Topher Grace has had a crazy career. He could have been Eric Forman, his deadpanning “That ’70s Show” everydude, forever. Instead, he’s always taken roles that broke away from that type. He was an entitled rich kid druggie in “Traffic.” He was a comic book villain in “Spider-Man 3.” He was a bureaucratic baddie in “Predators.” Now he’s in "War Machine," playing Matt Little, a douchey press advisor who winds up in Afghanistan during the Obama presidency. Brad Pitt both produced the satirical comedy and stars as a character based on disgraced General Stanley McChrystal, who was sent to America’s other recent big war to sort out the counter-insurgency. What everyone there found was a hot mess not even the mightiest of military brass could fix.
When he talked to Grace, 38, he didn’t only talk about “War Machine” or Brad Pitt. He nerded out over one of our faves, "Mr. Show."
I’m really glad you recently tweeted about Pit-Pat, the corporate mascot from one of my favorite “Mr. Show” sketches, the other day.
I was positive when I posted it that a very small percentage of people would get it, but those people would really love it.
I’m probably one of about 20 people who got it and loved it.
I actually went to a taping of it back in the day. It’s the one that starts in the Playboy Club. I remember, I was just starting to get that style of humor. I’ve met Bob Odenkirk on a couple occasions and he’s a god. He’s very giving. He understands that for a generation he’s the guy. He once said to me, because I was nerding out on him, “You know, I had the same thing with Monty Python.” He would have died if he’d bumped into John Cleese.
You haven’t yourself done sketch comedy, though, apart from hosting “Saturday Night Live” back in 2005.
I remember feeling like, ‘Oh, I’m not very good at sketch comedy!’ [Laughs] It’s a real skill. I really gained more respect for people who have it. Like Melissa McCarthy, who can just go in there and nail it. When I was on there I just wound up playing the normal guy in every sketch — the guy who’s setting up another character. Which I was totally fine with, because I’m not good at that stuff.
You don’t think you can do wacky characters?
No. When I arrived there on the first day, when they read through all the sketches, I realized, ‘This isn’t really my jam.’ I was on a sitcom, but even there I enjoyed the quieter moments a little more. But if you look at Bob Odenkirk, he’s someone who’s great at both. I can’t even imagine how to do that. In that new “Bob & David” thing [the “Mr. Show” reunion show from Netflix], they did this sketch where Bob’s a bible salesman. And he was combining real AMC drama-level stuff with outlandish comedy. My hat’s off to anyone who can do both.
“War Machine”’s funny, too, but not in a wacky way. It’s more satirical.
This is a different kind of funny. It’s not “ha ha funny.” It’s “this is happening this week” ironic-funny. It’s hard to do something like this, an account of what really happened, without humor. But David Michod [the writer/director] had the balls to sugarcoat the pill. That’s a great way to get more people to take a look at something they should have more information about. Me included. I kind of remember when General McChrystal was fired, but I didn’t enough about it or about the counter-insurgency.
I always worry movies like “War Machine” won’t be seen or even made. It’s a big-budget movie that’s not about superheroes, and it almost certainly only exists because Brad Pitt took it to Netflix himself.
Brad’s really smart. His company is producing all the great films right now, including “Moonlight” and “The Big Short” and “12 Years a Slave.” Since we made the film, more actors are going to Netflix. But Brad was smart to do it first. I don’t think it would have been made or been seen otherwise. Now it’s something you can watch. And it sparks conversation. When I saw it with my representatives and my wife, we all started talking afterwards. It’s one of those films.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge