With his stentorian voice and pompous whiff of erudition, Kelsey Grammer cemented a spot in TV history playing Dr. Frasier Crane for 20 years, first on Cheers and then on Frasier. But now, since Grammer’s 2011-12 Starz series Boss effectively pressed reset on his career, the performer is intent on leaving his comically bloated persona behind with a suite of new television and movie projects.
Among them: co-starring in the FX Network series Partners (set to begin airing in August), a supporting role in the ensemble action-thriller The Expendables 3 (hitting multiplexes Aug. 15) and a deliciously type-smashing turn as the primary non-robotic villain in Transformers: Age of Extinction, which just opened.
He spoke to The Los Angeles Times:
You rode in a tank at the Cannes Film Festival with Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mel Gibson.
Yeah, promoting The Expendables 3, we rode a tank down the [main Boulevard de la] Croisette. It was the first time tanks have been allowed on the streets of France since World War II! Expendables was an unexpected pleasure this year. Just as nice a guy as can be is Sylvester Stallone.
In the film, it’s him, Harrison Ford, Jet Li, Jason Statham, Wesley Snipes and … Kelsey Grammer. One of these things is not like the others.
I had to campaign to get into Stallone’s movie. It was the start of a fantastic friendship. They’re talking about [No.] 4, and I’m doing it. I said, “Let’s get me fighting this time.”
So have you always wanted to kick butt on film?
I have this theory about my career: I always keep people guessing. I’ve got the time to do it now. I’ve got a new life with my wife, Kayte, and a couple more kids. It’s really exciting. I need to be at home. Film makes it easier.
I worked four days in Bulgaria for Expendables. Doing Transformers, I shot 30 days spread out over six months: Detroit, Chicago and Hong Kong. Hong Kong, took the family with me. It was really lovely.
Is that emphasis on family what distinguishes this time in your career?
For 20 years, I was just doing a television show. But my life didn’t lend itself to being available for ’em. Some things were at home, and some were just my personal tastes at the time. I like this new phase of my life where I can try a whole bunch of things.
In “Boss,” you played a corrupt Chicago mayor, and you’re the bad guy in “Transformers.” Why didn’t you start twirling your proverbial mustache earlier?
I just ended up making money in the funny. Boss really changed the perception. I think it may have been a clip of the first season of Boss that convinced Michael Bay I could handle this.
“Frasier” hangs over everything else you do. Was the idea to show people you have other dimensions?
In England, they’re easier about performers going from movies to TV to theater. That’s the life I’ve always wanted. Frasier did cast a big shadow. Reasonably so. It was a great show, a good performance. I’m very proud of it. I live the way I live because of it. But I’m an actor. I observe the human experience and get to relate that observation through different characters.
You’ve filmed 10 episodes of your new series, “Partners,” under an agreement with FX to produce 90 more fairly quickly if the show takes off. Why take a 10/90 deal instead of going the usual series route?
You’ve got to get to 100 shows to get to any kind of remuneration and have it be worth the time. So you get there sooner this way, in under two years. It’s more of a challenge. But I don’t want to play another character for five or six years.
People will still think, “Oh, there’s that guy that played Frasier.” But he’s a little less principled.
Your character is a lawyer who’s been fired from his father’s firm and teams up with Martin Lawrence’s bleeding heart character on the show?
The guy I play needs a new reputation. He’s known as a charlatan and a shark and a schmuck. The guy Martin plays has gone the way of least resistance as well. He wants to be a do-gooder, but he has no money. Together, they’re a pretty lethal team.
Where does theater fit into things?
I did La Cage Aux Folles in New York four years ago. It’s when Kayte and I met and fell in love. It’s why we got married on the stage where I did the play. But it was really demanding. You want to lose weight, go do a stage play. You always lose 10 pounds.
The next thing for me is a musical. I don’t know if it’s appropriate to talk about it yet. It’s something Harvey Weinstein is doing that’d be next year. There are two film scripts I’m trying to write. I know I said I’m not a writer. But maybe that’s my next thing. I don’t think you should ever quit trying. And that’s what it comes down to.