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Topher Grace had no qualms about thinking outside the box to land his pivotal role in the Robert Redford–Cate Blanchett drama Truth.
The James Vanderbilt-directed film, opening Friday in select theaters, stars Redford as Dan Rather and Blanchett as his 60 Minutes producer Mary Mapes and takes place amid the flap following the show’s 2004 news story about then-president George W. Bush‘s time in the National Guard. Grace co-stars as the CBS newsmagazine’s researcher Mike Smith, who is particularly passionate that their story about Bush get told.
Grace, who appeared in this summer’s Kristen Stewart thriller American Ultra and currently is shooting a part in Netflix’s Brad Pitt-starring satire War Machine, tells The Hollywood Reporter that he nabbed his Truth role after sending producers an unsolicited audition tape through Vimeo that he filmed with his fiancee.
Grace also talks about CBS refusing to show ads for Truth, Pitt’s War Machine skipping the typical distribution model and his take on the backlash against 2007’s Spider-Man 3, in which Grace played Venom.
How did you get involved with Truth?
It’s an excellent script that James Vanderbilt wrote — he wrote Zodiac, which is one of my favorite films. And then to know that Mary Mapes is going to be played by Cate Blanchett. My favorite film of all time is [Redford’s] All the President’s Men. So for there to be a journalistic thriller, and he’s in it, I just thought, “What an amazing thing — and I’m not going to get it.” I knew I wasn’t going to get it. I’m not even sure if I would be on the list. But I said to my agents, “I’ll put my ego aside. Tell me the truth: What do I have to do?” And they said, “What if you make a tape?” [So] my lovely fiancee sat with me — first, I had to get off-book on [a major scene]. We made a tape, and I’m like screaming at her [in the scene]. (Laughs.) But the beautiful thing about Vimeo is you can send it in instantly. [And then] I loved every minute of being on the set.
Did you get feedback from the real-life subjects of the film?
Mary and Dan came down to the set in Australia. We actually all went and had a dinner, which was easily the most intimidating dinner I’ve ever been at. (Laughs.) Bob and Cate and Dan and Mary and me — they started talking about current events, and I was like, “I’m just going to sit this one out. You guys do your thing.” And they were on set, and we were talking a lot about what had happened. Mary gave me Mike’s email address, [but previously] I had had a bad experience meeting someone that I was playing before I did the movie. I thought it had colored maybe that performance a little too much. So I went, “OK, I don’t want to meet [Mike] before the film.” But we spoke over email [afterward]. I apologized that forever he’ll be linked with the kid from That ‘70s Show.
What is your take on CBS banning ads for the film?
The truth of the situation, without trying to sound diplomatic, is it has nothing to do with me. I’m happy if it brings more attention to the film. (Laughs.) That can happen. Jaws was so terrifying, they said at the end of the Jaws trailer, “You have to say, ‘May not be suitable for children,’ ” so it became the biggest blockbuster of all time. (Sarcastically:) And there’s no way this isn’t at least twice as big as Jaws is. (Laughs.) [But] when you’re not the lead of the film — I’m rarely the actual lead of a film — one of the good things about that is that you never have to fully worry about that stuff. The fact that it is coming out and that people are going to see it is a huge win for this kind of film.
Spider-Man 3 director Sam Raimi recently did a podcast where he said the film didn’t turn out the way he was hoping it would. What’s your memory of making the film, and what do you think of the final result?
I know the movie did well for Sony, but I also know a lot of people weren’t happy with it. I think Sam is so talented. I remember one time I was on ninth unit. (Laughs.) Ninth unit? It’s like he’s running a small country. This summer, there was a movie like that, where people are just slamming a big studio movie. I would love to see anyone who’s slamming one of those movies try to fit in Sam Raimi’s position. He was like the president of a small country — by the way, it had the gross national income of a small country, too. I have huge respect for him. I think, on a whole, he did such a fantastic job [on that trilogy].
With American Ultra, how was it to work on a Kristen Stewart film? Is there extra scrutiny, or do fans try to watch the shoots?
There wasn’t where we shot that, in New Orleans — we were out in the middle of nowhere. But all these people — I’ve worked with a lot of great people lately — who are icons, they all have one thing in common, is they’re too good, and they just don’t have any time for any bs. I worked with Brad [Pitt] earlier in the Ocean’s movies, I had these cameos. I remember I had a day with him and George Clooney, and I was sitting there going, “Oh man, there’s no off-set drama because they’re so smart.” I would say the same thing’s true of Kristen — Jesse Eisenberg‘s like that [too].
You’re co-starring with Brad Pitt in War Machine, which Netflix is producing and distributing. How do you feel about the film not following the traditional distribution model?
Netflix, they’ve been amazing producers on this thing, and they’re paying a good amount of money for something really cool and great to be made that I’m not sure that a different studio would have paid for. But I really admire Netflix for saying, “We’ll let [director] David [Michod] have this artistic [license].” Every actor on it is grateful because we’re all able to do something that — I don’t know where else we would do it.
Have you met Ashton [Kutcher] and Mila [Kunis‘] daughter?
I haven’t! (Laughs.) I’ve been out of the country. One was in Australia; this one’s in London. I feel like I’m existing on FaceTime and Skype right now.
What are your thoughts on That ‘70s Show‘s legacy? It’s interesting that the whole cast still is working so steadily.
Yes, that is the best part of the show, looking back. I loved those kids so much. I feel like all of them have found great personal success and great success in the business. I knew it back then because I thought, “Everyone is so talented.” And then I saw [Laura Prepon in] Orange Is the New Black, and I went, “That doesn’t surprise me — she’s amazing.” And [Kunis in] Black Swan, and Danny [Masterson] and Ashton are doing [their upcoming Netflix] show now together — I can’t wait to see that!
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