How about downtown Chicago on a bustling summer day? Last Friday, as he shot a pivotal scene from the upcoming Starz drama 'Boss' on the sidewalk outside Chicago's City Hall, Kelsey Grammer had almost no privacy. But the actor didn't appear to need a buffer, let alone a wall of bodyguards. He affably talked to passersby during breaks from the afternoon shoot, and genially posed for photos with anyone who asked.
After he'd wrapped for the day, he sat down for an interview in which he talked about the similarities between his own life as a public figure and the intensely scrutinized lives of politicians like Mayor Tom Kane, his character on 'Boss.'
"My life's been covered for the last 25 years -- everything, every moment, every single pitfall," Grammer said.
He didn't talk in depth about the tabloid stories that have dissected his personal life -- nor did I want to ask -- but Grammer himself brought up the parallels between the character and his own life. As Grammer explained, his decades of fame have given him a certain perspective on the lives of politicians, who are under scrutiny 24/7 in the modern political culture.
"Your privacy is a casualty of fame," Grammer said, without a trace of rancor. "It does get tiresome sometimes, but not people, not [the public]. It's the garbage stuff that gets nasty. I've never had a problem with a single person" who came up to him in public.
The intersection between private and public will be very much a part of 'Boss's' exploration of Mayor Kane, who is balancing a complex family life, a bruising political agenda and a personal secret that has affected his future.
I haven't seen any episodes, but based on the comments the actor made about the show, I'm not expecting a premium-cable take on 'The Good Wife' or an unambitious political soap opera. Grammer, who is an executive producer on the project, compared it to 'King Lear,' and he noted that setting 'Boss' in Chicago was really the only option for the show, which premieres Oct. 21. In fact, he noted that one of his major jobs as a producer was to do some "arm-twisting" to make sure that the show was shot in the Windy City.
"As we discussed where to set the show months ago, Chicago really seemed like the only choice," Grammer said. "For a while, [the producers and creator Farhad Safinia] talked about Washington... but it steered itself toward Chicago quite naturally. I never want this to come out sounding the wrong way, but it is as though this is sort of a magical kingdom that rises out of the plains. And that lends itself perfectly to the idea of King Lear, castles, kingdoms... the idea that this man truly looks at himself as the heartbeat of his kingdom."
Chicagoans know a thing or two about outsized politicians. In fact, we regularly send them to jail (or we at least try to). But Grammer said the Kane we'll see in season 1's eight episodes isn't necessarily a bad guy.
"He's a courageous, divisive, underhanded, highly moral -- it's a set of contradictions that reflects probably the city and the human condition all at the same time, which sounds a little too grand," Grammer said with a laugh. "I mean, he's a creep and he's a knight for good. He's all of those things."
Does he worry that audiences won't accept him as a very different kind of character? Given that former sitcom star Bryan Cranston has picked up a ton of awards for his role on 'Breaking Bad' and Ted Danson of 'Cheers' will be starring in 'CSI' next fall, it seems like a diminishing concern, but an issue that Grammer has clearly thought about.
"You know, it takes people a little time. Maybe they've had enough time to absorb the idea that playing something else is possible," Grammer said. "We designed the show to let them come to terms with the new character. In the very first moment, it's a quiet moment where he receives some extraordinary news, and I think by the end of a single [close-up shot], you're willing to go from, 'Oh yeah, I know who that guy is' to, 'Oh he's this now.' And so that was quite deliberate in design and I hope it's effective."
But is 'Boss' at least a little funny (and Grammer is the first to admit that his last sitcom, 'Hank,' "wasn't funny")? Given how good Grammer is when it comes to comedy, it'd be a shame if those skills went to waste.
"Oh, there are a lot of dry, very dark funny things that happen," Grammer said. "Unfortunately, we've cut a few of them in the first [episode], but I think people will catch on. This guy has a sense of humor about what he does. I mean, he knows what he's doing. He knows when he's being bad and he knows when he's being good."
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