'Frasier' still fun for multitalented actor

Sunday, November 11, 2001

You would be hard-pressed to name two more different heroes than Marshal Matt Dillon, the Wild West lawman of "Gunsmoke," and Seattle's snooty shrink, Dr. Frasier Crane.

Even so, Kelsey Grammer, beginning his ninth year in the "Frasier" title role after nine years as the same character on "Cheers," has his sights set on Marshal Dillon. James Arness played Dillon for a record 20 seasons. That's a record Grammer aims to match playing Frasier.

"Who knows? We might do more," he says. "But we're counting on the next three seasons."

So is NBC, which counts "Frasier" among its few sitcom hits.

Of course, Kelsey Grammer, 46, hasn't stuck with Frasier Crane purely as an endurance contest.

Nor, presumably, is he hanging on just for the money (although he's already set a record as the highest-salaried actor in TV history, reportedly pulling down $1.6 million per week).

No, as "Frasier" marks its 200th episode Tuesday, the bottom line is this: Grammer says he still has fun being Frasier.

"I have never been visited by the fear that he's stale," says Grammer. "Through him, I get to bring to light a lot of things I think about, myself."

Frasier and Kelsey: It seems they share an asymptotic journey as fellow travelers whose paths grow ever closer, yet never quite merge.

Or is the merger a done deal?

"By now, Frasier lives in my subconscious," says Grammer. "We discover life on kind of the same terms.

"I guess Frasier and I have always looked for the same thing in life: being happy and making an honest living, trying to do some good in the world and changing a few minds if we can. Or at least lifting somebody's burden for a time."

As a feverishly cultivated man for whom order and self-knowledge are everything -- especially since he has neither -- Frasier insists on the finer things in life, and loves to obsess about everything else.

Sure, you laugh at him. But you also admire him. Here's a guy whose taste is unerring, even when exercised in la-di-da ways.

"He's not a complacent character," says Grammer, who applauds Frasier's resolve: What's so wrong with gravitating toward the finer things?

But those who don't know any better are always ready to pounce. That's how Grammer interprets what befell him when, 18 months ago, he returned to the stage to do Shakespeare.

"They were all over me," he says of the disapproving critics. "How dare I come back to New York and play Macbeth, of all things! One guy said I was fat." Grammer shrugs.

"I may have limited my choices by the success I've enjoyed as Frasier," he concedes.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: