Watch Topher Grace Embody KKK Leader David Duke in 'BlacKkKlansman'
"He's a horrible, evil man," Grace tells The Hollywood Reporter of playing the infamous white supremacist, while noting a few "eerily similar" mannerisms.
Days before the premiere of BlacKkKlansman, Focus Features released a preview from Spike Lee's latest film in which Topher Grace delivers a speech as David Duke, former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
In the clip, posted online Wednesday, Grace's Duke addresses fellow white supremacists at a KKK meeting. "Today we are privileged to be among white men and white women, such as yourselves — real warriors for the real America, the America that our ancestors fought and died for," he says. "The true white American race, the backbone, from whence came our great Southern heritage.
"And I want to thank you. I want to thank you so much for never putting your country second," he says.
He then adds: "America first, America first, America first."
At the movie's New York premiere Monday at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Harvey Theater, Grace opened up to The Hollywood Reporter about portraying Duke. During his initial research, the actor couldn't help but notice Duke and President Donald Trump's "eerily similar" mannerisms.
"A big part of my research going into playing Duke was watching old interviews," said Grace. "When I watched him on The Phil Donahue Show, he kept using the terms, 'America first' and 'Make America great again.' The parallels are insane."
Grace went on to say that he would have never agreed to playing Duke if it weren't for Lee directing the project, for which Lee also wrote the screenplay.
"I remember reading the script and thinking, 'There's only one guy I would feel safe playing this role for.' I didn't want to play David Duke in a TV movie of the week. I want to play David Duke in a Spike Lee joint," the That '70s Show alum explained. "[Duke is] a horrible, evil man. But as an actor, it's a juicy, wonderful role."
Asked what kind of reaction he anticipates from Duke — who, at 68, is still involved in the white supremacist movement, including last year's violent riots in Charlottesville, Virginia — Grace admitted he's "trying not to think about it."
BlacKkKlansman is based on the true story of Ron Stallworth (played by John David Washington), the African-American police officer who developed a close relationship with Duke over the phone in 1979 — and then tactfully infiltrated a Colorado chapter of KKK, exposing its plan to attack black people.
At Monday night's event, Grace also shared his thoughts on Lee's decision to include footage from the August 2017 Charlottesville rallies, in which white supremacists and neo-Nazis assembled to protest the removal of Confederate monuments throughout the South. The blatant display of hatred against people of color resulted in the death of Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old woman who was killed in a car attack at a peaceful counterprotest.
"The film starts with a shot of the Civil War and it ends with Charlottesville," said Grace. "There's only one filmmaker who can draw that line. This film is a piece of art. Like great artists, Spike made a piece of art that speaks to America and speaks to the current time."
Watch the video below. BlacKkKlansman is set to hit theaters Aug. 10, one day before the one-year anniversary of the Charlottesville riots.