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David Hyde Pierce: Frasier's Junger Brother

The veteran theater actor who’s been stealing “Frasier” scenes week after week

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Frasier was never supposed to have a brother. But when a casting agent showed the producers of Kelsey Grammer’s Cheers spin-off, Frasier, a photo of the remarkably Grammer-resembling David Hyde Pierce, a sibling was born. The two actors are so physically similar, says Pierce, 34, that ”I even get a jolt talking to Kelsey sometimes. It’s like looking at myself.”

Pierce, of course, brings more than a gently receding hairline (he calls himself ”hair challenged”) to his role as Niles, the arrogant, neurotic psychiatrist brother of the arrogant, neurotic psychiatrist Frasier. A native of upstate New York, Pierce honed his poker-faced comic style in elementary school: ”I can vividly recall telling a joke in, like, second grade and realizing it was funnier if I didn’t laugh. I’ve been deadpan ever since.” He studied English and drama at Yale, then sold ties at Bloomingdale’s in Manhattan while auditioning for acting parts. He debuted on Broadway as a waiter in a 1982 play called, natch, Beyond Therapy.

In 1991, Pierce began commuting part-time to L.A., where he now lives alone full-time, and the next year he impressed Hollywood as a suicidal congressman in Norman Lear’s short-lived series The Powers That Be. His movie career has also thrived, with supporting parts in Sleepless in Seattle, Little Man Tate, The Fisher King, and the recently wrapped Wolf (due next March), in which he plays a publishing assistant opposite Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer. ”The first table reading,” sighs Pierce, ”I’m going, like, ‘Ahhhhhhhhhh. Hey, how did I get here?”’

On Frasier, the fall’s biggest new hit, he’ll continue to explore the ) subtleties of character that fuel the brothers’ marvelously testy relationship. As the producers laid it out, Pierce says, ”Niles is Frasier had he never gone to Boston and been exposed to Cheers. They also said Niles is a Jungian and Frasier is a Freudian. I went and got, like, a Jung Cliffs Notes. But just try to act that!”