You may know him as the loveable Eric Foreman on the ever-popular comical period piece, That '70s Show, or as the braggadocious leader of the Klu Klux Klan, David Duke, in director Spike Lee’s most recent film, Black Klansman. Although he has proven himself in the eyes of Hollywood and fans alike, Topher Grace is prepared to transfer his wide variety of capabilities from the silver screen to the world of podcasting in his new show, Minor Adventures With Topher Grace.
Minor Adventures is a divergence from the typical, stuffy podcast most people experience on their daily commute or turn on as background noise while completing mundane tasks. In conversation, Grace voices his hopes for the podcast, citing his own enjoyment in creating the episodes as the inspiration for the sensation of joy he hopes his listeners experience. He ventures to bring his audience on a journey that he embarks on as a break in his own hectic day.
With cover art reminiscent of a Fabio-esque, steamy romance novel setting the whimsical tone of Minor Adventures, on the first season of the star-studded podcast, listeners can expect to hear from the likes of Nina Dobrev, Chrissy Metz, Whitney Cummings, Chelsea Peretti, Tony Hale, Tig Notaro and Taran Killam. In discussion with Grace, his enthusiasm for his latest creative endeavor shows through and reflects the actor’s journey to define himself, not in terms of the content of his work, but the joy he received from making it.
What was the inspiration behind creating the podcast?
The beginning of the story is that I went on Anna Faris's podcast. She's an old friend of mine, we've worked together before, and she's just the coolest. I always liked her podcast and I had a blast on it. Then Sim Sarna, who is her producer and is kind of on air with her, asked me to go to lunch and he said "I want to do your podcast." I said, "I don't want to do a podcast. I don't think I'd be good at that" and he said, "Give me some time. I'm going to come up with an idea." He came up with this format that doesn't make me have to be the host, which is great because I would be a terrible host. I kind of just catch up with a friend of mine or a celebrity guest that I haven't met before, sometimes. We talk for ten minutes and then we take this adventure and the guest has no idea what the adventure is going to be. We just did one on hostage negotiations, we wrote a pop song, we had a seance, a lie detector test, telemarketing. So, it could be anything. It wound up being really fun, but I owe it to Sim, because he really convinced me.
What do you like most about Anna Faris's podcast?
When I was there, I was asking Anna, "Hey what's the secret sauce?" Lots of shows have on celebrities and those shows are great. I've been on a bunch of them, but when they take calls from people who are really going through something in their relationship, which is what Unqualified is all about, she says you see another side of the person because people are usually pretty good at playing the character of themselves. You know what I mean? They do it on talk shows and stuff all the time, but then when someone calls in you see another angle on them. Helping these people get through relationship stuff, I thought, "Oh man, I want to steal that same thing for our show."
We just had Whitney Cummings come on. That was our pilot and I've known Whitney for a long time. She's awesome. When we said 'It's a lie detector test today,' she legitimately freaked out. You're seeing a kind of a chemical change in someone. Same with me on Lewis Howes. He comes from football and kind of motivational speaking - very confident guy. We announced that we were going to write a pop song with one of the biggest pop songwriters in the world and it was just so interesting. There are already a million people listening every week, but to do something totally new is interesting for me.
Which episode are you most excited to release?
The one that was the most fun for me is when an old friend of mine, Wilmer Valderrama, came in. Most of these guests, we kind of pit them against something that you wouldn't think they would have experienced. Chrissy Metz came and we did beatboxing, and Paul Scheer came in and we did telemarketing. On the set of That '70s Show, Wilmer and I used to do that trailer voice. You know, the guy who's like "In a world..." We would make up fake trailers and be stupid together. This is going back to when we were teens and we had that guy in and he taught us how to do trailer announcing! It was the coolest. I mean, it was great to just hangout with Wilmer, but then to have the guy teaching us the thing and giving us tips, it was just really great.
Your show is called Minor Adventures With Topher Grace. What about the title specifically stuck out to you? Can you elaborate a little bit on what the title means to you?
The title is a nice description of what it is, because we're only going on adventures that are possible within the studio. To me, what's so special about it is - I just became a dad about a year and a half ago and it's hard to get out of the house, but this is something where once a week - I hope it's the same way for people who listen - I get to get out of the house and do something totally outside my comfort zone that I would never do. Do you know Tig Notaro? I'm a huge fan of hers. We did livestock auctioneering. Just last week, Tony Hale came in and we got hypnotized. Just a great way to have a little escape, and I hope it's the same way for people who are listening.
You talk about a wide range of topics on the podcast. What excites you about covering random topics rather than focusing on one?
This is the reason I didn't want to be a host. I love Anna's show and Dax's show, but I'm not a very interesting person. So, no one wants to listen to me talk about anything. I always joke with my wife that if we were a reality show, it would be canceled before the first episode. Like, it's just so boring. So, to me, it's about first catching up with a guest and seeing what they're up to, and I love that it takes the [pressure] off of me to be a good host, I guess. I get to participate with the guest.
I think people would argue that you are interesting and people would want to listen to you, but I understand the reservation there.
Well, they haven't heard that podcast and they never will. I mean, the truth is, I'm having a blast doing it. We've taped the whole first season. I love it, but I still don't want to be, like, a radio announcer. That stuff scares me. I like playing characters. There is something that's similar to being in a film, for me, which is where I'm most comfortable: on a film set. Some of these people I haven't met, but I get to control who comes on, so they're all people I'm huge fans of. Like, Jillian Bell came in. I'm a huge fan of hers. Never met her. We announced we were doing Reiki. I knew it was energy healing, but I didn't know what it was. I thought it was like rock gardens or something. So, it turned out she was really, really into it and I didn't even really know what it was. The way [the podcast] is like a film set to me is that I'm just part of it. I love being in ensembles. To me, being in castaway would be like a nightmare. I feel like I'm just with the other person, Sim, and we have an expert come in, and we all experience it together. That's how I'm most comfortable.
In terms of production, how does making a podcast differ from making a movie?
Well, I'm certainly trying to make it as much like what I'm comfortable with [as possible]. I love being in ensembles. I remember the first two things I did were Traffic, which was an amazing ensemble, and That '70s Show. Very different projects, but the thing I saw in both of them that I loved was how when you pass the ball to someone, they can score, or I toss it over to Sim and he figures it out. The people we've had in this year have been so great. I mean they're really some of my favorite comedians and actors. It's like playing pick-up ball with Sim and a different person on a team every week.
How do you think your acting career informs some of the adventures that you embark on with each guest? Do you ever find yourself playing a character or do you feel like you're being yourself throughout the podcast?
That's interesting you say that. I don't know if you know this about me, but I was seen in a high school play [and cast] for '70s Show, so I had no experience before that. One of the things I learned was that you just gotta be game all the time. Directors will ask you to do stuff on set, and certainly last year I didn't know I'd be playing David Duke this year. There were crazy things that I just wasn't comfortable doing that you just have to get comfortable doing really quickly. It's all outside of my comfort zone.
Chrissy Metz was actually better at beatboxing than I was. Taran Killam came in and we did dream analysis. That was the one where the guest knew beforehand what it was, so we brought in our dreams and no one knew what to expect. To me, it's about having enough confidence to just say "I'm sure this will be entertaining whether or not I'm good at it."
What was it like to work with Spike Lee?
Oh my god. The end product, which turned out great, was one of the best artistic experiences of my life. He's just such an amazing leader. Like I said, I got sent the script and I thought it was amazing and I don't think anyone who sent me the script thought I was going to raise my hand to play David Duke. Probably they were thinking I would look at other roles or something and when I said I wanted to do it they said, "You know, you're going to have to go in and read for Spike. We can't send a tape of something else you've done. He doesn't like anything you've done." So I said "Absolutely." I was rehearsing the night before in my den and I was swallowing some of the words. I couldn't say some of the words. This is stuff you train yourself not to think, let alone say out loud. I landed the next day and I said to him, "Hey man, I'm really uncomfortable with this." I don't know how the actors on Django Unchained got comfortable doing it. He immediately went to work making me feel comfortable. It was a really interesting five minutes, because by the end of it, I felt okay giving a performance where then he could give me the role, but it's a weird thing where I don't think I would have even gotten the role if he hadn't been involved. There's certainly no one else I would have played that role for. Basically, what i'm saying is, that's one example, but there was the same thing on set. We did all the Klan stuff in one week. By the end of the week, I was borderline depressed. You know, you're not shooting the other parts of the film. He'd come up to me and say kind of a similar thing. He'd say, "Don't worry." He's such a great leader. He really got me there.
Was there one person that you anticipated having on the show? Is there someone that you would like to have on in the future?
Well, see there's two different things, because sometimes we think of someone - like I love Shark Tank. I'm just nuts about Shark Tank. So, I go "Should I have this person on as an expert or as a guest?" If Mark Cuban came on, we'd make him do something like Louis, like write a song or something totally outside of his zone. I think I like when big strong personality types have to do something they don't know they're going to do. Sometimes people get really excited and sometimes the blood drains from their head. Kelly Robbins, I'd like to have on. Who else? I mean all the big ones - Oprah, Obama, etc.
What are your hopes for the future of the podcast? What do you hope people take away from it?
My hopes have been met. The experience of doing it is so much fun and instantly captured. It's not like film, where there's all this preparation, so I just love the experience of doing it. My hope, in terms of what people take away, is that I hope they have the same experience that I'm having, whether it’s on their commute or in their cubicle or running or whatever. I hope they can take this 45 minute chunk of fun and they can have the same fun we had making it.
Click to stream Minor Adventures with Topher Grace below.
This article has been edited and condensed for clarity.