By Frank Barron
If Kelsey Grammer had never played any character other than Frasier Crane, it would have been considered a “career” in Hollywood. It was an enduring and profitable comedy career playing Dr. Crane for 20 years on both Cheers and Frasier, long running NBC sitcoms. But now a whole new career has opened up for Grammer in Boss, the dramatic new series airing Fridays on the Starz premium cable network. And the five-time Emmy-winning actor loves it.
As the title character on Boss, Grammer plays the corrupt Chicago Mayor Tom Kane, a double-crossing master manipulator committed to maintaining his power. Grammer compares his role with Iago, one of the greatest villains created by Shakespeare. He explains, “Iago is one of the most liked characters in Shakespeare’s canon, and he’s the most evil, most extraordinary, manipulative person in history. He says the worst, most politically incorrect things, even for the time the play is set in, and yet audiences adore that character.”
Because he sees a kind of similarity between Iago and the ruthless Mayor Kane, Grammer says, “He has been great for me to play. It’s almost supernatural for me because I approach the text every day we go to work as though I’ve never done anything like this before. So the discovery of this man as I work through him has been a discovery of things I’ve never done or said before. And it’s been probably the greatest time of my life creatively.”
Although best known for his comedy, Grammer reveals he started out doing classical theater, “playing tragedies. That was my first love. I think, honestly, this story is a tragedy. So that character in the center must be heroic in some way so that we wouldn’t mourn his passing. It’s a complex manner of telling stories, but it’s certainly a fun and exciting way to spend some time.”
The time is being spent filming in Chicago, the seat of power for Boss. The completely different setting has been a big help to embark on his dramatic voyage in the Windy City. The 56-year-old says, “I just took a break for a while. There were a lot of reasons I did, but in the last couple of years I decided I needed to make a life change. After what’s gone on in my personal life. And after my heart attack, which was three years ago, I spent the next several months sort of looking at my own life, and so I decided that it was time to make changes that involved my career as well as my personal life. And doing a drama started to make really good sense because it took me back to my roots. Back to things I believed in, telling good stories. That’s what I love to do. I love my work, and I love telling good stories and I have been given the blessing of being allowed to tell them on television. I’ll never leave if I’m allowed to do this kind of stuff for the rest of my life.”
Looking back on his successful work in Cheers and then Frasier, he says, “We had very artful, very creative people that helped us make that journey.”
The folks behind Boss are very creative too. The cast includes Connie Nielsen as his wife, Hannah Ware as his daughter, and Kathleen Robertson and Jeff Hephner as his ambitious political confidantes and pawns. Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting) is the director and executive producer, along with creator, writer, and executive producer Farhad Safinia. Grammer is also an executive producer, which really gives him the title of “boss” on the set.
The real “boss” at the Starz cable network is Chris Albrecht, the former head of HBO, who was the architect of so many successful, stellar productions. Albrecht gave a pickup order for a second season of Boss before the show’s debut, showing unflinching support. The show joins the other impressive Starz series, such as Spartacus and Torchwood. And at the summer television critics press tour, Albrecht announced upcoming new series, “Magic City, set at a glamorous Miami hotel in the ’50s. And we’re in preproduction on a show called Noir, brought to us by the Spartacus production team, Rob Tapert, Josh Donen, and Sam Raimi. It is in the graphic-novel vein. We’re trying to create an interesting look here and bring something special to our subscribers.”