In early March, a small group gathered to watch an 85-minute version of all three "Star Wars" prequels combined. This was not sanctioned by Lucasfilm. This was done by an actor that you know named Topher Grace. The reports were that Grace wanted to become an editor, so he practiced on the prequels. This isn't entirely true. For the first time, Grace explains why he edited "The Phantom Menace," Attack of the Clones" and "Revenge of the Sith" into one film.
Grace is in New York to support his role in the Tribeca Film Festival entry "The Giant Mechanical Man." In the indie film, he plays Doug, a cocky motivational speaker who courts Jenna Fischer's Janice, to the dismay of nice guy Tim (Chris Messina). Here, in an interview that went longer than anticipated (as requested by Grace once we got into the "Star Wars" topic), Grace reveals his motivations for wanting to play a motivational speaker, reflects on the criticism against "Spider-Man 3," and, as mentioned, sets the record straight on this whole "Star Wars" kerfuffle.
Nice to meet you, sir
I actually love The Huffington Post. I love when people come in that I might actually see. I have a rule that I won't Google my own name.
Why is that?
Oh, bad news. Live by the sword, die by the sword. You don't want to know what people are saying. But if it's a site that I might come across, I'm always excited.
Your scenes in this movie make me laugh. Actually, they've been showing the BBC scene before every public screening at the festival.
Oh, is that true? This will play in to what you're saying. I wanted to play a motivational speaker -- I always think, What is the thing that makes people want to tell other people how to lead a better life? I mean, I barely got me, do you know what I mean? And that's why you want to do an independent film -- it's because studios would not give me a chance to do that.
I'll admit, when I saw your name in the credits, I was not expecting you to be playing this type of character.
There's a scene where I'm kissing Jenna and he's watching -- and the camera kind of pushes in on Chris. And I went, "Oh, I've been here before." I've just always been the guy who's watching the other guy kiss the girl.
Do you like playing "the other guy"? It's a bit of a stretch, but you're not a likable guy in "Spider-Man 3."
Yes, they're antagonists, sure. But, the trick with a character like this is if it had been on screen for one more moment, you go from loving-hating him to like hating-hating him. It's about knowing when you overstay your welcome with a character like this. And I'm not in much of the movie and I would have it that way.
So there will never be a Doug movie.
That would be insufferable. But don't you hate that? I'm not a comedian, but I love the comedians who know when to get off the stage.
It would be like a whole series based on Kramer from "Seinfeld." A little bit of Kramer is great.
Yep! I remember Wilmer [Valderrama] knew it on "That '70s Show." There was never a full episode about Fez -- and he understood it. Because every time I spoke, it was a serious set-up line. Every time Wilmer spoke, the crowd would be rolling in the aisles -- but that wouldn't happen if we did Fez's origin story from his homeland.
Was this based on any particular motivational speaker?
I watched a lot of Tony Robbins. I kind of do a poor man's version of those guys. Those guys are national, I'm working at a Holiday Inn in Detroit and that room isn't totally full. I think they all have a similar way to engage you and talk you into submission. I mean, at the beginning, you're like, "Oh, I'm going to totally make fun this thing." But then by the end of a half hour of watching the show, I'm like, "Maybe I do need the Personal Power System," or whatever it is.
You re-edited the "Star Wars" prequels.
That got all out of hand.
The reports are that you now want to be an editor.
I don't want to be an editor! I don't want to direct; I'd be a horrible director. I don't want to write -- I have a "story by" credit on one film I did. And I don't want to edit at all.
To be fair, if you're re-editing the "Star Wars" prequels, people are going to talk.
What I was trying to do ... by the way, I did want to learn how to edit, in the way that directors sometimes take acting classes. They're not doing it to become actors, they're doing it to understand the medium they're in better, from another angle. And that's why I did that. And, by the way, it has helped my acting -- editing something that didn't have me in it. There's this expression that it's written three times: during the script, when you're filming it and when you're editing it. And I believe that's wrong. I think it's written once, in editing -- and everything is clay for that. And I wanted to learn about it -- I thought it would be neat. It's like learning to play the piano and I need a lot of clay. And I thought if I did one movie out of these three ... whatever. Anyway, I was thrilled with the reviews that we got and I've been telling everyone that we're going to open huge [laughs]. We're going to have a big opening weekend.
Has Lucasfilm contacted you yet?
No. But I'm never going to show it to anyone. So I think that's why they were cool with it. By the way: It doesn't make fun of "Star Wars" at all.
The reviews seemed positive.
It was a great night, for sure. And why I did it was to repeat it every three or four months: I wanted to do this one, I want to do "Close Encounters" -- just a faster paced one. It's like if you were in the editing room and wanted to have a conversation with the director. It's not making fun of these things at all or saying they were bad. And then I wanted to hand it off, so, hopefully, in June or July, we'll do another one. I actually had a trailer for "Close Encounters" that ran in front of the "Star Wars" one.
"Close Encounters" already has a few versions.
There are all these different cuts of "Close Encounters."
You could also do "Blade Runner."
Someone suggested that to me. But I want to hand it off.
Is this like the Jason Reitman table-read series?
Exactly! I thought that was a very cool idea and I think, for people who like to edit, this is a cool way to do it. And it's just a great community thing. But they'll never be on YouTube, or any of that stuff.
I've never heard an actor say that learning how to edit helps them as an actor.
It's been so informative for me. I'm doing a play now ["Lonely, I'm Not"] and it helps.
How would that help you in a play?
Well, you're your own editor -- in terms of emotions and length of time. A lot of it is not about cutting and slashing stuff, a lot of it is about pace and rhythm. And how an audience digests ... this is going to be the most boring article ever. I'm so sorry.
I'm so sorry.
You're talking about "Star Wars." It's going to be fine.
[Laughs] It always tells me something about the interviewer. No interviewer has asked me about this so far. So now I know what type of person is interviewing me -- if they're aware of this. I've been stopped on the street, "Oh, man, I've got to see that 'Star Wars' cut." Then my mom is like, "What?"
Well, for what it's worth, I find it interesting.
I haven't really talked about it. A lot of people called when that happened, but I didn't do any press for it. That's not what it's about. But it was really fun.
"Spider-Man 3" seems to have gotten the most criticism of the first three Spider-Man films.
What's your opinion about that? Now the franchise is starting over.
Well, I think it looks really good. I'm a huge fan of Marc Webb.
I enjoyed "(500) Days of Summer."
And his videos. His music-video reel is insane. Wonderful guy -- love "(500) Days of Summer." And I love those two actors [Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone]. And Dennis Leary. They made some cool choices.
Are you sad they didn't continue the series that you were a part of?
It's hard to understand the films that you're in, because you never truly get to see them. I guess maybe when I'm like 50 and it comes on Sunday morning, I'll watch it -- and you can have a fresh perspective on it. And, by the way, I want a passport to everywhere as an actor. So, certainly, that was one of the biggest places you can go -- with this huge budget and this huge franchise. But I want to be able to play good guys and bad guys. I want to be able to be in the biggest blockbusters of our time, and it doesn't get any smaller than this film. And if you want a passport to everywhere, you can't be worried about having everything be a success. I've had more than my share -- trust me -- in life, of success. But this is a great example of an experience I wouldn't normally get if it weren't this size of film. And I'm equally thrilled to be in this as I was to be in "Predators" -- which I was so happy to be in.
I enjoyed "Predators."
If you want to do a killer space thing, you have to do it with Robert Rodriguez. If you want to do "Valentine's Day," you have to do it with Garry Marshall. By the way, if you're going to play a motivational speaker who's on a date with someone and they won't shut up, it's got to be with Jenna Fischer. She's a national treasure! I like the gypsy nature of it and I want to be in as many different [genres as possible]. By the way, my agents hate it. If I was smart, I would choose one thing. Like, the good guy in romantic comedies, or whatever. You know, to be easily commoditizable. Is that a word?
[Grace's publicist who just walked into the room chimes in: "Not that I know of."]
What's the word I'm looking for? "It's easier to be a commodity." Yeah, that's a word.
[Grace's publicist: "I'm going to look it up"]
It's much easier for me to make money and for my agents to make money. But, I figure that I'm young, I'm single, I don't have any responsibilities. I want to do as much different things and have that passport to go absolutely anywhere. And, that being said, I'm able to do that because I was on a successful show. And I feel that if you made money doing something like that, you owe it to yourself to have as many different types of learning experiences as possible. And that allows me to do this play right now -- I've never done a play before. I really love it all.
You seem like a happy guy.
[Laughs] I'm pretty upbeat. Well, [laughing] because of the "Star Wars" thing.
Mike Ryan is senior entertainment writer for The Huffington Post. He has written for Wired Magazine, VanityFair.com and GQ.com. He likes Star Wars a lot. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.