Kelsey Grammer, the beloved star of Cheers and Frasier sat to discuss a number of roles throughout his storied career ahead of the release of his new movie’s release. In the conversation, he gets into the powerful role religion can play in one’s life. This is central to Jesus Revolution, which is based on a true story. It follows young Greg Laurie (Joel Courtney) who is searching for all the right things in all the wrong places, then meets Lonnie Frisbee (Jonathan Roumie), a charismatic hippie-street preacher and Pastor Chuck Smith ( Grammer). The three open the doors of Smith’s languishing church to an unexpected revival of radical and newfound love.
LA Magazine: As an actor, it must have felt like a goldmine of a script because it’s a powerful and uplifting movie. What stood out to you the most when you first read it?
Kelsey Grammer: I always respond to grown men who are not quite developed yet, as a role I like playing as they find some new purpose in their lives. With Chuck Smith, historically he was facing pretty empty churches mostly every Sunday and then this stroke of God, or good luck, whatever you want to call it, came along and repopulated his vision of life and brought joy and wealth and beauty and love back to his parish.
It’s a wonderful story, very uplifting and he seemed like a really decent man. I had some great experiences with people when I was shooting the movie who came up and said “Pastor Chuck baptized me.” And then you can still see the light in their eyes. It was a wonderful thing. I’m really proud to be part of this sort of a reawakening, or an education at least, to bring people the good news.
Did you go to California to experience the Harvest Church and the Pirates Cove baptisms?
We actually shot at Pirates Cove and performed the baptisms. So there were several hundred people there that day and that was quite an experience too. Some people would say I want to do it for real. I said, “Well, you know, I’m not ordained or anything but I’ll give you my blessing and then baptize you.” That was really quite remarkable. A lot of people were crying and celebrating this idea of being washed clean and given a new life.
Not many people can say that they’ve been baptized by Kelsey Grammer.
Very few indeed.
You grew up on the East Coast, but do you have any memories growing up as the Jesus Revolution spread across America?
I grew up in Florida and Lonnie Frisbee went to Florida after they (Chuck and Lonnie) had their breakup for a while. I met several people during that time that asked, “Are you born again”? [and] ‘Would you like to come in for a revival”?
I’m a Christian Scientist, and I was raised in that discipline and I love the sort of metaphysical understanding of Jesus in connection with life and God and man, so I wasn’t looking for another way to connect with him. I felt connected. So when two lovely girls came out of the surf one time and said, “Hey, have you met Jesus?” Yeah, I kind of have, and I thought, should I lie about it? Because I wouldn’t mind knowing these girls better. So I didn’t participate in the movement but I was aware of it.
We are in a similar moment in time nowadays with young people looking for answers. Do you still feel that religion has the same kind of effectiveness to provide these answers, as it did in the 60s?
Off the top of my head, the answer is yes. But I want to try to connect an organic understanding of it because so many people seem sort of confused by religion or negative about religion.
These are really just outlines for conduct that is uplifting, conduct that takes you to a place of higher spirituality, and the steps by virtue of what is laid out in most disciplines in Christianity are to elevate your human experience to a spiritual one. And I think we’re all longing for that and I think we all still long for it.
That’s still our story. And it’s been our story for thousands of years. We look to a power beyond ourselves that elevates us and helps us to understand why we exist and it’s in there. It’s in there if you open up the book, if you open up your heart, if you open up your experience in your mind to the idea that things are possible outside of what we know and what we can touch physically. There’s an extraordinary series of things out there waiting for everybody if they just open their eyes to them.
The movie is full of great songs from the late 60s and early 70s. Do you have a particular favorite song from that era?
I love “My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison and The Doobie Brothers’ “Jesus is Just Alright With Me.” The song I really wanted to use was “Revolution” by the Beatles. I’d love to use that song but I think it’s too expensive. You can sense in the movie the excitement they felt at the time to understand that something they were doing was making a change and was having some impact.
I’ve heard that there will be a Frasier reboot coming soon, what can we expect?
Frasier is in his next chapter. He’s going to go back to Boston and sort out some things. We may have appearances from some of the people that were in the previous incarnation of Frasier but he’s in his, sort of, fourth lifetime.
He has some relationship with his son that maybe needs some work and that’s kind of where we’re headed. In the end, it’s all about love, the reason I think Frasier stuck was that he loved Diane so fully, he was completely in love with her and that was always the most remarkable thing about him, that his sincerity, his affection and his ability to surrender to his emotions and to his sense of goodness were what made him interesting to watch. Of course, he became a fool and a foil for some things but he soldiers on despite all the things that can go wrong, still looking for love and I love that about him.
I grew up on The Simpsons and your character, Sideshow Bob, is an iconic part of the show. Do you have any particular highlights from your years of voicing Bob?
The initial response to Sideshow Bob was pretty extraordinary. I had a friend who was teaching at Evanston, Illinois at the time. And the day after the very first show came on, there was a giant painting on the side of one of the dorms. He said it was huge, and sent me a picture of it and it said, “Free Sideshow Bob” with a big picture of him. He caught the imagination of our audience right away. They pepper me in certain seasons throughout the last 30. It’s an amazing show, but I always say about Sideshow Bob that he casts a long shadow.
Jesus Revolution will be released in cinemas on February 24.
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