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The Transformation Of Topher Grace From That '70s Show To Now

Topher Grace left "That '70s Show" in 2005, and yet it may still be his more identifiable role. Many sitcom actors leave a show in order to grow as artists and people, only to find a version of themselves preserved in rerun amber. The public doesn't always grow with them.

Topher first graced our TV screens in 1998. Capitalizing on the 20-year trend cycle of nostalgia, "That 70s Show" was like "Happy Days" but set two decades later. Most of the characters, ironically enough, watched "Happy Days." Grace led the show as Eric Forman, the somewhat awkward and geeky nexus of a group of friends. He dated Donna (Laura Prepon), the girl next door, and generally tried to endure high school.

Much of the "That '70s Show" cast has remained in the public eye. Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher got married and had kids they never bathe. Prepon went on to great success on "Orange Is the New Black." And Danny Masterson co-starred with Kutcher on Netflix's "The Ranch" until he was finally charged with sexual assault after two decades of allegations. Topher Grace's career has landed somewhere in the middle. Never vaulting to superstardom, he has nonetheless been able to choose projects that interest him.

Playing his worst self

While still on "That '70s Show," Topher Grace had a brief role as himself in "Ocean's Eleven." He and several WB stars are taught the rules of poker by Brad Pitt's Rusty Ryan. The scene ends ironically, with Grace and the WB kids mobbed by fans while the actual megastars (Pitt and George Clooney) are able to leave unnoticed.

Grace reprised his entitled "Ocean's" character for 2004's "Ocean's Twelve," but couldn't cameo on 2007's "Ocean's Thirteen" due to scheduling conflicts with "Spider-Man 3." Grace had gone from a somewhat clueless actor to a hotel-trashing nightmare between "Eleven" and "Twelve," and it's a shame we didn't get to see how they escalated his character one last time. "I was bummed. I actually talked to Steven Soderbergh about that and we had a thing and then I couldn't do it," Grace said in 2007, via Rotten Tomatoes. "I'm bummed because there's nothing more fun than dropping in on that set for one or two days and hanging out with that crew."

Leaving behind the sitcom grind

Topher Grace left "That '70s Show" after its penultimate season. "That '70s Show" had been Grace's first big acting gig. He'd snagged some film work while still on the show, but it was hard to pursue a film career while still being tethered to the sitcom grind. As Rory Cochrane discovered when his character Speed was killed off on "CSI: Miami," it's hard to do much of anything else while you're stuck making a weekly show.

To explain his absence in-show, Eric went off to Africa to teach English for a year. To replace Eric in the group dynamic, the show cast Josh Meyers (Seth's brother) as Randy. Fans weren't exactly wowed with Randy, and the show was canceled after one Eric-less year. Grace, however, returned for the series finale. He told The Hollywood Reporter that he'd be up for a reboot, reunion, or revival. But he just doesn't see it in the cards. "For me, I'd do it if no one ever saw it. Just 'cause it would be great to hang out with them for a week or something," he said.

Seven years of sitcom money has allowed Grace to only pursue projects that really vibe with him. "Five or six years ago, I thought, 'Ya know, I don't have to do anything.' I'm so happy [That '70s Show] was successful, and I really just want to work with auteurs, and that's what I've been doing," he told THR. Besides working on films with auteurs, Grace indulged his passion for editing, recutting the three "Star Wars" prequels into one movie. He later did the same thing with the "Hobbit" movies.

Everyone's favorite symbiote (in their least favorite movie)

Grace's first big role after "That '70s Show" Eddie Brock/Venom in Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man 3." On Michael Rosenbaum's podcast, he shared how much of a fan he was of the character. "I was a huge fan of the character of Venom when I was a kid when Todd McFarlane brought him into the comic. I was a huge fan of it," he said. "And I was surprised and a little bit like 'Huh?' when they wanted me to play it." Grace wasn't the only one to go "Huh?" at his casting; audiences didn't respond to the character, at least not as how Raimi deployed him. "Spider-Man 3" did well at the box office, but was widely regarded as a shark-jumping moment for the franchise. A spin-off starring Venom was quickly scuppered.

Speaking to ScreenRant, producer Avi Arad expressed remorse for making Raimi shoehorn Venom into a story/world in which he did not belong. "I think we learned that Venom is not a sideshow," he said. "In all fairness, I'll take the guilt — because of what Sam Raimi used to say in all of these interviews — feeling guilty that I forced him into it. And you know what I learned? Don't force anybody into anything."

Working with Spike Lee

"Spider-Man 3" kind of hobbled Topher Grace's film career at the starting gate, but he didn't let it get him down. As discussed previously, his TV money meant that he could be choosy about which projects to take. He took teeny roles in films like "Under the Silver Lake" and "Interstellar." But he didn't have another truly prominent role until he played David Duke in Spike Lee's "BlacKkKlansman." This was by design. "I don't really care what the size of the role is or what the perception of the role is or anything.," he told THR. "I don't really care what it does to my career. I love it."

"BlacKkKlansman" is based on the true story of Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), a Black police officer who infiltrates a cell of the Ku Klux Klan over the phone. The hardest part of the role for Grace was retraining his mind to feel comfortable saying all the racial slurs and hate speech of white supremacist Duke. "[Y]ou're really trained in a good way not to say any of those words," he explained. "So I was alone in my office in my house and having trouble saying the dialogue. And you do have to get comfortable saying it because the characters are obviously very comfortable. So it was just a weirder experience than a normal role." The ensemble of "BlacKkKlansman" was nominated for a SAG award, and Grace won awards from the San Diego International Film Festival and Newport Beach Film Festival for his portrayal of Duke.

A return to television

Grace is back to starring on a sitcom, but a single-camera one this time. He is part of the ensemble of ABC's "Home Economics." The show follows a family whose siblings are all on very different parts of the socio-economic spectrum. Grace plays the oldest sibling Tom, a middle-class writer. His younger brother Connor ("American Vandal" star Jimmy Tatro) runs an equity firm and is firmly entrenched in the 1%, while his sister Sarah (Caitlin McGee) is barely surviving on her child therapist salary. GQ noted the show could not be more timely, as "class and income inequality in America are constantly in the headlines."

Grace also serves as an executive producer on the show. "You just know when it's clicking," he told GQ. And it happened for me once before being on a dream team like that. What are the odds it'll happen again? But this group, you get to really fan out every day, because you just love everyone you're working with." The show also stars "SNL" alum Sasheer Zamata and "How to Get Away with Murder" actress Karla Souza. Rotten Tomatoes praised the cast, citing "believable chemistry between its well-cast siblings and a real sense of affection." Per Deadline, the show was renewed for a second season in May 2021, which began airing in September 2021.