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Topher Takes Us Back

Topher Grace doffs the flares and tips his hat to the best decade for teen movies in Take Me Home Tonight.



In case you haven’t noticed, John Hughes is back. The pop culture of the 80s has been of interest for nearly a decade at this point, and recent films such as Adventureland and It’s Kind Of A Funny Story have channeled that era’s most prolific teen-oriented filmmaker in varying ways. The Hughes revival gets furthered this week with the release of Take Me Home Tonight, a film whose star and producer, Topher Grace, has made explicit reference to Hughes as an inspiration.


A comedy but with dramatic elements, a fun piece of entertainment but with real characters, Take Me Home Tonight aims for a level of authenticity and sincerity not often found in Hollywood films geared at younger audiences. Judd Apatow’s crew may currently hold the comedic reins in town, but those excessive comedies have left a gap where more character-oriented comedies once existed. Take Me Home Tonight plants itself squarely in that realm, with impressive results—real, live characters, for a change.


The film stars Grace as Matt Franklin, a recent MIT graduate who is trying to figure out his next step while he spends his time working at a local video store, living with his parents. Anna Faris, one of our most underrated comedic actresses (see Smiley Face if you don’t know what I’m talking about) gets to take a somewhat dramatic turn as his sister, and Dan Fogler and Teresa Palmer round out the cast as Matt’s wacky sidekick and love interest, respectively. I had the chance to sit down with Grace recently to speak with him about the picture, his first producing credit (Grace also co-wrote the film’s story).



Tribeca: I don’t know how much detail you can go into about this, but I found it interesting that—
I read that the film was set up at Universal, but you had to take the film from them and bring it to Relativity, a smaller distributor, because Universal demanded you take out the cocaine usage.

Topher Grace
: Yeah, that’s basically the story. It was really Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, the big producers on the film. Ron had been in a film like this, American Graffiti, that had some controversy around it. Every decade has one. That was about the late 50s-early 60s, made in the 70. Dazed and Confused, no one like the pot in it—that was in the 90s, about the 70s—and there’ll be a movie in ten years made about the 90s, and no one will like the ecstasy that’s in that. But I think if you pull your punches, none of it will feel real. You can’t make a movie about prohibition and not have alcohol in it. If you have a movie about kids partying in Beverly Hills in the 80s, somebody’s gonna be doing coke.


Tribeca: It’s almost shocking that they would have had a problem with it in the first place. If you’re gonna do an 80s film—it’s funny, the film worked in all of these elements of the 80s without making it feel like a parody or anything.


Topher Grace: That’s what we were after, we didn’t want to spoof anything. To make a movie like Dazed and Confused, like American Graffiti, about the end of a period in time. Both of those films take place at the end of those eras. American Graffiti is like, right before they head off to Vietnam. It’s like the last vapors of cruising, drinking and driving, drag racing, all that stuff. So that’s why we put ours in ’88. And we wanted to tip our hats to a lot of 80s films.



Tribeca: Movies have been made about teenagers for a long time, but there’s something about 80s teen movies that seems to particularly resonate.


Topher Grace: Yeah. It was kind of like, we thought, how would we do a John Hughes movie today? I just spent the summer working with Richard Gere, and I learned so much. Dennis Quaid, you learn so much. They’re like the CEOs of acting. But I love my peer group. Anna especially I really wanted to work with. Dan I’d seen here on Broadway. Demetri Martin is someone I really love. I really wanted to work with people while they were in bloom. While they’re having their moment, kind of. I guess my producing partner had the idea—if we did a Dazed and Confused type movie, the math would bring us back to the 80s teen movie. And we thought, we can kind of do both. And that’s when we realized we couldn’t make fun of it. I love movies that spoof the 80s, but it’s been done.

Tribeca: Were you too young for the John Hughes stuff the first time around?


Topher Grace: Yeah, I guess I was watching it in the early 90s. It was all classic to me, I thought it was amazing. That’s kind of how I know the 80s.




Tribeca: One thing that’s interesting about the picture is how it’s actually rather contemporary. Your character’s dilemma—his aimlessnessreminded me a lot about what’s constantly being written about Generation Y, the Millennials, in terms of the invention of the quarter-life crisis phenomenon and whatnot. 


Topher Grace: That’s something Dazed and Confused and American Graffiti also did—they took contemporary protagonists and set them in those eras. There has to be some commentary—twenty years have gone by. But that commentary becomes wacky if you’re too obvious with it; I think if you’re subtle you can say a lot more. Ron Howard’s character in American Graffiti was more like a guy from the 70s; Jeremy London in Dazed and Confused is a straight up 90s slacker.


I would say Matt Franklin is a beautiful swan now, getting out of college at a time when no one knows what they want to do, but we thought the 80s would be great for that kind of story. We thought, he’d be a beautiful swan in 1992—the recession has already started, they just don’t know it yet—but they’re still living on the last vapors of it.


Tribeca: There’s this major careerist vibe to the atmosphere.


Topher Grace: Oh yeah. When he goes to a party, we thought, what’s an element that would heighten his conflict with himself? Everyone’s like a banker, right out of college. That’s not happening anymore.


Tribeca: How do you go about situating yourself in that mindset, being so completely lost, aimless?


Topher Grace: Well, I certainly had periods of time where I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But not at that age, because I guess at that age, [That 70s Show] had been on for a couple years, so it had been decided, what I was gonna do, by that period in time.




Tribeca: How old were you when it started?


Topher Grace: I was 19 when I signed a contract to do it for seven years.


Tribeca: Wow. That’s intense.


Topher Grace: Yeah, it is intense. But the good part of it is, I was looking at my friends, being like, what is that like? The freedom to not know? A lot of my friends were getting out of college, having the opposite problem I had. I wanted more free time to explore myself. I had a lot of friends, like Matt, who were smarter than me, almost closing down options to themselves because they were so smart. It’s the end of structure. You can do anything you want, and Matt’s struggling. It’s kind of the opposite of my life experience. But I do have a lot of friends who have been in that zone. I was a part of the development of the script, so I was pretty aware of what his journey was, able to figure out what the character was thinking.


Take Me Home Tonight
hits theaters this Friday. Get tickets and download the Best Night Ever app.


Watch the trailer:



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