Take Me Home Tonight, Topher Grace’s ode to the ’80s, doesn’t hit theaters until March 4, but the actor is already hard at work promoting it. He co-conceived the story about a directionless MIT graduate who works at Suncoast Video in the mall and gets a second chance with his unrequited his school crush (Teresa Palmer) when she invites him to an end-of-summer party. The cast, which originally shot the film in 2007 (it’s how Anna Faris met her husband, Chris Pratt), has reunited recently to star in a viral music video, Atomic Tom’s cover of The Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me.” Watch it below, and see if you can spot the 35 references to beloved ’80s films. Shot over two days, the video is the most fun Grace says he’s ever had on camera. “I’m runnin’ up the stairs in my Teen Wolf outfit, Anna is runnin’ down in her When Harry Met Sally... outfit, and we’re high-fivin’,” he tells EW.
Grace does a killer Michael J. Fox impression in the video (pictured); he says he practiced his lines in that voice on the set of the film, but don’t expect to hear it in the movie itself. “What’s funny about the music video is it’s really the opposite of the film,” says Grace. “It’s a good appetizer saying, ‘Do you love the ’80s? We do, too. We love all these ’80s movies,’ but in the movie, we didn’t want to spoof anything. There are conventions, but even those we try to change. My character has a platonic best friend [Faris] who’s a girl, which is in every ’80s film, except they’re twin brother and sister. They steal a red car, but they get caught stealing the car, which never happens. Chris Pratt, who’s amazing in the movie but was shooting [Parks and Recreation] and couldn’t be in the video, he’s the bad guy who proposes to my sister, and you expect him to be like, ‘I’m just gonna f—in’ cheat on her,’ like it would be in any of those movies, but he actually really loves her until the end of the film.” The only real tip of their hat in the movie? “We all talk about how we went to Shermer High, and you actually see our Shermer High yearbook — that’s the fictional high school that all of John Hughes’ kids went to in his movies.”
Grace’s hope is that Take Me Home Tonight ages like American Graffiti and Dazed and Confused, in the sense that future audiences will actually think it was filmed in the era it’s set. Cue the opening scene at a mall Sam Goody, and Grace’s film buff character working at Suncoast. “I’ve been thinking about this: There are kids now who’ve never been in a record store or a movie store. There are some kids — kids, who probably shouldn’t be seeing the movie because it’s rated R — who will go, ‘What is that? What would that be like to walk through a store and look at music?’ That’s bizarre,” he says. Grace not only shopped at Suncoast when he was younger, he worked there for two years. “They made me push laserdiscs on everybody, and the DVD was out in its infant stage. I had to say to people who were like What about the DVD?, ‘No, that’s never gonna happen. Laserdisc is where it’s at.’ You literally had to take it out and turn it over halfway through a screening. It was terrible. My other story: The reason I worked there is I thought that I could just watch movies all summer, and they wind up only playing one movie per season. So I watched Space Jam 300 to 500 times, and it’s maybe the worst movie ever made.”
Back to the future (see what we did there?), Grace has several films awaiting release: In The Double, he plays a young FBI agent who partners with a retired CIA operative (Richard Gere) to hunt down a senator’s murderer. Martin Sheen costars as their boss. Grace had to learn a little Russian for the film (all signs point to a Russian assassin), so he called on his Ukraine-born That ’70s Show costar Mila Kunis. “I ran a couple lines by her, and she goes, ‘Whoa, great job… What was that?'” The role involved two other firsts: “I held a gun for the first time in a movie, and I held a baby for the first time in a movie,” he says. “It was way scarier holding the baby.”
He’s also shot the indie romantic comedy The Giant Mechanical Man, written and directed by Lee Kirk, Jenna Fischer’s husband. He plays a motivational speaker who has long hair and a love for cable knit sweaters who dates Fischer’s zoo worker character, who in turn falls for a silver-painted street performer (Chris Messina). He’s also wrapped HBO’s star-studded May movie Too Big to Fail, directed by Curtis Hanson and based on Andrew Ross Sorkin’s best-seller about the 2008 financial crisis. In that, he plays Jim Wilkinson, chief of staff for then-Treasury Secretary and former CEO of Goldman Sachs Henry Paulson (William Hurt). “There’s nothing funnier than a bunch of actors sitting around pretending they understand anything about banking, or even math for that matter,” Grace says. “I read Andy Sorkin’s book, and I read On the Brink, which is Paulson’s book, and Michael Lewis’ The Big Short… So I know more than the average actor, which isn’t saying much.”
If you’re thinking that’s a motley group of projects, that’s always been his intent. “My agents hate it, I know, that the thing I started a long time ago for myself was to always do the opposite of the project that I just did. It was true at the beginning. I remember getting a lot of offers that were like That ’70s Show, and waiting until I got Traffic. I just didn’t want to do the same thing. And then when I got Traffic, I though, ‘Great. This is like a full body workout for your mind.’ The best time I ever did things right next to each other: I did Valentine’s Day, and then I did Predators. So I’m at the end [of filming Predators]. I’m a serial killer. I’m tryin’ to kill this girl. I have this knife. I have blood all over me. That was my last day, and I got on a plane and they were like, ‘We can show you Valentine’s Day tonight,’ because I had to start promoting that. I still had the sticky blood stuff under my fingernails, and I’m watching me and Anne Hathaway clinking champagne glasses. You have to get into a head space when you’re trying to kill someone in the film, and then to watch Valentine’s Day later that night? I was like, This is… different.”