Kelsey Grammer: Frasier is one of the great comedic characters in TV canon
He has teased fans with talk about a possible reboot of iconic sitcom Frasier, but until then Kelsey Grammer is keen to play against type. The US actor tells Gemma Dunn why legal drama Proven Innocent ticked the boxes
KELSEY Grammer has foolproof criteria when it comes to accepting a role. And it certainly seems to be working for the Frasier actor, whose CV – which takes in everything from comedian to singer, producer, director and writer – has spanned film, TV and theatre for a four decades.
"'Will they pay me?' and 'Is it really something I haven't done before?' – that's what I like to do!" the multi-award-winning star says.
"Arguably, I've done one of the great comedic characters in the canon of television, so I don't look to do him any more," Grammer (64), adds in reference to his long-running portrayal of psychiatrist Dr Frasier Crane in award-winning sitcoms Cheers and Frasier.
"I'm not going to play Frasier unless I'm going to play Frasier again. I like doing dramas, I like doing bad guys, I like doing protagonists and antagonists, within a longer form. I mean, I go off and do a movie about a doctor next week... It's just different stuff."
But first four-times married father-of-seven Grammer can next be seen in US legal drama Proven Innocent. The Fox series – written and produced by Empire's Danny Strong and co-written by David Elliot – tells the emotional story of one woman's fight to prove the innocence of others, as well as herself.
It was a narrative that came to Strong after he watched a documentary on the twice convicted and now acquitted Amanda Knox.
"It's based upon a real legal group called The Innocence Project, which started in Chicago," says Grammer, who, himself, was born on the island of Saint Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, and raised in New Jersey.
"It deals with a law firm [that] goes into backlogged cases, previously convicted prisoners, basically, for whom they exonerate and reverse sentences or vacate sentences. My character [Gore Bellows] is a prosecutor who is responsible for putting some of those people in jail and he's, of course, the villain in the piece."
The defence firm Grammer speaks of is led by lawyer Madeline Scott (played by Rachelle Lefevre), who at age 18 was wrongfully convicted in a sensational murder case that made her a media obsession.
Madeline's bold tactics earn her an enemy in Bellows – the prosecutor who initially put her away and still denies her innocence.
"They evolve through this relationship where he still thinks she's guilty," explains Grammer, whose credits also include his Emmy Award-winning voiceover as Sideshow Bob on The Simpsons.
As for placing a compelling female at the helm, Grammer says writing Lefevre's character was an "organic decision" from the storytellers.
"I'm an advocate for all sorts of equalities, but I just want people to show up and be good at what they do," he says.
"I think there's always been strong female characters. Maybe I'm wrong? [But] Joan of Arc? She's pretty archetypal and pretty damn powerful.
"We were also working on developing a show that actually turned into a musical called War Paint, where Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden squared off in the early 1900s, and they were as powerful as any two people you've ever known.
"So I think a lot of the role playing that has gone on between men and women throughout history has been born of necessity, mostly."
The series has something to say about the justice system too.
"The show has a timely factor, a contemporary culture factor, about prison sentences and criminal justice reform," says Grammer, whose own family has been affected by crime and tragedy, both his father and sister having been murdered in separate incidents in the 1960 and 70s.
"Things that are kind of hot topics now, especially in the US. And there's a lot of room for discussion and exploration. Some things are changing, but we'll see."
That's not to say he's worried about the audience response – particularly from industry critics.
"You usually know [critics] won't like it anyway," says Grammer who next month joins a six-week run of the English National Opera's rendering of Broadway's Man Of La Mancha at the London Coliseum.
"Once in a while they'll say, 'A hit, a hit, a palpable hit' and you think, 'Oh great, well that's fun', so you have to kind of take that with a grain of salt, as well as the ones that say it's 'The worst thing they've ever seen'."
The same goes for the possible comeback (fingers crossed!) of fan favourite Frasier.
"Should Frasier return, it won't be for the critics," he says. "We hope that if Frasier does come back, the people like it and they'll watch because they had a chance to fall in love with him and those other characters.
"That's the real trick for any show lasting. This particular show, Proven Innocent, if it has a life, it will be because it was given enough time for people to fall in love with it.
"But we're not telling a new story; there are no new stories," he concludes. "But it's an interesting take on what we know anyway. And that's where the entertainment is."
:: Proven Innocent premieres on Universal TV on Monday March 18.