someone who I've been in love with who I've known since I was like two.

TeenHollywood: Did you know Kate before the movie? You both lived in the same small town.

Topher: Yeah. I think she was the Horse Whisperer girl, when I was in high school, so she was already kind of as big a celebrity as you could get. But I gave her a Blue Wave jacket [from the hometown team] when we wrapped.

TeenHollywood: Did knowing about her help your relationship in the film?

Topher: I don't think in a real way, because we didn't know each other that well, but I do think we spoke the same language and we were from the same place, so that definitely helped. And she's great, and I totally knew her before this film, just out here in Hollywood, and when I heard she was cast in it before I was cast in the film, I thought, 'oh man, perfect. She's like sweet, but not that sweet, where it's like you have a bad reaction to it.

TeenHollywood: How did the "That '70s Show" producers discover you?

Topher: Their daughter, who was also at school with me, was in the same play.. ["A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum"]. I'd been in a couple of plays where I had smaller roles, and then I wanted to be a pro tennis player when I was in school, and I twisted my ankle senior year so I was really bummed, and I tried out and I got the lead.

TeenHollywood: You played the lecherous slave?

Topher: Yeah, well, that's a really intense great role, and it's a great comedy. I was at USC and they called me and said 'do you want to come try out for this show we're doing about the '70s'? It was my first audition. And we just shot an episode last night, and it's like six years later.

TeenHollywood: Did you expect the series to be on it that long? What year is it in the show now?

Topher: '78. You know, I was so stupid and naive, you know, green, that I absolutely thought it would be a huge hit. Now I realize what a big f***ing joke. The odds are staggering but it's kind of great, that young, you actually believe everything's possible when you start at that age.

TeenHollywood: What about the success of your castmates on the show?(Ashton, Wilmer, etc.)

Topher: I think it's terrific. I think that the best is yet to come. The thing about a sitcom that's great is that's it's like a graduate school of acting. We started when we were eighteen or so. A sitcom is such an amazing training ground. You get to kind of suck at the beginning and get better and people don't mind. You can't suck at the beginning of a film and get better. That's it; it's over once you do a film. On a sitcom you have these writers working with you. I'm excited to see when the show ends where everyone lands because I can't imagine six more talented people.

TeenHollywood: Did you and Ashton talk about "Tad" and The Butterfly Effect coming out on the same day?

Topher: Ashton and I talked about that yesterday morning, and we have a motto, which is 'go see both. It's a two-day weekend'.

TeenHollywood: You are also in a movie called Synergy with Scarlett Johansson. Can you tell us about it?

Topher: I'm psyched out of my mind to do this movie. Dennis Quaid is having like a mid-life crisis, and his company is bought by a huge conglomerate, and I'm his new boss. His daughter is played by Scarlett Johansson and we start dating. It's kind of another triangle but kind of a different triangle.

TeenHollywood: What actress do you have a crush on?

Topher: Who do I want to win a date with? Audrey Tatou. Come on. Have you seen Amelie? Rent it, man. Come on, it's all there.

TeenHollywood: Did you ever have a weird fan experience?

Topher: Sure. I think I got a marriage proposal once, that kind of thing. I'm like, 'maybe when you turn fifteen.' We do the show live, so we have a lot of live audience members who stay in touch.

TeenHollywood: How do you feel about reminding the director of a young Tom Hanks?

Topher: It makes me very happy. It's the ultimate compliment. At the beginning of this film, when I met with Robert (Luketic, the director), I said, 'there are two guys you can play as a young actor; the guy you want to be, and the guy you are'. You know, it's the difference between Tom Cruise and Tom Hanks. And I think he trusted me to play someone who the audience could identify with. So that's the ultimate compliment.


Lynn Barker is a Hollywood-based entertainment journalist and produced screenwriter.

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