'If Frasier does come back, it will not be for the critics'
He's teased about a possible reboot of the iconic sitcom, but until then Kelsey Grammer is keen to play against type. Gemma Dunn reports
Kelsey Grammer has a foolproof criterion when it comes to accepting a role. And it certainly seems to be working for the Frasier actor, whose esteemed repertoire - everything from comedian to singer, producer, director and writer - has spanned film, TV and theatre for an impressive four decades.
"'Will they pay me?' and 'Is it really something I haven't done before?' - that's what I like to do," he states candidly. "Arguably, I've done one of the great comedic characters in the canon of television, so I don't look to do him anymore," Grammer (64) says in reference to his lengthy portrayal of psychiatrist Dr Frasier Crane across award-winning sitcoms Cheers and Frasier. "I'm not going to play Frasier unless I'm going to play Frasier again."
Staying true to his theory, Grammer can next be seen in American legal drama Proven Innocent. The Fox series tells the emotional story of one woman's fight for the innocence of others, as well as her own.
"It's based upon a real legal group called The Innocence Project, which started in Chicago," says Grammer. "It deals with a law firm who goes into backlogged cases - previously convicted prisoners, basically, for whom they exonerate and reverse sentences, or vacate sentences.
"My character [Gore Bellows] is a prosecutor who is responsible for putting some of those people in jail and he's, of course, the villain in the piece."
The defence firm Grammer speaks of is led by lawyer Madeline Scott (Rachelle Lefevre), who at age 18 was wrongfully convicted in a sensational murder case. Madeline's bold tactics earn her an enemy in Bellows - the prosecutor who initially put her away and still refutes her innocence.
"They evolve through this relationship where he still thinks she's guilty," Grammer explains. "He's still determined to make sure that she pays the price he believes that she owes society."
He's an intriguing character to have taken on, he quips.
He recalls: "I played a character about seven years ago - Tom Kane - who was the mayor of Chicago [in political drama Boss] and this is the prosecuting attorney of Chicago.
"The only guy that has any real juice in Chicago is the mayor and so there's an insecurity about him, which was fun to play."
As for placing a compelling female at the helm, Grammer contends the appointment of Lefevre was an "organic decision" from the storytellers.
"I'm an advocate for all sorts of equalities, but I just want people to show up and be good at what they do," he says. "That's the foundation by which I judge anybody - and I rarely even bother to take enough time to judge a person. I usually let them be.
"I think there's always been strong female characters. Maybe I'm wrong. But Joan of Arc? She's pretty archetypal and pretty damn powerful.
"There are strong women, there are weak women, there are strong men, there are weak men. And it's great that we now have the airwaves peopled with all sorts of examples."
The series has something to say about the justice system, too.
"The show has a timely factor, a contemporary culture factor, about prison sentences and criminal justice reform. Things that are kind of hot topics now, especially in the US.
"And there's a lot of room for discussion and exploration. Some things are changing, but we'll see."
That's not to say he's worried about the audience response - particularly from industry critics.
"You usually know they won't like it anyway," muses Grammer. "Once in a while, they'll say, 'A hit, a hit, a palpable hit' and you think, 'Oh great, well that's fun', so you have to kind of take that with a grain of salt, as well as the ones that say it's 'The worst thing they've ever seen'."
The same goes for the possible comeback (fingers crossed!) of fan favourite Frasier.
"Should Frasier return, it won't be for the critics," he reiterates. "And honestly, critical writing since John Simon started making such personal attacks on people - 'This one's too fat', 'This one's ugly' - they've all flocked to that style.
"I think the profession is a bit flawed. Or at least peopled with guys - and women - who don't care so much about whether or not a show is good, but finding some way to land a good punch.
"We hope that if Frasier does come back, the people like it and they'll watch because they had a chance to fall in love with him and those other characters."
Proven Innocent, Universal TV, Monday, 9pm