- The Washington Times - Monday, January 26, 2004

You don’t see pictures of “That ‘70s Show” star Topher Grace plastered all over the newsstands like, say, photos of his fellow sitcom star and his older woman gal pal, Demi Moore.

“A lot of actors are their own worst enemies,” the 25-year-old Mr. Grace says. “I certainly have seen that in peers of mine … you can get yourself taken out of contention for roles if they know about you too much.”

Mr. Grace doesn’t mention co-star Ashton Kutcher by name. The two, in fact, are best pals, and it seems unlikely Mr. Grace would cast any verbal stones while promoting his new film, “Win a Date With Tad Hamilton!”

The movie, which opened Friday, takes its share of shots at the acting profession, specifically its handsome title character. The film follows the fallout when a vain movie star (Josh Duhamel) takes a fan (Kate Bosworth) on a fantasy date that blossoms into a bona fide romance. Mr. Grace plays Miss Bosworth’s co-worker with a too-obvious crush on her.

The film’s fluffy tone could hardly stand in sharper contrast to that of 2000’s “Traffic,” in which Mr. Grace played an arrogant preppy.

While the aforementioned Mr. Kutcher has squeezed in several poorly received movies since scoring fame on “That ‘70s Show,” Mr. Grace has been more selective.

He says his fellow actors “wimp out” when they bite on the first project they see.

“You have to hold out for the best deal,” says Mr. Grace, who might have been better advised to pass on his small role in last year’s “Mona Lisa Smile.”

When the first season of “That ‘70s Show” wrapped, his co-stars scrambled for outside projects.

Mr. Grace chose to wait. That meant turning down work that would have ratcheted up his profile — and lined his coffers.

“I’m more proud of turning down [junk] than accepting ‘Traffic,’” he says.

Don’t expect to see Mr. Grace with James Lipton anytime soon dilating pretentiously about the subtleties of his craft on “Inside the Actor’s Studio.” The little-spoken “golden rule” of Hollywood, the young actor says, is that the work isn’t really so hard.

If it all seems a little too easy to Mr. Grace, maybe it’s because his own road to fame and fortune was the kind of shortcut few stumble upon.

He was famously singled out during a high school theatrical performance by the parents of a fellow student. Those parents worked in Hollywood, and the next year, they summoned Mr. Grace — still in his first year at the University of Southern California — to audition for a new show set in the 1970s.

Now, he says he’s focused on working with the best directors available during the sitcom’s hiatus. “That’s my mission statement, if I had one,” he says.

His next two films find him working under Dylan Kidd (2002’s “Roger Dodger”) and Chris and Paul Weitz (“About a Boy”), both rising talents.

His admiration for “Tad Hamilton” director Richard Luketic grew after seeing Mr. Luketic’s breakout film, “Legally Blonde,” a movie Mr. Grace admits he was “dragged” into seeing.

“It operates on two levels,” he says of the pink-hued satire on perceived intelligence.

The director took a similarly inventive approach to “Hamilton,” Mr. Grace says.

He shot it in a classical style, the opposite of “Traffic,” he says, with great wide shots and sumptuous colors.

“When he chooses to go in for close-ups, they really have a purpose,” he says.

The old-fashioned approach underscored the film’s retro appeal.

“Tad’s more of a matinee idol, [but] some of the things he’s accused of doing Colin Farrell does on the red carpet,” he says.

Mr. Grace, whose first name is shortened from Christopher, can afford to be selective for now. When his sitcom’s run ends, however, perhaps as early as next year if the cast’s whisperings prove accurate, his choices may dwindle unless he scores a box-office hit or two soon.

Until then, he’ll go where the quality directors lead him, no matter the genre.

“I love finding movies that are neither specifically comedic or dramatic,” he says. “Life isn’t either.”

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