It’s been a busy few months for Topher Grace. His latest film, “The Giant Mechanical Man,” premiered at Tribeca (it’s now available On Demand), and he’s currently wrapping up his first stint off-Broadway, starring in Paul Weitz’s “Lonely, I’m Not“ at the Second Stage Theater.
For the film, Grace — who dons a long, stringy wig created by the “That 70s Show” wigmaster — began his research for the character of sleazy motivational speaker Doug Duncan with good intentions.
“I always stayed up late watching the great Tony Robbins, people like that, who want to sell you how you can be a better you, and I always wondered what kind of person tells people that they can help them be a better person,” the actor says. “I mean, I barely got me — I can’t imagine telling someone I can tell you how to have a better life.”
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But then, as he watched his TiVo-ed paid programming, something happened: The messages started to seep in.
“In the beginning, I’m like ‘Alright, this is how I’m gonna make fun of Tony Robbins,’ and then slowly as you watch the episode you’re like, ‘You know, I do need [that product].’ They are very convincing — they kind of talk you into submission.”
The movie gave Grace the opportunity to take on a new kind of role: the antagonist.
“I played the protagonist in essentially every episode of ‘70s show,’ and I’ve never played this character, so it was fun,” he says. “[But] even though I had fun, I think people just naturally have to hate the bad guy.”
Now on stage
You can catch Grace in person in “Lonely, I’m Not,” closing Sunday at the Second Stage Theater. He stars as Porter, who, like Jenna Fischer’s character in “The Giant Mechanical Man,” feels uneasy about adulthood.
Despite plenty of work in front of the camera, Grace cops to nightmares about not projecting on stage (“I thought maybe someone in the very back row would be like, ‘Speak up, sitcom boy!’”) and says the learning process has had its embarrassing moments.
“When I started ‘70s’ I had never acted before professionally, so this felt like that, where the learning curve was, like, inverted. Even at the tech run-through, I was waiting too long to go on. The director said, ‘Why are you waiting so long?’ I said, ‘I’m waiting for the cue light to turn on,’ and he was like, ‘No, you go out when it turns off.’ And then he looked around like, ‘Oh my God, this guy’s starring in my play?’”
“Lonely, I'm Not”
Through June 3
Second Stage Theater
305 W. 43rd St.