Netflix’s “Black Mirror” allowed us to see Topher Grace in yet another light. After playing such characters as KKK Grand Wizard David Duke in “BlacKkKlansman” and the pastor of a church in “Breakthrough,” the “Black Mirror” episode “Smithereens” presents Grace as Billy Bauer, the CEO of an addictive social media company. “I don’t know when I’ll be out of this phase, but this phase to me is about whenever someone tells me, ‘I’m not sure if you could do that or if you’d be the right guy for that,’ just doing it,” Grace says in an exclusive new webchat with Gold Derby. Watch the full video interview above.
Grace’s scenes are very separate from the main action of “Smithereens,” which centers on a ride-share driver named Chris (Andrew Scott) who takes an intern at Billy’s company hostage and demands to speak with Billy for reasons that gradually become clear. When we first witness Billy, he is meditating at a silent retreat, wearing a robe and sandals and sporting a prominent man-bun. It paints a clear picture right from the jump, which Grace indicates is key to how geniuses of a certain type amass a following. Rather than copying any one social media CEO, like Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) or Jack Dorsey (Twitter), it was more about, “What do all these different people have in common?” Grace suggests. “They all have a way of branding themselves before their call to genius. They’ve branded themselves in a way that makes it really easy for you to call them a genius.”
With Grace’s character away at a silent retreat, he did not get to physically share scenes with Scott but he shares, “I had flown to England and I saw Andrew’s stuff and understood what he was doing” before filming Grace’s own scenes in Spain. Billy is primarily seen speaking over the phone with Chris, and Grace notes that writer-producers Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones hired an actor to bounce off of him rather than rely on a script supervisor to read the Chris lines, as would be customary. “I understood where we were at every second and I’m really grateful to them for that,” admits Grace.
The actor also did a lot of phone acting on Spike Lee‘s “BlacKkKlansman,” a film that earned him a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination alongside the rest of the film’s cast. Grace was a bit unsure of how the film would be received at first, especially with him playing such a despicable character. “But then when I met with Spike, I thought, ‘This is the only director alive, maybe ever, that I could play this role with.'” Being part of the film that would ultimately get Lee his overdue Oscar was pretty special to him. “When we were making the movie I realized that Spike had never won an Oscar and I thought, ‘That’s insane. That’s just embarrassing,'” Grace recalls. “Him winning was what it was all about.”
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