Kelsey Grammer, Dennis Hopper, & Nathan Lane Interview – SWING VOTE

     July 29, 2008

Written by Heather

In Disney’s take on the ugly side of electoral politics, Swing Vote, actors Kelsey Grammer and Dennis Hopper play the would-be presidents pandering for Kevin Costner’s deciding vote. Grammer is the polished republican sitting president, whereas Hopper is the liberal democratic candidate, and Nathan Lane his campaign manager who is willing to stop at nothing to finally win an election.

At the press day for Swing Vote, these three did a press conference together, and as you may be able to tell, it sure was…interesting. They were obviously a little punch drunk on publicity by the time the conference came around and spent most of their time alternately giggling or giving each other ridiculous looks while the third one tried to answer. Perhaps you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Dennis Hopper and Nathan Lane wiggling their eyebrows at each other while Kelsey Grammer struggles to give an appropriate, sound-bite worthy answer.

On a slightly more somber note, you will notice that a couple members of the press there with me brought up his recent heart attack. At the time of the conference, he looked great and told everyone he was feeling fine. Unfortunately, today’s news reports that he was just hospitalized for fainting. Let’s all hope he gets better soon.

Question: Can each of you talk about what attracted you to this project?

Kelsey Grammer: Sure. I thought it was a terrific script. I thought it was well-intentioned, as well. I’m not one that’s drawn to do political movies, as a rule. I’m not so sure I fit into the mold on a Hollywood political movie, but I thought this one was responsible. I thought it lampooned both sides of the equation. I thought that was good, and I thought in the end it did something that I believe in, which is tee up the responsibility to vote and to do it responsibly and take it seriously. I thought in praise of that it’s certainly a timely film. And there was a scene with an elephant that I thought really was fantastic, that did not make it into the movie. But I’m glad I did the film anyway.

Dennis Hopper: It was the script and the people that I heard I was going to be working with. Yeah.

Nathan Lane: If I’m going to go third every time, I’m not going to have anything to say because you guys are so articulate and intelligent. You answer them and then by the time they get to me, I go, ‘Ditto.’

Hopper: You can go first.

Grammer: You can do the Costner one; the thrill of working with Kevin Costner. Do that!

Lane: Oh Kevin. Kevin Costner. I love Kevin Costner. That’s all I have to say. I love Kevin Costner. I think we all do. I agree with that these two esteemed gentlemen had to say. I didn’t have a scene with an elephant, and I still wanted to do the movie and I did it anyway. So there we are.

Question: What was it like working with Kevin Costner? We heard that every night his band would play?

Grammer: Almost at the drop of a hat. And attendance was mandatory. That got a little weird, I’ve got to admit. His band is fun to listen to and there was the big final debate, we did take an extended dinner break sometime around three in the morning for a little concert. I guess it was fun (giggles).

Question: Kelsey, in playing the president, could you feel the power?

Grammer: Oh, it’s great. It’s the best costume I’ve ever worn. It’s the biggest certainly, it’s like, wow. That plane is fantastic, although it was just some crappy old freight plane they dressed up.

Hopper: Really? Oh man, it looked great. Wow.

Grammer: I just pretended in my head it all worked. The trappings are wonderful and the sense of being in that kind of position and still being just a guy is actually kind of fun. I think when you get to walk around inside the skin of a character say, ‘Oh wow, he still gets up, he still wants to try to do this, and have a bowl of ice cream,’ I thought it was a lot of fun.

Question: Nathan and Dennis, just working together given your backgrounds, was there any improvisation on the set that came into the film or was it all in the script?

Lane: There wasn’t, but you know, look, it was so well-written. And if it’s that well-written, I don’t feel the need to improvise. And we weren’t asked to do any improvisation. There might have been a line or something here or there, but no, essentially, we didn’t improvise. But for me it was a thrill to work with an icon like Dennis Hopper and he was just as great as I thought he would be.

Hopper: More (laughs).

Grammer: Oh boy.

Lane: And we hit it off personally as well. We laughed a great deal.

Hopper: A great deal.

Lane: He’s so interesting because you think you know Dennis Hopper, but you don’t really know Dennis Hopper. I don’t really know Dennis Hopper, I just know him from the silver screen. (Hopper and Grammer are cracking up). But I knew his involvement in the art world. So at one point I had some time to kill, I went to Santa Fe, I went to the Georgia O’Keefe museum.

Hopper: Did you?

Lane: Yes. And I remember coming back and saying to Dennis, ‘Yeah, I went to the Georgia O’Keefe museum,’ and he said, ‘We actually were friends.’ And he told me these wonderful stories. We just had a great time. It was nice that we had such a nice rapport, but it’s always good when you get to work with terrific actors on good material.

Hopper: The actors were wonderful and the script was good. And Kevin I think is terrific in this movie.

(Lane cracks up).

Lane: There was a little extra in your paycheck, right?

Hopper: No, he is. He’s really good, man.

Question: When was the first time you felt that your vote actually counted?

Grammer: Gosh. I always felt it counted.

Hopper: (laughs) Yeah, me too.

Grammer: I do not suffer from the sort of chronic low self-esteem that America seems to hang onto. I think everybody’s vote counts, I always thought that.

Hopper: Yeah, me too. I’m very honest.

Lane: Yes, me three. (makes a face) Although… well, never mind.

Question: Did your roles give you a different perspective on the presidential campaign that we’re witnessing?

Grammer: Honestly no. I thought this film was very gentle on the process. Because frankly campaigns are horrible. That’s their job. The operatives are committed to ding horrible things to one other, even to their own candidates sometimes. It’s a very difficult job and is fraught with some really dirty tricks. I think this film caught a few of them, but also did in a good-spirited way.

Question: Given your counter-culture background, knowing you’re playing a presidential candidate—

Hopper: I was miscast!

Question: I’m wondering if there was any fallout from that from your compatriots back in the day or if that informed your performance.

Hopper: Any thought about what back in the day?

Lane: He doesn’t remember the day!

Hopper: Giving my what?

Question: Given your background, I’m just wondering, it’s such an antithesis of the person we came to know, given… you know…

Grammer: You know–

Question: I was wondering how that informed your performance and if you got any flack from the people who might have enjoyed some of the good times?

Hopper: Well, I wanted to wear long hair, but they said no. I had to cut off my goatee and my moustache, that was a no-no. Beyond that, I tried to keep my hair combed and be as stiff as possible. And it worked.

Lane: Absolutely!

Grammer: Yes (laughs).

Question: Do you think Bud voted for you in the end?

Hopper: In this cut, no. In the cut I’d like to see, yes.

Question: Did either of you find yourselves modeling your characteristics or your character after any real politicians?

Grammer: No.

Hopper: I did McCain because I can’t move my arms any further than this (he holds his arms close to his body). No, no, no, I didn’t either.

Lane: You can’t move your arms any farther than this?

Hopper: Yeah.

Grammer: Seems like it ought to pay off better.

Hopper: I guess I’m just not that good an actor to pull that off.

Lane: No, you’re a great actor.

Hopper: You can try it. Go ahead.

Lane: What? Do What?

Hopper: Do McCain.

Lane: Do McCain? I haven’t been following his campaign that closely.

Question: Kelsey, you have your hands in every pot in terms of what you can do in this business.

Grammer: (laughs) I’m, uh, diabolical.

Question: You produce TV, you do films, etc. Based on the fact that your TV show, this most recent one, didn’t fare—

Grammer: Back to You. Yeah, yeah. Not happy about it. I had a heart attack. Maybe you heard. I was not happy about it. It was a very stressful time for me and a surprise to me. But everything that doesn’t kill us—which it almost did—makes us stronger.

Question: Does this mean we’ll see you doing more films?

Grammer: Oh gosh, I hope so. You can only do so many a year and I have other things that matter to me, like my wife and family. If a great script comes along and they want me to do it—honestly, I don’t get offered a lot of movies. I was once roasted at the Friar’s club, and my favorite line that the comic said was, ‘I love Kelsey Grammer. I have seen all of his movie.’ (laughs)

Question: Can you forgive me at the risk of embarrassing myself, did you really have a heart attack?

Grammer: Yes I did. Seven weeks ago. I’m doing fine, thanks.

continued on page 2 ——>


Question: Wow. You look fabulous. That’s why I thought you were kidding. Did you have to make a lot of changes because of it in your lifestyle?

Grammer: Oh, no, not a ton, no. Watch your diet a little bit, take some pills. I think things are going to be fine.

Question: Kelsey we talked to your daughter last week at the TCAs. Given you’re a republican, I asked her about the election…

Grammer: How does she feel about it?

Question: She indicated she would be supporting Obama. I was wondering how you feel about that.

Grammer: That’s fine. I always thought she would be. She still needs to work in this town (laughs). She’s just starting out you know. She’s a very smart kid.

Question: Do you talk politics? Do you debate with her? Go back and forth?

Grammer: No. I don’t think it’s important to battle out political conversations among people, especially who are kind of, you know my daughter has her opinions. And it’s fine, she’s entitled to it. I’m proud of her that she’s a young person with an opinion. I know as things do change, they do change.

Question: Did you all have political conversations in the context of this movie?

Grammer: No. We’re too afraid to. We still like each other.

Question: Dennis, you usually play a villain. This character is more of a good guy. Which one is it harder for you to play?

Hopper: Yeah. Acting is, we do what’s on the page, basically. That’s really it. I don’t think about one part differently from another, really. I just try to play what’s there.

Question: But it has to be more fun playing a sonofabitch than it does playing a good guy.

Hopper: Yeah.

Lane: Well, I’m afraid that’s all we have time for.

Question: Nathan, you didn’t get to let it rip the way you sometimes do. Did you have to pull back a lot for this particular part?

Lane: Well, I don’t need medication of any kind.

Grammer: There are several handlers specifically assigned to him.

Lane: As Dennis was saying, we do what’s on the page.

Hopper: And some of the pages get lost.

Lane: Some of the pages get lost.

Hopper: Then more and more pages get lost.

Lane: And we –

Hopper: And we end up with what we did on the screen.

Lane: Ah, no, it was…

Hopper: Yes! (laughs)

Lane: I don’t how to answer that because that was the character. He wasn’t out of control. If a character gets out of control, then you get out of control. I didn’t have to pull anything back. I don’t have voices in my head telling me I should kill somebody. It was a lovely part and what I thought was a terrific ensemble.

Hopper: You don’t get those voices?

Lane: I’d love to. Why don’t we do Blue Velvet II and I’ll play Son of Frank?

Grammer: The next-door neighbor, right?

Hopper: The next-door neighbor!

Lane: Or the gay next-door neighbor.

Hopper: The bear!

Lane: You dropped your oxygen tank. Can I help you? No, it was nice to be part of an ensemble and to work with such great actors.

Question: Kelsey, as a producer and someone who works in front of the camera, what are your feelings about an impending strike?

Grammer: Oh gosh, I wasn’t real happy about the last one. I hope it did us some good, the writers certainly. I am an actor first and foremost, so that’s where my allegiance remains, but I do think people ought to work. When I first started out I was a member of course of Actor’s Equity and I kept wondering why we did equity waivers. I kept thinking, ‘What’s the point of that?’ It means you’re not going to make any money. ‘I didn’t become an actor to make no money.’ I thought, ‘Why does my union represent me in a way that says we’re quite happy to make no money?’ I thought it was a very strange way to go about it. I think it’s very hard to unionize art. I just have a real, I really question the ability to really do it responsibly. I think it may be great to organize and have pension funds and that sort of stuff, and that seems to be the primary function of SAG, certainly. But I think every artist gets paid what he can get. That is up to you.

Question: Do you folks have any upcoming projects we can expect you in aside from the aforementioned Blue Velvet II?

Hopper: I’ve got a really good one coming up called Elegy with Sir Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz. It will be out next week.

Grammer: Next week? Cool. We both did a thing called American Carol, too, recently. That’s coming out later.

Lane: I have my aluminum siding business and that’s going like a house afire. It’s just great. What do I have?

Grammer: The Adams Family.

Lane: Well yes, but that’s a long way away. No, this is the one movie I have coming out right now.

Question: What about Broadway?

Lane: What about Broadway. Yes, I’m involved with a new musical based on The Adams Family. It’s about a year or so away.

Question: Can we get your opinion on your characters’ flip-flopping? On when candidates change their mind so quickly?

Grammer: I think it’s maybe a symptom of the political process in our country that you just say what people want to hear. And there are so many different people now, you say so may different things in order to try to enlist their support and get their vote. The film is just a reduction of that problem, that disease, I guess. You’re willing to toss your ideology for the sake of a single vote, and that’s probably why we all get so confused and a little bit exhausted with the election cycles we’re in these days. But I think in the end that moment in the voting booth is still a sacred moment and one that should be treated as such.

Hopper: I agree with Kelsey.

Grammer: Thank you, Dennis.

Hopper: I mean it. This is a magnification of our voting process and our political system. So we have the republican on one side, the democrat on the other, and one person in the whole country. And now these two political entities are going to try to decide what this one person wants. And they’re going to change their vote and they’re going to do it because they want to be president, and so it’s magnification of problems in our society. The way our political system goes and the way it works. And I agree that that moment when you go into the polling booth, that is a sacred moment, that is your moment, and every vote does count. That’s the way our system works, thank God.

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