Costar Topher Grace tells what he's learned on the ''Simpsons of the new millennium''
”That ’70s Show” returns to Fox tonight at 8:30 for its second-season premiere, and the network has been ringing the bell-bottom loudly for its fifth-highest-rated series of last year (behind ”X-Files,” ”Ally McBeal,” ”The Simpsons,” and ”Family Guy”). In the ultimate sign of respect, the network has been using ”’70s” reruns to fill the spot intended for Jennifer Love Hewitt’s ”Time of Your Life” (which debuts Oct. 25). ”It’s great, we were on three times last week,” says Topher Grace, who plays Wisconsin Everyteen Eric Forman. ”We’re like the ‘Simpsons’ of the new millennium.”
Homer Simpson never had it so good: This sitcom is Grace’s first TV experience, and the 21-year-old actor’s previous acting résumé included only three high school plays. Luckily one of his costars in these way-way-off-Broadway productions (read: New Hampshire’s Brewster Academy) was the daughter of ”’70s” cocreators Bonnie and Terry Turner, who later called him to audition for their new show while he was a University of Southern California freshman. Once he was signed, hoping for a hit was the last thing he had to worry about. ”I’d never been on a photo shoot before, I’d never been on an audition before, and I’d never seen myself on television,” says Grace. ”There was lots of different ways it was weird for me, not just because it was the first season.”
But now that he’s had a season to acclimate to being on a hot show, he’s learned quite a few lessons, including that the most important pastime of TV actors isn’t screaming at their agents about why they didn’t get a role in ”Scream 4” — it’s just plain hanging around. Grace and the three male costars who play his best friends (Ashton Kutcher, Danny Masterson, and Wilmer Valderrama) spend hours hunched over their Super Nintendo. But wasting time is not just a young man’s game. ”I don’t think that Kurtwood [Smith, who plays his father] goes back to his dressing room and works on his doctorate,” jokes Grace. ”And Debra Jo [Rupp, who plays his mother] is really into Nintendo too. No one goes back and works on math. Not having to grow up… that’s kind of what acting is.”