The voice, the smile and those twinkling eyes are unmistakable. In combination, they can only be found in one person: Kelsey Grammer.
When I heard that the legendary actor was going to be visiting the Cayman Islands in 2018, I was thrilled. I have been a fan of his for years, from ‘Cheers’ and ‘Frasier’ to ‘The Simpsons’ and ‘Boss’.
Grammer was coming down to be the guest speaker at the Flowers Sea Swim’s Charity Gala With Olympians, thanks to the efforts of martial arts expert and actor Ronnie Hughes, who has been working with the celebrity on a film.
He had such a good time and was so popular, that he has returned this weekend for his second year with the event.
My first introduction to Grammer was at the dinner in 2018, where I was also the emcee for the evening. For a bit of a laugh, I brought him a bottle of sherry, in the spirit (ha, ha) of ‘Frasier’ and his preferred tipple on the show. Hilariously, the joke was on me, as the actor happily revealed that he was not a fan of the stuff at all. It just seemed rude to take it back, so I have no idea where the bottle ended up.
That night, I witnessed a very gracious man not only willing to speak in public about the significant personal tragedies in his life, but also happy to spend as much time as was necessary with all the people clamouring to get five minutes with him.
I subsequently had the chance to sit down with him and learn more about his acting career, his personal life and why he never tires of fans asking him about his role as Frasier.
Does it bother you that people associate you so closely with the Frasier character?
No; what’s interesting is Frasier casts a huge shadow, sort of like Sideshow Bob does … they are of an ilk, in terms of a performance … but it brought so much joy to people. He was so flawed and wonderful and funny. I used to say to folks after we’d been on the air for a couple of years that they are not watching anymore looking for a surprise; the only surprise was how will he get into trouble rather than whether or not he’s going to get into trouble. His stumbling is what always made him appealing, and I think that is maybe what kept him alive for so long. He’s a graceful … buffoon, and I have no objections with being known for him. Frasier has been magnificent.
Cracking up on set. Has that been a problem for you or others?
John [Mahoney] would laugh the most. He would giggle more than anyone else. Honestly, though, the funniest thing in the world is passing gas on stage. That is just one of the things that always gets people going, and when it’s live theatre, it’s even funnier. I’ve had that happen a couple of times [laughs].
If you had not become an actor, what do you think you would have done?
I’m not really sure, might have been boating. I love sailing. When I was younger, I had a little boat as a kid. I used to take a sailboat back and forth from Lauderdale to Bimini … that was what I loved, I loved being on the water. I was also a surfer at that time in my life, but hard to make a living out of that. Maybe some kind of competitive sailing [would have been my path].
If you had the choice between TV, film or being on stage, what would it be?
Well, stage is the most rewarding in the immediate sense and so being a sucker for immediate reward [laughs], I like that stage thing, but I find them all rewarding, challenging and interesting. I’ve done some dogs and I’ve thought, “Oh God, get me out of this,” but there have been so many interesting jobs that I’ve had a chance to do. I like doing film too … I’m trying to focus more on that at this point; do some different roles, some different things that I’ve never tried. You just want to keep playing pretend.
My next role is an old rocker, which will be kind of fun; sort of an homage to Robert Plant. It’s set in the ‘90s about a guy who was really popular in the ‘70s, and so it’s all about that golden age of rock and roll. This guy did not quite make it but he had huge potential and was successful for a while. I’m doing some singing, and it’s not what people are used to [hearing me sing], so it’s fun and different.
Is it true that TV allows actors to have more time with family?
If you are doing a half-hour sitcom, multi-camera, that schedule’s fantastic – you can have a real life then, and make a lot of money and enjoy your family all the time. Film does take you away from them sometimes, but I always take my kids and wife Kate with me if it’s anything more than about 10 days. I do not want to be apart from them. Even the four days here, it’s been hard. I call my family all the time and I really miss them.
You split your time between the UK and the US; how do you like the UK?
Love the UK, and of course Kate’s family is there. Would probably choose the country rather than the city, but London is amazing. Mayfair, anywhere in Mayfair [laughs].
When I was growing up, starting in acting, I was in Manhattan. What I realised about Manhattan is it is the best city in the world to be really rich or really poor. You can do anything for free; they look after people. I used to go the Museum of Metropolitan Art every day, for free, and that was fantastic. But anywhere inbetween super rich and super poor, it’s a crappy place to slog it out. It’s tough, and I imagine London is the same.
I read somewhere you wished you had played Hamlet, is that true?
Yes, I’ve never had the chance to play him. I love him, so I’ll just have to direct him one of these days. I’m a little long in the tooth for [playing the role], but you never know.
One of my favourite ‘Frasier’ episodes is the one with Derek Jacobi as the ageing actor.
That was so much fun. We were all saying “This is so cool!” We had a great time with him. He’s so funny, I saw him do ‘Hamlet’ – a PBS version – when I was 15 or 16 years old and I said “How breathtaking, how exciting to see him, remembering him doing the nunnery speech.” I told him and he said, “Oh God, I was awful!” [laughs]. He was really quite embarrassed about it.
How do you like the Cayman Islands?
Really love them. I’m a Caribbean kid, I was born in St. Thomas, USVI, and I have been back and forth a lot, gone to the Bahamas a lot, St. John and the Virgin Islands and the BVI, but I had never been to the Cayman Islands before this trip. It is a beautiful place with a wonderful community.