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I'm Listening: Kelsey Grammer Talks Frasier, Ten Years On
Everyone’s favourite radio psychiatrist opens up for the show’s anniversary

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"Goodnight, Seattle," Frasier Crane intoned in the Season 11 episode of the same name, the 264th and final instalment of the urbane sit-com. Shortly before, the radio shrink had quoted from the Alfred Lord Tennyson poem Ulysses, reflecting on the triumphs and travails he'd experienced while on air at KACL. The moment was both meta and emotionally charged: the series had been a rollercoaster ride for star Kelsey Grammer too, seeing him reach dizzy heights of fame and fortune, but also work through a divorce and substance abuse problems.

A decade has passed since that series finale aired on TV. Fortunately, Grammer proves more than willing to reminisce. His trademark booming laugh is pleasingly in abundance as he calls Empire from California. While we're more used to hearing him probe callers for their deepest secrets, this time we turn the tables…

A version of this interview ran in Empire Magazine Issue #293 (November 2013).

I'm Listening: Kelsey Grammer Talks Frasier, Ten Years On

Do you and Frasier share a lot of traits? Apparently your mother signed you up for Leonard Bernstein concerts when you were only two years old…
Ah, yes. They were a singular joy in my life. There were three a year – they corresponded with school seasons – and we did them for several years. It was fantastic. And it was all my mom’s doing. So I do have an appreciation for the higher arts, although I’m not an opera fan. It’s not for a lack of trying – I have sat down and tried to get into the key works. But I haven’t saturated myself in that world like Frasier did.

How about wine?
I’m not the vinophile he was, though I like a good glass of wine from time to time. The closest I’ve ever come to spending a fortune on a bottle was sitting with a buddy at Arnie Morton’s steakhouse on New Year’s Eve. We raided their cellar a little bit and had three really wonderful bottles. That was the biggest wine bill I ever had!

Famously, instead of making Frasier, you nearly very starred in a show about a bedbound millionaire…
I think Frasier might not be averse to sneaking into a Transformers movie!
Yeah, that’s right. I was going to be a mogul who’d had a motorcycle accident – I think the writers were inspired by the fact I used to ride one myself. And the whole pilot script was about him running his empire from bed, with this staff buzzing around him all the time while he recovered. Fortunately, John Pike, the president of Paramount TV, read it and said, “You know, Kelsey, I think a comedy should be funny.” Personally, I thought that idea had some juice to it. There was a great thumbing of the nose when we made the episode of Frasier where I get sick and stay in bed.

I'm Listening: Kelsey Grammer Talks Frasier, Ten Years On

Frasier was a supporting character in Cheers. How did you adjust to becoming the star?
Honestly, I had a great example in Ted Danson, who was a great leading man and a great centre of a show. He was generous and kind and efficient and gracious. So I just tried to emulate that. I understood that my obligation now was to not always be the funniest presence in the show, but to always be a grounding one. Once you’re carrying a show, you have to have more of an authenticity. You can’t always be as crazy as you want to be.

What do you remember about first meeting the cast?
About five days before we shot the pilot, we all got together for a read-through. And we all just clicked. Though we did have Lisa Kudrow as Roz for the first two days. She was lovely, but we just couldn’t figure out how to integrate her style into the show. So we went with Peri Gilpin, and of course she ended up being indelible in the role. Lisa did okay anyway! Friends took off the next year, and she was lovely in it. It was certainly the best thing for both shows.

So without you Friends might not have taken off either?
And NBC might have been in the toilet so many years earlier!

Which of the Frasier cast cracked you up the most?
Now this is a little bit silly, but I tend to crack myself up the most. I’m very unprofessional. I just can’t seem to stop. There are several episodes in which you can catch me still laughing. The one about the Hungarian goose where I say, “It’s not my date: it’s dinner!” – I could never get through that. A couple of times I do an impression of Bette Davis. We were very silly. But they were all so lovely. We would all revel in it when they were on fire and being funny. Watching David [Hyde Pierce] and John [Mahoney] together was always a presumptive joy, and my participation in the show was the best thing that ever happened to me. They were the happiest 11 years of my life. People talk about my “difficulties”, shall we say, but honestly it was just a lovely time. Some of the things in my personal life were challenging at the time, but all that stuff worked out.

Did you feel the show ended at the right time?
I was ready to do one more year. James Arness was on primetime television playing the same character [in Gunsmoke] for 20 years, and between Frasier and Cheers I was too. I wanted to win that record, to go 21 seasons instead of 20. But it’s okay. I managed to let that dream go!

How did you celebrate the denouement?
We flew the whole cast and crew to Hawaii for a week. It was a good going away present. I personally paid for it – David Hyde Pierce chipped in too. It was a great way to celebrate the show, sitting by the ocean, drinking a cocktail.

I'm Listening: Kelsey Grammer Talks Frasier, Ten Years On

What’s the strangest place you’ve encountered a Frasier fan?
It happened in Africa once. I was by a river in the Maasai Mara and one of the tribesmen yelled, “Oi, Frasier!” You expect that in Boston, but not in Kenya. It was very funny: TV is a powerful thing. Like a geometric ratio, the longer a show it out there, the bigger it seems to get. Apparently Frasier is beloved in China too.

Have there been rumblings of a reunion?
There are several episodes in which you can catch me still laughing...
No-one has ever spoken to me about such a thing. It’s lovely to contemplate it, but it’s just not important. Honestly, I do wish we had done a couple more seasons, because there was something about it – I thought there was another life to it that I thought was actually really wonderful. But NBC were going through their transition at the time; their business model was changing to things produced in-house. We were an old-fashioned show in terms of the way it was put together, its business deal. “Animals That Turn On Their Masters”, that kind of thing, was starting to have more impact than scripted comedy. I always knew scripted comedy would make a comeback, but that reality crap lasted a little longer than I expected it to. They’ve struck a nice balance now, I think.

When did you last see any of the cast?
What’s great is that when we do re-meet it’s always a real occasion. There’s a closeness that still exists. That’s what you strive for as an actor. It’s ephemeral and fleeting and it is lovely when you see each other again. I saw David a couple of years ago – he saw La Cage Aux Folles and we had dinner together. And we saw John in 2012. David came to my wedding. So we’re still close.

Do you have a favourite episode?
One of my favourites was when Frasier was dating the supermodel zoologist, and after he’s blown the entire relationship says, “What do you think of me now?” It’s so twisted… and exactly what a guy would do! He was a tic-ridden devil from start to finish and so unlucky in love. That became what was charming about him. He just couldn’t seem to get along. I love the Christmas show, the one I directed called Merry Christmas, Mrs. Moskowitz. And I love the one where Frasier figures out that it was his mother who cheated on his father and finds it really upsetting. There was just a great love that existed between the members of this funny little family. I’m most fond of that, I guess. You actually believed that they could be brothers, that this man could have been a cop. I liked all those people.

You’re playing the baddie in Transformers: Age Of Extinction. What would Frasier make of the Transformers films?
Well, I think he might find them offensive in some ways, but there was always a bit of Frasier that wasn’t completely a snob. Occasionally he would discover his inner child and revel in it, so I think he might not be averse to sneaking into a Transformers movie!

Interview by Nick de Semlyen

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