Actor Topher Grace is best known for the long-running Fox sitcom “That 70s Show.” Now, as a producer and co-writer of the forthcoming big screen comedy “Take Me Home Tonight,” Grace is embracing the 80s.
But unlike 2010’s “Hot Tub Time Machine” and seemingly every other recent comedy set in the age of The Gipper, “Take Me Home Tonight” doesn’t mine its laughs at the expense of parachute pants and shoulder pad-enhanced dresses.
The film takes place in 1988 and finds Grace as Matt Franklin, a post-college mathematical biz wiz kid who’s toiling at Suncoast Video selling Guns n Roses vinyl and “Sweatin’ to the Oldies” videotapes. Newcomer Teresa Palmer plays Tori Frederking, the beautiful blond who was Matt’s high school crush. Thinking he’s a big success at Goldman Sachs, Tori invites Matt to a Labor Day weekend party. The entire film takes place over that compressed time period ala the John Hughes classics “Sixteen Candles” and “The Breakfast Club.”
From the film’s opening shot of actress Anna Faris driving a car with a Garfield stuffed cat suction cupped to the back window, “TMHT” subtly evokes the time period.
“There was also a Dukakis bumper sticker on the back of the car but we ended up cutting that shot,” Grace told us Thursday inside Whiskey Park at the W Midtown while in town with Palmer to promote the film. “We loved all those little attentions to detail. I really loved the films of John Hughes and I was sad that there wasn’t anybody making films like that anymore. Today, it’s all raunchy or it’s all romantic. I loved that John Hughes incorporated everything but not with too heavy a touch. We wanted to make a film where, if someone just came to the planet and didn’t know the difference with the actors, this could play right alongside other films from the era.”
Of the chemistry she shares on screen with Grace, Australian-born Palmer credits her co-star. “We maybe did two rehearsals and that was it. I was very lucky. Because Topher is an actor, he knew how daunting an audition can be.”
The script not only calls for Palmer to take off her clothes in a backyard on a trampoline but to also play “The Penis Game” with Grace’s character in one cocktail party scene.
“I made sure not to show any boobies,” Palmer said of the backyard shot. “You almost get a glance but not quite! This was one of my first big films and it was easy to have chemistry with Topher. We all became so close shooting this film. We spent a lot of downtime together and became like a family.”
Perhaps Palmer’s biggest acting challenge in “Take Me Home Tonight?” Wearing the same vintage Halston dress for three months straight during the shoot.
“I was apprehensive at first,” she concedes. “Because I knew I would be wearing the same outfit for the entirety of the film. It turned out to be a blessing. I think Halston is absolutely amazing and that gold sparkly dress is just perfect for the character. It was not a chore to wear at all.”
For Grace, the film’s climax finds Matt inside a steel ball careening downhill in suburban Los Angeles and straight into a swimming pool where it promptly sinks to the bottom. Producer or not, it’s really Grace down there in the deep end.
“I had just done ‘Spiderman 3’ where I was flying around but that ball stunt was the scariest stunt I had ever done,” Grace reflects. “And I was the guy who, I think, came up with the idea about the ball landing in the pool too! I wasn’t really thinking about having to play it. When they submerged me in the water, there was literally no way out. The ball was so heavy, a machine had to pull it back up. There was no quick fix there if things went wrong. As a producer, I knew that the ball was effective and necessary because it provides a physical metaphor for what Matt is going through. But as an actor, it was terrifying!”
“Take Me Home Tonight” Wang Chungs into theaters March 4.