By Jill Serjeant
(Reuters) – Kelsey Grammer doesn’t want to turn off audiences for his dark new TV drama “Boss” by comparing it to Shakespeare. But he just can’t help saying the S word.
Grammer’s ruthless, power-hungry Chicago Mayor Tom Kane is an abrupt change of direction from the jaunty “Frasier” persona that gave the actor 20 years of TV comedy success.
So perhaps it’s just as well that Grammer is getting audience expectations in order before “Boss” debuts on cable channel Starz on Friday.
“We’ve borrowed a lot from Shakespeare. It’s not a Shakespeare piece — we don’t want to alienate anybody from the show saying, ‘oh dear God, we’re going to tune into a Shakespeare play,’” Grammer said.
Watch The “Boss” Premiere Early:
But Grammer says “Boss” is a story of betrayals, intrigue, violence, and a man who is threatened with losing his kingdom.
“That’s the kind of stuff that is classically Shakespearean or Jacobean,” he said, noting that he began his career in theater, playing tragedies — many of them by Shakespeare.
“This character is as complex and interesting and fun to play and as dark as any I could have imagined. So I am very happy,” he said.
Grammer, 56, is still best known for his role as arrogant psychiatrist Dr. Frasier Crane on the hit TV comedies “Cheers” and “Frasier” that brought him four Emmys.
But that image will be erased in the opening moments of “Boss”, during a lengthy shot where Grammer’s character listens silently as a doctor informs him that he has a degenerative brain disorder.
“When people watch the first opening shot, it’s going to wipe the slate clean. Kelsey’s performance in this show is mesmerizing. It is ground-breaking and compelling in a major way,” said Farhad Safinia, the creator of “Boss”.
SECRETS AND LIES
Network chiefs at Starz also are impressed. They have already ordered a second season even before the debut episode, directed by filmmaker Gus Van Sant, premieres on October 21.
Grammer’s Kane is the most effective mayor in Chicago’s history, but he gets results by questionable ethics, intimidation and backroom deals.
His marriage is one of convenience and his estranged daughter is a religious, former drug addict. Kane swiftly decides that no-one must know of the disorder that threatens the power base he has worked so hard to establish.
The “Boss” crystallizes a series of major personal and professional changes that Grammer says were triggered by a serious heart attack in 2008.
The actor with the distinctive smooth voice married for the fourth time in March after an acrimonious divorce that played out on television when his estranged wife Camille appeared as one of the “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.”
“Frasier” was followed by two short-lived TV comedy flops — “Hank” and “Back to You” — and he switched gears to go to Broadway in 2010 where he earned a Tony nomination for the musical “La Cage aux Folles”.
“My personal life has had an opportunity to, kind of, take a nice little ride along with Tom Kane,” Grammer said cryptically. “A lot of that is bound to surface, or at least surface in the viewers’ minds as they watch the show.”
Grammer says he couldn’t have pulled off his role as Kane immediately after “Frasier” ended in 2004 because the change for viewers would have been too extreme.
But in a 30-year career on stage, film and television, he says he has always enjoyed keeping people guessing.
“Just when the Hollywood community or casting directors or anybody else thinks they have figured you out, you’ve got to show them something they didn’t know about. I think maybe we’ve done that with ‘Boss’”.