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Topher Grace: ‘I Had Enough Money’ From ‘That ’70s Show’ to Stop Making Studio Films and Start Working With Auteurs

Spike Lee's "BlacKkKlansman" and David Robert Mitchell's "Under the Silver Lake" are the only two American films competing at Cannes, and Topher Grace stars in both of them.

Topher Grace

Topher Grace and Spike Lee

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You wouldn’t expect former sitcom star Topher Grace to be one of the faces of American cinema at the world’s most prestigious film festival, but such is the case at Cannes this year. The actor appears in the only two U.S. films competing for the Palme d’Or, Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” and David Robert Mitchell’s “Under the Silver Lake,” but coming to Cannes for the first time with two high profile movies is no accident on his part. As Grace told IndieWire’s Eric Kohn at Cannes during a conversation at the American Pavilion, working with auteurs like Lee and Mitchell has become his golden rule when signing on to projects.

“You see a film like ‘It Follows’ and you say to yourself, ‘I’ll do anything to work like an auteur like this,'” Grace said. “The same thing is true with Spike. For me, five or six years ago, I looked around at my life and I had just met the woman who is now my wife. I was feeling really confident and good, and it occurred to me that I was really lucky to have been on a sitcom for a lot of years. I realized then that I didn’t really need a lot more money.”

The realization, which he admitted sounds terribly cocky, changed the direction of Grace’s career. The actor starred as Eric Forman for seven seasons of the popular Fox comedy series “That ’70s Show,” which continues to air in syndication on cable. Grace remembered telling his agents, “I don’t want to do anything but work with auteurs,” which didn’t go over so well. Grace was told that making this choice would mean taking smaller parts for not a lot of money, but a big paycheck was no longer a concern for Grace.

“I didn’t care [about the size of the role or the salary]. It’s what I wanted to do with my life,” Grace said. “The most wonderful thing about having two movies here at Cannes, which is a total coincidence, is that I feel like it’s a confirmation of how I’ve been working with for the past few years. I just want to work with people where I see their film and go: ‘I will do whatever your next film is.” I don’t have to sit there and decide if it’s going to be good or not.”

Lee and Mitchell are the latest names Grace has added to his list of auteur collaborations, a list that also includes Christopher Nolan (“Interstellar”) and David Michôd (“War Machine”). Grace also had a supporting turn opposite Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford in “Zodiac” screenwriter James Vanderbilt’s directorial debut “Truth.” Although most moviegoers will always associate the actor with his infamous turn as Eddie Brock/Venom in “Spider-Man 3,” Grace no longer has a desire to be a part of studio tentpoles.

“I don’t want to slam it, because it really works for some people, but I think it’s financially motivated,” Grace said about stepping away from studio films. “If you play the same thing over and over again, it’s very easy to make it a commodity: ‘We know what that guy does, so we can pay him to do it over and over again.’ It’s not financially a good decision to keep changing it up on the audience, but for me personally it gives me the chance to work with creatives. You feel so much more alive than doing things that are preprogrammed.”

Grace’s role in “Under the Silver Lake” is minor, but his work as Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke in “BlacKkKlansman” earned rave reviews after the film premiered at Cannes. Both films open in theaters this summer, with “Lake” landing on June 22 and “BlacKkKlansman” opening August 10. Other projects Grace has lined up for the future include the Blumhouse thriller “Delirium.”

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