You may know Topher Grace as a figure who has been entertaining in your living room for many years. From his premiere role as Eric Foreman in “That ’70s Show,” this Emmy, SAG and NBR award-winning actor has spent 24 years diversifying his resume with both award-winning and blockbuster films. Now an executive producer and the star of ABC’s “Home Economics,” Grace has returned to television after inching back towards the medium in the last few years of his career.
Here, we chat with Grace about his experience being on a show that brought cannabis use to prime time. He went from being a teenager on TV smoking weed to now playing a middle-aged, middle-class author named Tom who is working to support his family… and his character’s wife consumes edibles in the episode airing on April 20.
High There: Can you share the background of your character in “Home Economics?”
Topher Grace: Some of the support they had from the pilot is that the parents are part of it. Because people ask me, you know, are you competitive like this with your siblings? I have a younger sister. Our parents were obsessed with economic gain, but these parents value that, and reward their kids if they’re financially successful. So you understand why we’re all obsessed with the same thing because of the parents. I didn’t grow up having that.
Tom is kind of in the middle in every sense of the word, and when the show was initially cast, I was going to be the middle sibling too. That kind of just made a lot of sense, and then Caitlin McGee was so good we decided to make me the oldest sibling, and we kind of aged everything down – we need that brother much younger. But I think Tom is kind of middle-level talent and just learning to deal with all that. And he’s also middle-aged.
HT: The show is set up as a comedy that is also very meta. How does Tom’s career as an author play into the narration of the story?
Grace: Every episode starts as a chapter. So, we’re up to like Chapter 26 or 27 now, and the end of the season is the end of the book. So he finally finished this book that he was writing.
What’s funny is when the book finally comes out, the last couple of episodes, there are twists. It doesn’t strictly come out, but everyone gets to read it. It’s in the family. And everyone did think it was very meta – not only is it called Home Economics, the font on the book is the font of our show, and people commenting on the book are commenting on the show itself. It’s a great way to have all the characters be able to comment on who they are. And our dream is, if the book sells, to have them become a TV show next year, which is really meta.
HT: What was it like working with the legendary Tommy Chong?
Grace: I can’t believe you didn’t lead by asking about Tommy Chong, my buddy from “That ’70s Show.” We just had Cheech Marin on “Home Economics.” I grew up knowing Tommy and Cheech Marin, who played my wife’s dad, and we were all talking about it.
Tommy gave me, back in the day… such a great guy… He gave me a hand-blown glass bong. And I was thinking, “this is like, this is gotta be the most valuable thing I own. It’s not only like a beautiful handmade bong, but it’s made by Tommy fucking Chong.” I couldn’t believe it.
HT: Was it taboo to film scenes around weed in “That ’70s Show?”
Grace: I remember when we started “That ’70s Show,” what we were doing was very taboo, especially for network television; it’s crazy to imagine that it’s legal in most states. But at the time we started “That ’70s Show” [it was 1998]. It was very risque.
We had to cut a couple of shots out of the pilot. We implied that we were passing a joint with that 360 shot that went around in a circle. So the first one we did was the pilot, and I was a teenager at the time, and I remember thinking it was so hardcore. We all handed the joint around, but you didn’t see it – that’s why that shot went around that way.
And then, in the end, we had to cut one or two shots of us. My dad calls me from upstairs, and we’re wafting the smoke out with records out the back door. And they cut that shot because it was a bit too obvious what was going on in my house. Like it’s the 70s, come on.
HT: Can you tell us more about the famous smoke circle seshes?
Grace: I’m not sure [consuming cannabis] had been done, except for maybe very special episodes where someone got caught and went to jail. But to be used recreationally? I’m sure it was such a big deal. It was so hard to get through.
It’s only because these great writers – who’ve done “Wayne’s World” and “Tommy Boy,” great movies like that – they pushed them so hard. They still even cut out a couple of shots, which, by the way, one or two seasons later they were begging us to put back in; they realized these shots made it, you know?
So similarly, this episode of “Home Economics” that’s coming up on Wednesday is… you know, it’s 420. And it’s a show on ABC in prime time. But the reality is it is now legal what we talked about on the show. And it makes for great comedy – Karla Souza that plays my wife, she’s like Lucille Ball. She’s such a great physical comedian, very funny, and a great thing to give to an actor. She does edibles at her kid’s school play, which makes something that’s already making something weird much weirder.
She does way too much, though. It’s not like we went out of our way to say it wasn’t like she has one, you know, one edible, you know, going nuts. I think she has four times the dosage of that.
HT: What is it like to go from portraying a teenage stoner to a responsible father looking to support his family?
Grace: Well, it’s such a trip for people my age to have seen something that was viewed as so illegal and dangerous, with people going to jail over it, to now be seen as something different. But what I love about both projects is it was just the reality of what was going on. It’s the reality of teenagers living in Wisconsin in the 70s in their parents’ basement. It’s very much a reality.
It’s the reality of, you know, these parents that Karla and I play, parents who have both a seven-year-old, and they just had twins. And then one night, a babysitter is watching the kids, and they have to go to the school play, and they’re not even going out themselves on a date.
And by the way, my wife and I have two young kids, and we get it. You only get off when you have to go to someone’s wedding or some mandatory thing, right? And so you leave the kid, but then you go, okay, this is my three hours of freedom. So people go a little too hard. As long as it’s truthful, both situations, I think, are kind of the same.
I think people should keep it real. It’s a great job doing something in ABC primetime, but we’re going through it in real life too. We’ve got two kids under four. So it’s like, I’m doing it. Work is exactly what I’m doing at home.
HT: Was cannabis consumed on-set for “Home Economics?”
Grace: On the set? Oh no, you know, my character is not high at all. It’s kind of a funny thing, at least in that episode. It’s like it’s another great thing to, as an actor, play “high”, and the other thing is to play off of someone who’s way too high. So I’m kind of babysitting my wife, who usually babysits me.
I should say Karla was amazing, and I actually, at one point, was like, “Hey, are you high?” And she’s like, “no,” because the truth is, if you’re actually high, it’s very hard to act what it is to be high.
HT: Are you an advocate for the plant?
Grace: Personally, I’m fine with it, but I don’t think I was ever an advocate for it; I think I was just into whatever project I’m going to do in talking about the truth of what those characters are going through. If you did a show about six teenagers, you know, hanging out in the basement in the 70s, and you know, marijuana wasn’t a part of it – you’re just lying.
If you’re talking about like on “Home Economics”, where you have two parents who are trying to relax in one night and kind of go for it, you’d be lying if you didn’t have it there. So, yeah, I don’t think that makes me an advocate, but I do think people should be real about cannabis as something that they’ve seen in their own lives.
HT: Are you a cannabis consumer yourself?
Grace: Oh yeah, come on, I live in Los Angeles. I mean, let’s get real!
HT: Can you tell us about your first real-life experience with cannabis?
Grace: Well, I will tell you this story. I was cast out of a high school play into “That ’70s Show”, so there’s a lot of pressure on me, and I didn’t drink or smoke or do anything the entire time I was working on that show. Ironically, even though there was a lot of marijuana use in it, I didn’t know what that was, and I really just wanted to do my best job or be clear-headed the whole time, and I was young.
Afterward, I was more relaxed about life, and I was at a charity event – this is right after I finished “That ’70s Show”. And this person next to me offered me a breath mint. And I said, “Oh, I need a breath mint?” And I couldn’t really hear because of all the clapping. But she said, Yeah, it’s like, you know, sure. Here’s one. So I should have known because she said, ‘Do you want half? It’s really strong.’ And I was like, and I think I can handle the whole breath mint. And it was minty, so I didn’t know.
So I ate this whole… I mean, it was an entire strip of THC. I was higher than… It was like a full sheet of brownies or something. And then I also didn’t know I was high because I just had a breath strip and like we ate dinner or something.
So I took my friend aside, luckily, a good friend of mine, because I kinda couldn’t handle what was going on. And I said “hey, man, just real quick. Can you check the back of my head? I think you’re making lava coming out of it.” And she said “there’s not,” and I said “can you check it once again?” She asked, “did you eat anything?” “No, I haven’t eaten anything.”
And that was my introduction, and it was pretty hardcore. It was more than I needed to do. But, and luckily, we found out what happened later because the person who gave it to me explained. Because if not, I would have been going insane.