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Topher Grace on Take Me Home Tonight and the Cocaine-Filled Eighties

Topher Grace has one rule for choosing his next role: It has to be something very different than his last (heartthrob in Valentine's Day; serial killer in Predator). For his latest film, Take Me Home Tonight, he really switched things up, taking on the role of executive producer for the first time in his career. He also stars in the film, a coming-of-age comedy set in 1988 Los Angeles, as an MIT grad punching the clock at Suncoast video. We talked to Grace about Ralph Macchio, boarding school, and his lie-filled first dates.

You wrapped the movie three years ago. Why did it take so long to get released?
Mostly because there was a bunch of coke in it. A bunch of twentysomethings doing coke. We're very happy that our former studio gave us the money to do the film. No hard feelings. I get it. They're owned by a big corporation and a bunch of kids doing coke in a movie is kind of a tough thing to swallow. And we're really lucky that when that became an issue we had Ron Howard and Brian Grazer as producers. What they said is, the movie is not going to become dated — it's already entirely dated. So let's find the studio that is going to embrace this for exactly what it is. Which is why I'm happy to be doing publicity for the film, because I want to be able to say, This movie has not been artistically neutered by a studio.

Did the experience turn you off to producing?
Shooting the film that I did right after this one, just watching the director and producers get into some kind of — they had some kind of issue about losing the light and should we go to the next location. And I was just like, "I'll be in my trailer guys. Peace." It is a lot of work being a producer. It was equally as rewarding as it was challenging, but I have no plans to do it again any time soon.

I was looking at premiere photos and I saw you with Anthony Michael Hall —
And Ralph Macchio.

Exactly.
And then I took another picture with Tawny Kitaen and I was like, "Wow, they really pulled it out for this premiere." If you told me in 1988 that I would be with the Karate Kid and the kid from Weird Science in a photo, I literally wouldn't have believed you.

No Eddie Money on the soundtrack. Why not?
We use "Take Me Home Tonight" in the ad campaign, which was great [at first] — but I've seen it in a ton of ads and I'm sort of sick of it now. We didn't want anything to be cheesy.

You guys shot an eighties tribute video, in which you do a spot-on Michael J. Fox impression.
Oh man, thank you.

How much did you practice that?
I have had a Michael J. Fox impression for a while but did not know the exact venue to use it in. That was the right time.

Since most of the film takes place at night, what did you guys do to keep the energy up at late shoots?
Cocaine. [Laughs.] I'm just kidding, Vulture. I guess you get used to the schedule. We'd all go to this IHOP at the end of each night, which is the worst — not to slam IHOP, but it's just not the best place to have dinner every single night — and we had this whole group of kids there. And I was like, this is really what I wanted. I wanted to work with and find a new Brat Pack. I love that I've worked with big movie stars. It is the best way to learn how to be an actor. But I also really wanted to work with my peer group while it was in bloom.

It's interesting that you went to boarding school since this movie is about the typical post-high school experience.
Boarding school gets a bad rap. I think a lot of people think it's Dead Poets Society, all guys and depressing. I had an amazing time. It was co-ed. I talked to girls a full five years before I ever would have in public school.

The movie takes place over the course of night, mostly at one party. Have you ever had one of those epic nights?
I haven't. I mean, I guess I have in the sense that some great stuff has happened. Certainly I haven't figured out the course of my life in a night. It's not a documentary, it's a fictional film. So there's gotta be some kind of wish fulfillment to it. But I believe in a night like that the way I believe in love at first sight, even though I've never experienced it.

Was it a concern for you that most of the cast isn't actually in their twenties?
Look, Eric Stoltz wasn't exactly in high school when he made Some Kind of Wonderful. None of those guys in that genre were, and we wanted to have everything be like that genre. We wanted them to steal the car; we wanted to have the jerk who's marrying my sister. But then we wanted to subvert every convention. Like, they steal the car but then they get caught, which never happens in those films.

Or like, your character lies to his high school crush about working in banking — but then doesn't tell her the truth before they have sex. Usually he admits it first!
Normally it's the boss from Suncoast video who walks over and says, "You have work at 9 a.m." And the girl goes, "What?" And I go, "I was going to tell you!" But we wanted it to be like, You know what? I feel like shit. And guess what, I lied to you.

That stung.
Everyone's asking me, Have you ever lied? I'm like, I think every first date is a total lie, right?

Yeah, you're lying to yourself and the other person.
[Laughs.] It's so fucking true. It's all a lie. You hold the door open for the person. That goes on for three dates, right? What a joke.

Photo: Jean Baptiste Lacroix/WireImage