From 'Frasier' to Filthy
Fernandez, Maria Elena, Newsweek
Byline: Maria Elena Fernandez
Kelsey Grammer embraces his dark side as a seedy Chicago mayor. How much drama can he handle?
Kelsey Grammer is talking, of all things, about dismembered ears. Never mind whose ears they were; it's what Grammer's latest TV iteration does with them that counts. With cool confidence, the mighty mayor of Chicago he plays on his new TV series, Boss, shoves the pair down his garbage disposal and then casually mentions to his wife that they need a plumber.
Ruthless and twisted? Sure. But this is the kind of role the comedy giant has coveted for a decade. The scene, which comes early in the new Starz show, leaves no room for conjecture about who his character, Mayor Tom Kane, is as a human being or a leader. He also stomps around with rage, shouts at his enemies, and is impenetrable to his underlings. As a man who has overcome formidable personal demons himself, Grammer says he is careful not to let Kane (seen above with his wife, played by Connie Nielsen) bleed into his psyche.
"I'm not one of those guys that draws on his personal experiences to fill a character," Grammer says during a recent interview at Casa del Mar in Santa Monica, Calif. "I kind of just let my imagination grasp what it would feel like and then try to play it. I do worry, though, sometimes, like when I played Macbeth [on Broadway], because he's so dark that it can affect your personal life."
Just in case, before Grammer filmed the pivotal kitchen scene in the first episode, he stopped and "prayed a little bit." After admitting that, he bursts out laughing and adds, "Of course, it's always a little fun, too."
As you might expect, the man who played Frasier Crane for 20 years enjoys a good laugh, and his is full and robust. But Grammer possesses a profundity that departs widely from his TV-sitcom persona and is in step with a human being who has faced several life-changing traumas. By the time he turned 25, Grammer had lost his estranged father to murder; his younger sister to rape and murder; and his two half-brothers to an accidental drowning. Turbulence followed him well into adulthood and middle age, even as he hit career gold with Cheers and its spinoff Frasier. Grammer, now a recovering cocaine addict and alcoholic, was arrested twice in the '80s and '90s for possession and drunken driving. At 56, he's been married four times and has four children.
"Usually what f--ks up somebody or messes them up is enough for them," Grammer says. "Everybody's got their things that shape them, shift them, or turn them one way or another. And I had plenty of mine. …