‘Take Me Home Tonight”s Topher Grace on Making a ‘Lost John Hughes Movie’

As the entire cast of Friends that isn’t Brad Pitt’s ex-wife can tell you, the transition from television to film is not always easy for sitcom stars. For now, Topher Grace’s best film work has come during his hiatuses from That ’70s Show (Traffic, In Good Company) and he has yet to find his footing as a leading man since that show wrapped in 2006. That will change with Take Me Home Tonight, an entertaining ode to the ‘80s teen flicks he grew up on. The film takes place over one night, and sees Grace’s direction-less college grad pursuing the girl of his dreams during the party of the year. Off-screen, Grace takes credit as the film’s co-writer and executive producer. From a swanky suite in Beverly Hills, the actor tells us about why the film languished on the shelf for so long, portraying cocaine in a realistic way, and making a “lost John Hughes movie.”

When did you start developing the concept? Well, my producing partner and I – which is a fancy way of saying my buddy and I – looked at the film landscape and said, we grew up in the ‘90s with Dazed and Confused, which was 20 years in the past. Then we looked at American Graffiti, which was done in the ‘70s about the ‘50s, and we said, well, that hasn’t been done about the ‘80s and we love the ‘80s. So then we thought, let’s make the movie where we don’t make fun of the ‘80s. That hasn’t been done yet.

Right, because in most modern comedies set in the ‘80s – Hot Tub Time Machine, for example – the decade is used as a punchline. You know, I actually enjoyed that film. But it was a spoof. The first thing we did was cut out all the jokes in our film where the guy goes, “How tiny is this cell phone?” because we’ve seen it before and we really wanted it to be like a movie that we’d made in the ‘80s, like we literally went back in time and made it in 1988 and then put it in a vault and took it out now, blew the dust off of it and put it on like it’s the lost John Hughes movie.

So what year was that when you first started developing the idea with your buddy? Ah man, years ago. We’ve been friends for so long. We were roommates in boarding school, so we had a lot of shared experiences to draw on.

I’m sure a million people have said this, but it’s a lot like Evan Goldberg and Seth Rogen’s Superbad. Nobody has said that actually.

It’s a similar movie too: a coming-of-age story told over one night… Based on two buddies who are real-life friends. Absolutely. We love that film. And they are really cool dudes. I actually had a problem that I called Evan about and he helped me. There aren’t a lot of people our age producing films, so I called him.

Did you know him well at that point? I didn’t. They had called me to ask permission to use my face on a poster for Knocked Up. I was on set and they did this scene that didn’t make it into the film called “Celebrities Around Boobs,” so there was a picture of me and then all these hundreds of boobs around my face. I still have the poster.

It’s my understanding that you wrapped Take Me Home Tonight in 2007 and then watched it sit on the shelf for years. It was very frustrating. But you’ve seen the film. It works. When we first showed it in 2008 to an audience it tested really well, but there was a fear at the former studio we were with about the cocaine use. I mean, it’s for real. We really kind of go there in the film. But we felt it was necessary. I mean, you couldn’t make Dazed and Confused without showing someone rolling a joint. Similarly, there’s going to be someone ten years from now trying to make a ‘90s film and some studio is going to be giving them crap about ecstasy.

We luckily had started the process with Imagine: you know, Ron [Howard], who was in American Graffiti, and Brian Grazer, who are two of the best producers of all time. At this time, we said, They want us to kind of neuter the film. They want us to cut out what we think is really important. By taking out the cocaine, first, it would be weird: why does [Dan Fogler’s character] Barry start acting crazy for no reason? And second, if there’s some element that’s not very truthful about the movie, it will ruin all the other elements. So we got great advice from them. They said, “Hang in there; there’s nothing that’s going to date the film because it’s already totally dated.”

So Ryan Kavanaugh, who owns Relativity and is kind of the only guy who has money in Hollywood, saw the film. Unlike some studio bosses who are 60 or 70 years old – it’s a little ironic when they tell you what kids want to see when you’re closer to the demo – Ryan is like three years older than me. So he saw it and said it was amazing and bought the film outright. Usually, when a film’s held, it’s because there are all these different cuts and it loses authorship. But this is the opposite. He let us put everything back in that we would have had to take out.

It’s interesting that you had so much trouble getting the film released since Hot Tub Time Machine has now proven that a drug-addled R-rated ‘80s party film can be profitable. Did that happen before or after you joined with Relativity? I think after and also, I don’t equate the two movies as being similar at all because one is clearly a spoof and I think they’re really different tonally.

Right. I guess it’s just the fact that… You just really love Hot Tub Time Machine.

No, no. No, I get it. It’s your favorite movie and you’re pushing it on me.

Well, I didn’t get to cover it when it came out and… And this is your chance.

Exactly. I think the difference is that our movie was not a spoof. It’s real. You’re watching real kids do real things. It would have been easier if this was hilarious cocaine. But this is real cocaine. I’ve been in a movie about kids with real cocaine – you know, Traffic – and they die. It’s no joke. But we thought we struck a balance that was okay and more importantly, it was truthful. We wanted to show a cross-section of everything that was happening at that party – essentially, I’m in a romantic movie, Dan’s in a comedy, and Anna [Faris] is in a drama – and we wanted to weave them the way that John Hughes or Cameron Crowe would have in the ‘80s.

Unsurprisingly, Big Boi Has Recorded the Best Rap Album of the Year

The album opens with a lone Spaghetti-Western whistle, conjuring images of abandoned, tumbleweed-strewn streets and swinging saloon doors. Suddenly, we hear a dirty keyboard line reminiscent of the futuristic gallop of Timbaland’s “Pony.” Next comes a watery wah-infused guitar line, then a pounding piano, and finally, cucumber-cool crooning echoed by a gritty, talk-box-warped wail. This is the eclectic, infectious sound of Big Boi’s Cadillac convertible cruising into town after far too long. And as the intro fades, we hear the man himself boast, “Damn, and that wasn’t nothing but the intro.”

Sure enough, Sir Luscious Leftfoot: The Son of Chico Dusty, Outkast emcee Big Boi’s much-delayed solo debut, only gets better from there, with the rapper skillfully navigating a slew of kaleidoscopic, fun and funky beats, from the epic, orchestral “General Patton” to the soulful “Be Still” (featuring a sublime Janelle Monae).

“It’s a funk-filled adventure,” says Big Boi, calling from his Atlanta home a few days before the record’s release. “It’s some of my best work that I’ve ever done. I put a lot of time into it. No two songs sound alike. It’s lyrically interesting; and you know, the whole Luscious Leftfoot thing is basically, Luscious Leftfoot is like a graduation of Big Boi. It’s almost like when Luke Skywalker became a Jedi. I’m a master at my craft. You know what I mean? Like the Karate Kid whooping ass.”

Big Boi isn’t kidding when he says he sunk a lot of time into the project. “I started the album on Martin Luther King’s birthday in 2007, and I mastered it on [Outkast partner] Andre 3000’s birthday, May 27th of this year, so it’s been like 40 months almost.”

Forty months. Let’s put that in perspective. Gucci Mane–-the mash-mouthed emcee featured on Big Boi’s superb Harold Melvin-flipping new single “Shine Blockas”–-released one major-label album, one EP, and six long-ass mixtapes in 2009 alone. (He also finished a jail term and started a new one. How’s that for productive?) Like Gucci, most mainstream rappers need to be prolific in order to remain relevant. Their lyrics are littered with rapidly expiring references to fashion, politics, and pop-culture, and their records are riddled with trendy producers, hook singers and guest rappers. If your average hip-hop artist released a record he’d started in 2007, it would sound like 2007.

But Big Boi outings are less time capsules than time machines. He could sit on an album for decades and it would still sound forward-facing upon release. After all, he’s half of Outkast, arguably the most commercially successful avant-garde artists in hip-hop history. He doesn’t chase trends; he sets them. Says Big Boi, “The object of the game is to never follow the trends. You make music that’s true to you. The music that I make is very experimental. A lot of the stuff is put together in ways that are very non-traditional and they’re just very different grooves. From the rhyme cadences down to the beat patterns, it’s all about a new sound.”

Unfortunately, Jive, Outkast’s long-time label, failed to appreciate this fact, telling Big Boi that Sir Luscious Leftfoot was too artistic to be marketable. Of course, since Outkast had already earned the company millions of dollars despite anti-single singles like the high-speed aggro-funk-rap classic “B.O.B.,” it seems like the real problem was Andre 3000’s absence. “I think they might have put a little more effort into it [had it been an Outkast album], but I don’t think they would have cared what the songs sounded like as long as it was both of us on the same song. It’s a total disregard for the music itself. Music is an expression of you and your mind, body and soul. They wanted more cookie-cutter type records and I don’t do that.”

And so, Big Boi dropped Jive–just as Clipse, the label’s other critically-acclaimed Southern rap duo, had done three years earlier. Thankfully, Def Jam head LA Reid, the man who signed a teenaged Big Boi and Andre 18 years and 25-million records ago, who stepped up to put Sir Luscious Leftfoot out.

This brings us to Friday before the album’s release, hours after Big Boi has dropped the promotional, career-spanning Big Boi Mixtape for Dummies. And while it is sort of sad to think that one of the coolest, most creative and commercially accomplished rappers of all time needs any such introduction, it’s also exciting to think that some get to hear Big Boi’s Cadillac roll into town for the first time. As old fans rediscover Big Boi’s focused exuberance on irrepressible, funk-laden new singles like “Shutterbug,” countless uninitiated will unearth Outkast oldies like “Hootie Hoo” and “ATLiens.” No doubt, these tracks are as fresh and directional as ever.

The Differences Between New York and Los Angeles, According to Members of the UCB

According to Woody Allen, Los Angeles’ only cultural advantage is that you can take a right on red. But here’s the thing: fuck Woody Allen. If you want a fair assessment of LA, you need to talk to New Yorkers that actually live here. And where better to find East Coast transplants than at Los Angeles’s Upright Citizens Brigade theater, home to countless writers and performers who have relocated from UCBNY to work in film and television? We recently talked with two such members of UCBLA’s hilarious improv group The Smokes, actor Eugene Cordero, and writer Chris Kula, to find out how LA and New York really compare.

The People EC: There’s that classic “New York’s got the grittiness, LA’s got the fake people.” But it’s all the same thing. In LA, you’re trying to put that fake, best foot forward so you can show people who you really are. And in New York, you put that fake, hard facade forward so nobody messes with you. Both places, New York and LA, are such hard places to live that it’s just two different ways to deal with the same problem: insecurity. CK: Not being so close in proximity to people is a huge thing. Maybe people aren’t necessarily nicer in LA, but just the fact that they’re not on top of you makes you think, ‘Oh, everybody’s so great here.’ Yeah, when they’re in their car and you’re in yours.

The Energy EC: In New York, you can stay up until 4AM every night, but when you wake up, you see business men, actors, ad people. You just see this hustle and bustle and that makes you go, “Fuck, I gotta do something! Shit!” I don’t think I’d be doing as well out here if I hadn’t been in New York first. That laid back mentality would have eaten me up, like “Oh, I can just hang out?”

Comedy EC: The sketch out here is great: Birthday Boys, A Kiss From Daddy. In New York, improv takes the precedent and in LA, sketch does. CK: LA audiences are less apt to really give it up for anything that’s risqué or controversial. You tell a rape joke, you get way more of a “Ooh, I can’t believe they would do that,” whereas a New Yorker will laugh at anything. We have some theories as to why that is. One theory is that people in LA are too image-conscious or worried about what the agent three seats over is doing at the show, so rather than just laugh, people look around to see what everyone else is doing.

Sports CK: [At a Los Angeles Clippers home game] LA fans were outnumbered by Pistons fans. In New York, you definitely see pockets of other fans, but if you’re rooting for the other team, you’re going to get your ass kicked. Clippers fans don’t give a shit. If you root for the other team, they’re like, “No, you’re right.”

Food EC: I like LA for what they’re good at and New York for what they’re good at. The Corner Bistro in New York is great for burgers, but [LA burger institution] Father’s Office is so good too. They’re different. CK: For breakfast and lunch, LA really has it because people take lunch [meetings] every day. What do I miss? The New York slice. Pizza in general. And then there are a few specific places in New York that I miss. I lived above a Chinese restaurant on 8th called Home that was awesome.

Architecture CK: In LA, people say, “When I make enough money, I’m going to build the kind of house that I want and I don’t care how it looks.” I love that about LA. On any given street, you have the classic ‘60s apartments and then Mission-style things and then a ski chalet. If you go for a walk in Park Slope, you know you’re going to see brownstones everywhere. It’s nice to go for a walk in [LA’s] Griffith Park and say, “Why is this bungalow next to this mansion?”

Which city is better? EC: You can’t compare New York to LA. They’re two different fruits: literally, apples and oranges. Every once in a while you want to fucking eat an orange and every once in a while you want to eat a fucking apple.

Seriously, which is better? EC: I prefer LA. In New York you can always be a kid. Bars are open until 4AM, people are around. You walk down the street once and see a bunch of people and walk down the next day and see all different people, so you can constantly change who you are. But in LA, you can’t hide amongst the crowd. You can only be more of what you end up being. I’ll always love New York for making me who I am. But what do I miss about the city? I don’t miss anything, just my friends. I think after a while, it just started to bum me out. I can’t wait to visit New York, but I’m glad I don’t live there. CK: It makes me sound like a traitor, but yeah, I would pick LA over New York. I’ll make the case for anyone considering moving out. It’s not as intimidating as you might think, you get used to the driving and the weather really is that nice.