While “Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!” offers Topher Grace his first lead movie role, he says he didn’t consciously seek a breakout role or star turn.
“That’s like an agent’s rule that you have to put yourself front and center,” says the 25-year-old actor who plays beleaguered Eric Forman on “That ’70s Show.” “I’m big-time into ensembles.
“I just don’t know why people do films where they’re all alone because you’re missing an opportunity to really have a lot of people make you better and you can make them better. It’s sort of like a team sport.”
As a teenager, Grace wanted to be a pro tennis player, but sprained his ankle twice.
He’d filled small roles in school plays, and when he couldn’t play sports anymore he tried for the lead in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”
A funny thing happened on his way to a college degreeTerry and Bonnie Turner, creators of TV’s “3rd Rock from the Sun,” were in the audience at the school in New Hampshire — where their daughter also went — and were so impressed with Grace as the fast-talking Roman slave Pseudolus that they later sought him to star in their upcoming sitcom “That ’70s Show.”
He dropped out of college to take the role. Although he had no formal training as an actor, Grace says he’s learned a lot since then.
“Doing a sitcom is like a graduate school in acting,” he says. “It’s wonderful because you can kind of suck at the beginning and it’s not really your fault as long as you’re Darwinian about it and you evolve. Then you’re OK.”
He signed on for a seventh season of the sitcom, but after next year he plans to pursue other roles, maybe even go back and finish college.
Being “the other guy”Meanwhile, he’s banking on “Win a Date ...” and hoping audiences appreciate his effort to dodge the romantic-comedy cliche of being “the other guy.”
“There’s an interpretation of this character where he is already flawed for some reason and has to overcome that flaw, but I wanted to make him a great, normal, ambitious guy who maybe had a chance to ask her out in fifth grade and blew it.
“He’s a victim of nothing but circumstance, you know? No matter how good-looking you are, if Brad Pitt starts dating this girl you like, you’re in trouble.”
Grace plays a regular guy whose small-town true love is wooed by a Hollywood actor.
“You know when you wonder is that person really like that? Most of the time they’re not in Hollywood,” he says.
For instance, Grace says, his “Win a Date ...” co-star Kate Bosworth, who plays the young lady from West Virginia who wins a night on the town with her favorite movie hunk (former “All My Children” soap opera star Josh Duhamel) is just as goofy, sweet and bubbly in real life.
An “old soul”But is Grace like his screen alter egos?
He definitely has his Formanisms, a dry sense of humor and a relaxed, eyes-half-open attitude. But Grace, who gets his nickname from the latter half of Christopher, doesn’t seem nearly as desperate or comically unhinged as the small-town grocer he plays in “Win a Date ...”
Above all, he seems confident — and scrupulously careful.
“He’s got an old soul,” said friend Ginnifer Goodwin who co-starred with him in “Mona Lisa Smile” and plays his gal pal in “Win a Date ...”
And Ashton Kutcher says his super-serious “That ’70s Show” co-star wasn’t interested in being a practical joke victim on the celebrity prank show “Punk’d,” recalling:
“He said to me, ‘If you ever put me on your show I won’t sign off on it, so it won’t even matter.”’