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Emmys 2012: Worst Jobs, Career Highs and (TMI!) On-Stage Accidents at the Drama Actors Roundtable

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THR: One thing that is interesting, Kelsey, is that those shows, Cheers and Frasier, were both huge broadcast hits

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Grammer: I'm responsible for the success of both of those shows. (Laughter.)

THR: You're doing great work on a new show, but audience expectations are much lower. Is that a relief or is that a disappointment?

Grammer: Well, if it was HBO it wouldn't be a relief; it would be, "You're on the chopping block." But because it's Starz, you have an opportunity to kind of brand the network. I think there is a more generous, open expectation about it. When you get some good response, you get some critical acclaim; they believe the numbers will follow. That's where we're at right now. We'll see how it goes. (Laughter.)

Hamm: There's no metric established at this point. There is no way to measure how people consume television anymore, whether they're downloading to their phone or they're DVR-ing it to watch a week later or they're buying a season of it on iTunes or they're waiting for the DVD, whatever.

Lewis: There's no correlation between numbers and reputation and recognition.

Sutherland: The ambiguity is fantastic. When I call home I can tell my mom, "It's much bigger than you think it is and much better than you think. Huge DVR numbers."

Lewis: You guys are on shows that have been talked about by everybody everywhere. You get the sense that 250 million people are watching it for the amount of people that talk about it.

THR: The head of AMC, Charlie Collier, calls Mad Men a lifestyle brand. What do you think when you hear something like that?

Grammer: I think, "You're fired." How do you come up with such an odd little phrase?

Hamm: I see what he's saying. In a sense there is a deeper impact of the show.

Cranston: My show is definitely a lifestyle brand. A lifestyle no one wants!

Sutherland: [To Cranston] I remember watching your show and wondering how long would it really take to learn how to make crystal really well? I wondered how many chemistry teachers thought, "That's a great idea."

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Cranston: There have been some copycat situations around the country. We do montage scenes like that and we purposefully put the order out of place so we don't make a "how to" video. (Laughter.)

THR: What is the best or worst career advice you got when you were starting out?

Hamm: My favorite thing I was told was after testing for my seventh network in a pilot season: I was told by the head of the network that I would never be a television star.

Grammer: Probably because you didn't put out.

Cranston: Or because he did. (Laughter.) As he's buckling his pants, "You are never going to be a TV star, not with that kind of performance."

Krause: Robert Guillaume on Sports Night had a great aside. He saw that I was getting uptight -- the director was really hounding me about something -- and said, "Just nod your head, say OK and do what the f-- you want."

Grammer: I like to pretend that I'm too stupid to understand. (Laughter.) "This is all I got!"

Lewis: Good advice for me was, "Don't do a press junket instead of a job." A lot of pressure was put on me by a studio to do one of these global press junkets, go to Paris for the weekend. I turned down a great theater job I really wanted to do because of the pressure brought to bear of doing this junket. Never, never, never do press instead of doing something creative.

Sutherland: I love the press!

Grammer: There was an old actor named G. Wood I shared a dressing room with, and he said to me,"You know, Kelsey, eventually all your competition dies." Bob Hope's was, "Never go onstage without your money." And I think the best piece of advice was Jack Benny on Johnny Carson: "I always play up to my audience." I've hung on to that one throughout my career. They are smarter than we think they are, and they always will be.

Krause: You do right by them by choosing good material and showing up in between action and cut. It's an honor to show up.

Sutherland: The worst advice I ever took was back in the '80s. An agent was trying to tell me "less is more," and the perfect career would be to do one film every three to five years. (Laughter.) I took the advice, for once, and it took me another two years to remind anybody who I was. "I like Montana, but what am I doing here?" It took me a decade to recover from that one.

Cranston: Did Rob Lowe give you that advice? (Laughter.) I didn't go to college. I didn't train in theater. I was on the streets of Hollywood doing one workshop and class after another. I would go into an audition thinking, "I want to get this job. I want this job." And every time you don't get the job, it was a little chink out of you. Finally I had this cognition that, "Oh my God, what am I doing? I'm not trying to just get a job." And everything changed. When I realized my job was to kind of create an interesting character from the text, present it and walk away, that was my golden moment.

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THR: What other role on TV would each of you like to play?

Lewis: Don Draper. I'm in love with this guy [to Hamm].

Cranston: But he's never going to work in TV. (Laughter.)

Krause: I've always wanted to do something like 24. It's nice to be the hero and not the antihero or the conflicted guy.

Sutherland: It was.

Cranston: I have an offer to do the British Prime Minister in a play.

Hamm: Margaret Thatcher? Really? I think you got it. (Laughter.)

Cranston: I like the idea of going to comedy and doing drama and changing it up. Kelsey had that. The ability to go back and forth is very lucky.

THR: What would you tell your 20-year-old self about getting into show business?

Krause: Get in sooner. I was almost 25 when I got my first gig out here in 1990. I think the opportunities for actors are greater now. When I look at what we're all doing right now, it didn't exist back then.

Lewis: I sat down with a film exec the other day, and he said, "Are you interested in doing films?" That question would never have happened 10 years ago. We are starting to make our films seasonally now, in hiatuses in order to get talent that we want back out of TV and into film.

Cranston: There used to be such a separation …

Sutherland: They haven't called me.

Grammer: I haven't had that conversation.

Sutherland: No one is working around my hiatus.

Krause: That's a great thing about TV if you're an actor who loves acting. You have a place to do your thing.

Hamm: Which is so rare. You said your first gig was at 25, mine was probably 27 or 28. After being out here for three or four years, it was such a luxury to have. I'm sure you [to Sutherland] had days where you look at the week and say, "I have to run around and do all this crazy shit," but you get to do what you set out to do. There are so many people who don't have that, still grinding away, haven't had a break. So it's a luxury. I love going to work.

Cranston: I don't think any of us have been without this experience where you start to feel, "Ugh, it's the 14th hour." Then you see someone actually digging a ditch. You realize how lucky we are.

Grammer: We work hard. I do think we work hard.

Cranston: But at something we love. That makes a huge difference.

Grammer: We don't work more than 10 hours in a day on Boss.

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Cranston: Really? Is that contractual? I've got to do that. (Laughter.)

Krause: But you've pulled an 18- or 20-hour day at some point?

Grammer: Yeah, but they're counterproductive. You don't achieve anything.

THR: What is the strangest or worst job you had while you were trying to be an actor?

Grammer: I was once a security guard for a convention of high-tech stereo equipment at The Roosevelt Hotel. That was pretty awful. I was also a ditch digger. This guy would stand there and look at us and say, "All I want to see is asses and elbows."

Cranston: It's the same motto in show business.

Grammer: It's a really good way to look at it. I just want to see you working. Work hard. Get in the ditch and dig a f--ing hole.

Hamm: I briefly worked as a set dresser. We would shoot a 90-minute cable feature in seven days. It was basically soft-core porn, and strangely enough, the guy would say, "All I want to see is asses and elbows." It was depressing. A week into it, I was like, "This is the most depressing thing I've ever done. I've got to get out of this." I did, then did the play that turned into Kissing Jessica Stein. I met my girlfriend, and the rest is history.

Cranston: I was an interviewer at a dating service. They needed someone for the weekends, which was perfect for an actor. So, I worked Friday night, all day Saturday and Sunday. I would sit people down and have a little secret button. They're going through all their bullshit, "Well, I'm really a romantic and I love …" I would push the button when they were really, truly honest and interesting. They found love. It was fun.

Sutherland: I knew we'd met before. (Laughter.)

Cranston: Met before? We dated! (Laughter.)

Lewis: I had a job selling car alarms in South London gangland. It was a terrible three months.

Grammer: I was a Fuller Brush salesman when I had long hair. I was 16 years old. I bought a short wig, and I put my hair up in it.

Cranston: Wait. You wore a wig to high school because you had long hair?

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Grammer: By 10th grade we'd managed to remove the hair code. It was one of our big achievements. Student council said, "Screw it. We're going to grow our hair." We did, and then the principal said, "No. The hair code is back." "OK, fine, we will wear wigs." Throw it in the back of the car when I got out of school and dig around for it in the morning.

Sutherland: You won that one, Kelsey.

ABOUT THR'S ROUNDTABLE SERIES

Now in its sixth year, The Hollywood Reporter's Emmy Season Roundtable Series has emerged as the television industry's premier showcase for no-holds-barred discussions with the town's top talent. An offshoot of THR's popular Oscar series, the Emmy roundtables also have become predictors of academy winners: In fact, 23 of last year's roundtable participants earned nominations for acting in, writing, producing and hosting television's top series. Upcoming Roundtables: Check out THR during Emmy season for exclusive panels with comedy actors, comedy actresses, reality talent and executives.