To many, Topher Grace may still be best known for his role as Eric Forman on the late 1990s coming of age sitcom That '70s Show. But it's not like he's been resting on his laurels since then. Just in the past year, the actor has appeared in the Oscar-winning Spike Lee film BlacKkKlansman, and in a fifth season episode of Netflix's techno-pessimistic anthology series, Black Mirror.
And away from the camera, Grace hosts a podcast called Minor Adventures with Topher Grace, wherein he takes his friends from the entertainment industry out for a surprise activity — from undergoing a lie detector test with comedian Whitney Cummings to marrying a couple with actor Zachary Levi. In an interview Ophira Eisenberg, host of NPR's Ask Me Another, Grace joked that when he was initially approached about hosting his own podcast, nearly declined. "I'm too boring. Legitimately, I'm too boring," he said, on stage at the Bell House in Brooklyn, New York. "My wife and I always joke that if we did a reality show it would be about us watching reality shows."
Long before Grace became a professional actor, he was cast as the lead in the high school play during his senior year. It was there where he happened to be seen by the parents of one of his classmates who did set design for school production — they happened to well-known Hollywood producers and screenwriters Bonnie and Terry Turner. Later, during his first year of college at the University of Southern California, Grace was cold-called by Bonnie Turner, who encouraged him to audition for the lead in her latest project, which would become That '70s Show, Unprepared to try out for such a serious acting job, Topher showed up, not with the typical professional headshot, but rather "the picture was me and my friends just at Six Flags," he recalled. Still, he landed the part and he soon found himself on a hit show on Fox.
More recently, Grace has become something of a self-taught film editor. With a friend who edits trailers professionally, Grace once spent a full weekend cutting all ten Star Wars films into a single compact trailer. "This is how dorky it's gotten for us," he joked about how committed the two friends have become about a hobby-turned-job that stemmed from idle curiosity. After Disney representatives saw the trailer online, they reached out to Grace and offered to pay them to create something similar for the Toy Story franchise. "So now it's like a side-hustle kind of fun thing that we do," Grace explained. There are more projects in the works, but Grace acknowledged that they are, for now, under wraps, and protected by Non-Disclosure Agreements.
For his Ask Me Another challenge, Topher Grace was joined by Arturo Castro for a game that taps into his deep love of cereal — titled, Part of This Complete Breakfast.
JULIAN VELARD: This is ASK ME ANOTHER, NPR's hour of puzzles, word games and trivia. I'm Julian Velard. Now here's your host, Ophira Eisenberg.
OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:
Thank you, Julian. It's time to welcome our first special guest. He played Eric Forman on "That '70s Show," and you can see him in the latest season of "Black Mirror." And he's the host of a new podcast, "Minor Adventures With Topher Grace." Please welcome Topher Grace.
EISENBERG: Welcome to ASK ME ANOTHER.
TOPHER GRACE: Thank you so much for having me.
EISENBERG: You're doing a podcast now. You got into the podcast game.
EISENBERG: So you go on adventures with celebrities.
GRACE: A lot of times, it's someone I know. And we talk for 10 minutes. And they have no idea what they're going to do.
EISENBERG: Oh, yeah.
GRACE: And then we kind of spring on them - you know, today, we're going to be - like, Whitney Cummings came in, and we said, today, we have someone from the CIA. We're going to take a lie detector test. She went like, bye.
GRACE: But she stayed. And we had in Pete Holmes. And we had the guy who created Dothraki, and so we created a language together. And we had - Zach Levi came in, and we married a couple.
GRACE: It happened because I went on Anna Faris' podcast, which is another great podcast. Her producer took me out to lunch and said, I want to do your podcast. And I said, oh, I don't want to do a podcast. I'm too boring. Like, there's - I mean, legitimately, I'm too boring to - my wife and I always joke if we did a reality show, it would be about us watching reality shows.
GRACE: So we just once in a while chime in and be like, you know, he's not there for the right reasons or whatever.
GRACE: So with this, I kind of said, I don't think it's my thing. I'd just done "BlacKkKlansman." I was like, I'm not really looking to do that. And he said, no, I'm going to come up with a format. And this worked for me because I don't have to ask questions or do any research. I just kind of show up and go on this adventure with them, and it's kind of like I'm their buddy on the adventure.
EISENBERG: Right. So I guess like most people - first got to know you because I was a huge fan of "That '70s Show."
GRACE: Oh, thank you. That was my first audition. It was crazy.
EISENBERG: So you do a high school play, and then it's a couple of years later that you get this call.
GRACE: I was playing tennis in high school, and I was really - I'm not - this is going to shock you guys, but I'm not that much of an athlete.
GRACE: And I got onto the varsity team. I was so psyched. Then I sprained my ankle, so I couldn't do it. And I'd been in the play once or twice. And I thought, I'm going to try out for the lead in the play, and I got it. And the girl who did the sets, her parents were these huge Hollywood producers. And then the next year, I went to USC. They said, since you're in - can I tell a quick story?
EISENBERG: Yeah, of course.
GRACE: They called me in my dorm, and I was, like, wasted.
GRACE: And someone says, hi, it's Bonnie. Bonnie and Terry Turner wrote "Wayne's World" and "Tommy Boy," and they ran "SNL." I mean, these are - I knew they were a big deal. She said, hey, it's Bonnie. And I was like, hey. Like, who are you?
GRACE: She was like, no, you're - like, we - you know, like, I'm Lindsay's mom. And I was like, oh, detention, you know? And then she was cool enough to say, we have this thing. We want you to bring a headshot and a resume to this address and come try out for it. And I went, cool. So I show up with my resume. I had, like, Suncoast Video and, like, Dunkin Donuts.
GRACE: I remember the head of, like, Fox was like, who is this kid? And then the picture was me and my friends just at Six Flags, like...
EISENBERG: Like, the roller coaster shot or your own snap?
GRACE: No, it wasn't the roller...
GRACE: That would have been amazing (laughter). Just - the only prints I had. So that's where I was at at the beginning, yeah.
EISENBERG: And since that, I mean, you just continuously act all kinds of different roles. You did not get stuck in the loop of playing, you know, the lovable straight man nerd that you played.
GRACE: Oh, you didn't find David Duke to be kind of like a...
EISENBERG: And you're on the latest season of "Black Mirror."
EISENBERG: You play Billy Bauer, the CEO of a Twitter-like social network called Smithereen. Now, of course, the show plays on everybody's anxieties about technology and what is going to ruin our lives in media. Did it challenge any of your own feelings about social media?
GRACE: You know, what was great about the character - I don't want to spoil anything for anyone who hasn't seen it, but the character's kind of going through a relationship with his company that he's created that is very much like how I feel about social media, which is I - like, everyone has an iPhone. And then everyone now is going, wait. Am I spending too much time on this? Right? I mean, everyone, show of hands - who's conflicted about how much time they spend looking at their iPhone? OK, well...
EISENBERG: These guys are fine with it.
EISENBERG: Really? You guys aren't conflicted at all?
GRACE: You're spending too much time on your iPhone, dude. Like, it's official. But - so he's kind of going through - he has that relationship with his company that, I think, most people kind of have with that technology.
EISENBERG: So I have to ask about this because I find it fascinating. You re-edit popular films like "Star Wars" and "The Hobbit."
GRACE: Yeah. This is the nerdiest hobby of all time, and I'm so sorry I tweeted about it once. But my friend Jeff Yorkes, who is a real trailer cutter - our wives were out of town, and we both have kids. And we're like, what are we going to do? We got this one weekend. And this is how dorky it's gotten for us. We decided we were going to cut - take all 10 "Star Wars" films and put it into a trailer, which is a hard thing to do. And we, like, kind of stayed up late. I mean, it was, like, fun. It was like being back at boarding school or something. And then we tweet it out, and it had, like, a million views in, like, two seconds. Like, I couldn't believe what the fan base - and then Disney called us. This is no joke. And we thought it was to sue us.
EISENBERG: Right - cease and desist.
GRACE: And they said, we want you to do that, but we want to pay you to do it for "Toy Story." So now it's, like, a kind of a side hustle, like, fun thing that we do.
EISENBERG: And it's being released on Pixar's YouTube account. Is that right?
GRACE: Yeah. Pixar released it.
EISENBERG: Yeah, Pixar. Yeah.
GRACE: It was crazy. Yeah.
EISENBERG: Your little side hobby that you don't want to do professionally is taking off.
GRACE: We have to sign NDAs. And we're doing one now, but I signed an NDA. But it's so great. It's so great.
EISENBERG: Oh, so you have another one going on?
EISENBERG: That's great.
GRACE: I'm seeing it off. It's awesome.
EISENBERG: I'm looking forward to it. Topher, are you ready for your ASK ME ANOTHER challenge?
EISENBERG: All right. So, Topher, in researching you, we learned that you are obsessed with breakfast cereal.
GRACE: Why, I eat it every day. Yeah.
EISENBERG: Do you eat one kind or are you always switching it up?
GRACE: OK, let me tell you what my thing is.
GRACE: It's putting them together. To me, it's about finding something that's really heavy duty, like a strong drug, like Golden Grahams...
GRACE: ...And then cutting it with, like, Cheerios or something. Like, you got to step on that [expletive] a little bit, you know?
EISENBERG: OK, yes. So we're going to play a game with you called Part Of This Complete Breakfast.
EISENBERG: Let's bring out your opponent, comedian Arturo Castro.
ARTURO CASTRO: All right.
EISENBERG: Hi, Arturo.
CASTRO: Hey. How's it going?
EISENBERG: Do you eat cereal?
CASTRO: You know what's delicious? Special K with berries. You put it in a bowl...
CASTRO: ...And then you - stay with me, please. You microwave it for, like, 40 seconds. OK. I didn't just commit sacrilege. Hear me out. It makes it, like, soft and sort of, like, still a little crunchy. Oh, shush. It's delicious. It tastes like a dessert, and all the sort of berry juice goes into the milk. Try it tonight...
CASTRO: ...And thank me later.
EISENBERG: OK, I'm with you. I feel like that could easily be sold at, you know...
CASTRO: Arturo Flakes?
EISENBERG: ...Milk or, you know, somewhere in Brooklyn.
EISENBERG: Yes. All right, so here's how this game works. I'm going to give you clues about a breakfast cereal. You can ring in as soon as you think you know the answer. But if you are wrong, your opponent will get to hear the rest of the clues.
CASTRO: OK. OK.
EISENBERG: All right. The idea for this breakfast cereal came when its inventor thought about mixing Cheerios with Circus Peanuts.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
CASTRO: Honey Nut Cheerios.
EISENBERG: Arturo, I'm sorry. That is incorrect. Back to you, Topher.
GRACE: All right.
EISENBERG: The marshmallows in the cereal are called marbits. In 1975 in New England, a character named Waldo the Wizard briefly replaced this cereal's mascot, Lucky the Leprechaun.
GRACE: I still don't know it. No, just kidding.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
GRACE: Lucky Charms.
EISENBERG: That's right. That's right - Lucky Charms.
EISENBERG: All right. In an early ad, this cereal's trio of mascots fought against their evil rivals.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
GRACE: Rice Krispies.
EISENBERG: That is correct.
EISENBERG: Yeah, and their evil rivals in the early ad were named Soggy, Mushy and Toughy (ph).
EISENBERG: Good old Toughy.
GRACE: Toughy (laughter).
EISENBERG: Snap, Crackle and Pop had to fight him. All right, here's your next one. The woman who created this cereal's flavored coating based it on her grandmother's brown sugar and butter sauce recipe. This cereal's mascot was animated by Jay Ward, the creator of "Rocky And Bullwinkle." In 2013, the U.S. Navy confirmed to Foreign Policy magazine that this mascot's uniform designates him as a commander, not a captain.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
CASTRO: Oh, Cap'n Crunch.
EISENBERG: That's right again.
EISENBERG: Cap'n Crunch.
GRACE: There we go.
CASTRO: The peanut butter kind is my favorite.
EISENBERG: Peanut butter Cap'n Crunch?
CASTRO: Hot take, yeah.
EISENBERG: This is your last clue. This cereal was accidentally invented when a health clinician spilled gruel on a hot stove. This cereal actually made Ronald Reagan president. Reagan was a sports radio broadcaster and was voted most popular in the country in a poll sponsored by this cereal. He won a trip to California. And while he was there, he took a screen test, which led to his film career, which led to him becoming president. Which cereal?
GRACE: I'm going to say - what was the Ghostbusters cereal?
EISENBERG: The Ghostbusters cereal.
GRACE: Yeah, that one. No, I'm just kidding. I have no idea.
EISENBERG: OK, here's your last clue. Mary Lou Retton was the first woman featured on...
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
EISENBERG: ...This cereal's box.
EISENBERG: Topher, Wheaties is correct.
EISENBERG: All right. Congratulations, Topher. You won.
GRACE: Oh, no way.
GRACE: Who would have thought?
EISENBERG: Arturo will be back later in the show. "Minor Adventures With Topher Grace" is available wherever you get your podcasts. Give it up for Topher Grace.
(APPLAUSE) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.