William Shakespeare once said, “This above all: to thine own self be true.”
Being true to yourself is not always easy. It means building your strengths, as well as working to overcome your weaknesses. It takes hard work, honesty, self-reflection, and the right mindset to stay true to yourself. This is something we talk about a lot on The School of Greatness. And on today’s episode, we discuss the benefit of having a positive mindset and how it influences you on your path to greatness.
“When you are challenged, you are actually going up the mountain. And when you [come] down [the slope], you feel amazing, but there is no challenge in that.” – Topher Grace
Known for his roles in various blockbuster movies and on a very famous sitcom, today we have the amazing Topher Grace in the house. I was excited to talk to Topher about a celebrity’s mindset and learn how he balances being true to himself with the demands of work, celebrity culture, and all the attention that comes with being an actor.
I am really excited for you all to learn from this legendary man about his career and about how Topher made his own opportunities — and multiplied them.
Topher is an American actor best known for his lead role as Eric Foreman in the Fox sitcom That ‘70s Show, alongside well-known actors Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher. The show took over the TV world for several seasons and was also airing on Netflix until recently.
Topher then went on to play Venom/Eddie Brock in Spider-Man 3 and starred in Interstellar, BlacKkKlansman, Traffic, Mona Lisa Smile, and many more well-acclaimed movies. Topher has been acting for decades, and his work has been extremely powerful and inspiring.
On the side, Topher also hosts a podcast, Minor Adventures with Topher Grace, where he brings along a new guest each week and takes them on a little in-studio adventure. It is hilarious and creative, and I highly recommend that you check it out after this episode.
I was thrilled to host Topher on this episode of The School of Greatness, and our conversation would surely inspire you to lead a life of greatness.
Topher found himself in the limelight quite early in his life, at the age of 20. After acting in just a few small roles in his high school plays, he landed the lead role in That ‘70s Show, despite failing to make it into film school.
“I was [attending] the University of Southern California, … [when] my friend Lindsay’s parents, … who were big-time Hollywood producers, … called me to [audition for] the show. And I had never auditioned for anything outside the school plays. … They were looking for a really nerdy kid, and that is what they got.” – Topher Grace
His friend’s parents, Bonnie and Terry Turner, who had recently won a Golden Globes Award, had seen Topher in one of the school plays and considered him for the role. The producers auditioned several thousand kids, but, beating all the odds, Eric won the part.
“[I was] more nervous than I’d ever been. … I knew [if I got the role] … it would be totally life-changing for me. … [I had] never dreamed that big, … but it just happened. … I had twelve mini auditions, and then one big audition … for the president of Fox Networks. … The first year [of shooting] was the most intense experience of my life, and then it got easier.” – Topher Grace
Topher went on to do eight seasons and 200 episodes for the show that was hugely acclaimed worldwide. He considers himself very lucky to have landed the role, and with time he eased into showbiz.
An experience like that comes with some significant learning and personal growth. Topher says the biggest lesson that he learned from the entire eight-season experience was humility.
“[The greatest] lesson I learned was to [accept when] I am wrong. … It’s a skill that [many of us] don’t pay attention to, but [it’s all about] amwork. … There are a lot of times when [you have to accept your mistakes], but there are no classes for it [in school]. … [it’s about] shaving down your ego.” – Topher Grace
Once you accept your mistakes, you open yourself to learn and grow as you move forward in life. Keeping oneself grounded is no easy feat to achieve either — especially as you’re putting yourself out there in front of the cameras (and critics) each and every day.
Receiving feedback is never easy, and part of being an actor is opening the most vulnerable part of yourself to criticism. Many of us hold on to negative feedback for years, allowing it to eat away at our confidence until we become paralyzed. This is something Topher has had to learn to overcome throughout his career. He says part of his strategy for keeping an open mind to feedback is to just listen.
“People who don’t listen, especially on something as collaborative as a film or a TV set, [then] the punishment is theirs. … Even if you think that you are standing up [for yourself] if you don’t learn to listen, it only hurts you.” – Topher Grace
Actors are constantly getting critiqued or judged. Many of us also have to hear criticism — from our managers, coaches, parents, and significant others. The best way to handle negative criticism is to take the feedback quickly and positively and move forward. Shutting out the critics allows actors like Topher to take advantage of opportunities that can feel scary or vulnerable — even when these opportunities don’t pay well.
“I lost money doing BlacKkKlansman [in a sense]. … [The film was shooting in] New York, [and the role I bagged] was for a local hire so that they don’t have to fly [someone] out each time. But I told them that I would fly [at my own expense]. … [Sometimes you] just have to live this way.” – Topher Grace
Topher’s ability to take on a difficult role at his own expense earned him accolades from the audience and the film industry in general. Rather than worry about his own fame, thinking about what the critics would say, or going after more lucrative (but less fulfilling roles), Topher’s been able to build a very respectable reputation on the strength of his own talent.
Topher goes on to share his experience of playing a white supremacist at a time when many people around the country were experiencing social-justice protests and becoming more socially-conscious.
“Playing the character and doing the research … was depressing, … [but the overall] experience was cathartic. … I wasn’t scared about Black people thinking that I am racist, [I was moreover worried about] white people thinking it. … I was nervous when the film [premiered for the first time] at Cannes, … but it worked, … and I had never seen anything like it [before].” – Topher Grace
For an actor, “becoming” a character and living in that role can be a tough challenge. Playing such an evil person can take a toll on you — and that’s before the audience even gets a chance to weigh in. It takes a strong mindset to keep oneself sane and away from negativity.
One thing I appreciate about Topher’s humility is the way he approaches competition. He believes that competition is something that should make you better. It can force you to grow, invest more effort in your resources and time, and come up with a unique opinion.
“[It is] not just competition [but also about respecting your opponent]. … [Like if you play] tennis with someone … better [than you, then] you also get better. … In that way, movie-making is also like sports.” – Topher Grace
Competition for competition’s sake isn’t all that helpful. But, when you compete with yourself to be better, that’s when you can create something amazing. Other people doing great work can inspire you or motivate you to want to do great as well. It is all about the mindset. Instead of buckling under the pressure of competition, you can take it as an experience to learn and flourish.
Even after devastating failure, Topher’s been able to learn from the experience.
“Everyone has a different version of the story, but failure is the most wonderful teacher. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s like all the current successes I am having are because of trying to go deeper into a thing. … I didn’t even understand what the job of an actor was until I [became a] producer and saw all these other elements. And every right move I make now is because I made a wrong move [back] then.” – Topher Grace
Go back to every experience that you regret. Tell yourself that only you can change the narrative to make it something positive. Failure is an essential step in the ladder of success, and you must climb it without fear and reach the top.
You are here for a reason, and no one is ever going to be like you ever again. There is always an opportunity to do something special with your life. Master a new skill, share it with others, and choose to inspire people to tap into their own talent. If you choose to work at it, then you’ve just got to be willing to step up and have confidence in yourself. Make your opportunity and multiply it!
I loved having this uplifting conversation with the legendary Topher Grace. I recommend you listen to this whole episode, share it with the people you care about, and ask them to subscribe. I hope this session inspired you and gave you confidence that will allow you to take a leap of faith into the unknown. Because once you get through the scary and messy times, you will experience incredible beauty.
I am grateful to Topher for taking out the time and joining us today on this episode of The School of Greatness. Follow Topher on Instagram @topher grace for more from Topher and to see what he’s working on next.
I want to leave you with my definition of success. It is to explore the unique talent and gift within you and use those gifts to pursue your dreams. In that pursuit, spread the message of inspiration and greatness far and wide to make an impact on the lives around you.
Lewis: This is episode number 781 with Topher Grace. Welcome to the school of greatness my name is Lewis Howes, a former pro-athlete turned lifestyle entrepreneur and each week we bring you an inspiring person or message to help you discover how to unlock your inner greatness. Thanks for spending some time with me today now let the class begin.
William Shakespeare said “This above all: To thine own self be true.” Welcome to this episode we’ve got Topher Grace in the house. I just went on his show that he launched and it was an incredible adventure, and so we’re bringing him on to share his story. For those who don’t know who Topher is he became famous for that 70’s show. He played Eric Forman in the Fox sitcom that 70’s show which took over the TV world for a number of seasons. Then he went on to play in spider man 3, he was in many other movies as well. He was in interstellar and recently in Spike Lee’s film BlacKkKlansman, if you haven’t seen that extremely powerful and inspiring as well. His other roles he’s been in Traffic, Mona Lisa smile, Valentine’s Day, take me home tonight, war machine, and under the silver leg. Lots of other stuff, this guy has been around for a while now doing some incredible.
In this interview we talked about the biggest lessons Topher learned on that 70’s show. What it was like being a young kid rising to fame quickly with his first acting job, pretty crazy and how he got that job. Talked about how his parents kept him grounded being young and successful when everyone wanted a piece of them. The power of listening on and off set, when he learn to actually listen deeper and not get into his head too much. And we discussed what Topher is still insecure about after over a decade in TV and the film industry. Powerful interview. Make sure to share with your friends, let me know what you think over on Instagram @lewishowes. And as always you can watch the full video interview over on YouTube.com/lewishowes as well.
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Big thank you to our sponsors and I’m excited about today’s episode with the one and only Topher Grace.
Welcome back to the school of greatness podcast we’ve got the legendary Topher Grace in the house. Good to see you man.
Topher: So good to see you man.
Lewis: Doing well?
Topher: Yeah, really well and I’m sure you’re about to say this but we had an incredible experience together, so it’s good to see you.
Lewis: An amazing journey and adventure. A minor adventure.
Topher: Not a big adventure.
Lewis: Topher’s got a new podcast out called minor adventures. You create a magical experience for people.
Topher: I don’t know what you, I didn’t know you then.
Lewis: We just met 2 minutes before that.
Topher: It was like going on some date or something and you’d been.
Lewis: Sim has been doing this thing and I don’t know if it’s gonna work or not but it could be like the most incredible thing or bust.
Topher: And boy did it work. Did you know Matt Nathanson is covering that song? So every episode, we’ve only done it twice before when you came on and I was so thrilled to have you, you know knowing of you but not knowing you and kind of one of the fun things of having a podcast, and every guest who comes in like you has no idea what they’re gonna do, I mean you can vouch that you have no idea what you’re gonna do that day. I know you did because the look on your face when we announced what we’re gonna do is kind of like ‘What?’
So, we talked for about like 10 minutes and then Sim announces what adventure we’re gonna do and it’s been you know, we hook someone up with a lie detector test, we did telemarketing on one of them it was hilarious.
Lewis: You make phone calls.
Topher: We just did beatboxing with Christy Mets it was like, so we try to pair people with things you might not think about and with you we got the best pop song writer in the world. A lot of great artist and she came in and we wrote a song and it was bad at first.
Lewis: And then she made it good.
Topher: Actually you came up with the whole song was kind of be about. And then there was this moment, I just heard it so like you were at a disadvantage because you haven’t heard it yet, but we found it right. It was this magical moment where all of a sudden it was a real song and then they liked it so much that they had Matt Nathanson.
Lewis: Who is this guy?
Topher: Matt Nathanson is a pop song singer and writer. Soon you’ll know his number 1 hit single.
Lewis: What’s the name of it?
Topher: Even if I fall?
Lewis: Even if fall?
Topher: Which sounds like a Lewis House title for a song.
Lewis: Even if I fall we were talking about like overcoming challenges and adversity in your life.
Topher: Well, first you and I and then when she came into the room she wanted something that was personal, and so we have reference what we have been talking about and then I just heard it, like there’s a moment where you kind of come up with a really important part of it and then I came up with what rhymed and she was basically doing all of it, and she’s an amazing songwriter. And then it god good like I’m so glad I’m doing a podcast you could capture moments like that and you’ll love it when you hear it.
Lewis: So on the episode you play it?
Topher: Well, you have to go through the whole thing. She plays like kind of a loose version of it in the end and then they wrote a whole thing and this guy recorded, I mean I hope in 2 weeks this is number 1 in billboard. I remember we gave up our songwriting.
Lewis: Did we always split it 4 ways?
Topher: We felt so guilty that we said “If you get someone to record it like please give them all the money but we’re really gonna regret that.”
Lewis: So the song is good it’s actually really good.
Topher: You know I have this pauses where I haven’t heard the show for a while and we’re recording new shows. So when I heard I thought it was good when she was singing acoustic and then when I heard, I should have just brought it today and play it. I would have love to watch your face like.
Lewis: So we did this whole experience, we did like many interview. I was interviewing you a lot on the episode.
Topher: Well that was the annoying thing Lewis I am 3 episode to my own podcast and I’m starting to talk about, like where I grew up? Where my difficulties and challenges and then overcoming them, and I was like ‘oh my God I’ve been hypnotized. I’ve heard you do it to people and you did to me. But I think we had the editor cut most out because I remember saying in the thing.
Lewis: Cut this out.
Topher: Yeah, you’re trying to turn in on me.
Lewis: It was fun though man.
Topher: A lot of you were talking about your life was that in the song. You remember Sim said in the beginning ‘Let’s write the anthem for L.A’ like there’s no anthem for L.A. And then we just tore him down immediately.
Lewis: Because he’s thinking like New York anthem.
Topher: I mean it’s a good idea to make money.
Lewis: Well, I’m excited for you, the show is going to be amazing and you start to hit this number 1 song. But you’ve had an incredible journey because you kind of came into fame as a teen star and I remember you told me I think when we met that you had like zero job before that or maybe did like one play, was it something small?
Topher: Well, I’ve never acted before I work. So that was kind of my.
Lewis: What was that like 15, 16 or 17?
Topher: My mom would drive me because I don’t have a driver’s license and a really weird thing happened to me which is, because I haven’t told the story a long time tell it all to America when I started on that 70’s show, which is I was in a high school play. I was not the athlete turn entertainer that you are, I was at the varsity tennis team at the school, a boarding school in New Hampshire.
Lewis: Like 300 students or something?
Topher: I mean not even, making the varsity is like 12 best people at tennis and I sprained my ankle and I had these little parts of school play. So, I tried out for the lead and I got it and it was kind of a big scandal because I wasn’t like a drama kid. Some of the drama geeks in the school said they were not gonna do the show. They are still probably mad about it because these producers who were the parents of the girl who made the sets were this big time Hollywood producers. But they called me and said “Would you like to come try out?” I’ve just been rejected from the film school, the only reason I went to USC I’ve been rejected 3 times. So I had no idea what I was doing with my life and I’d never audition for anything outside of like school plays.
Lewis: One school play and that her parents.
Topher: My actor friends hate when I tell this story but the head of Fox, you know I did a lot of like mini kind of audition, to the president of Fox ‘this is your final audition.’
Lewis: For that 70’s show?
Topher: Yeah. So, they said bring a picture and resume because it’s a real audition today and I said “What do you mean a picture and resume?” and they said “It’s like a photo of you so they know who it is and on the back you have a resume of like you know all your jobs.” And I showed up.
Lewis: Dunkin donuts.
Topher: The back was literally Dunkin Donuts and the front is a picture of me and my friends at 6 flags. So, I think that they were so shock that I got the part, like they were looking for a real nerdy kid and that was what they got.
Lewis: And they got you.
Topher: I wasn’t acting nerdy.
Lewis: So you done one play, your friend who is at the school or at the play I guess her parents they saw it or something?
Topher: I knew them and I knew they wrote ‘Wayne’s world and Tommy boy.’ So we all knew they were watching the show and it was amazing. I think in my wildest dreams I would have been like a PA for them during the summer, maybe I would’ve asked them after freshman year. But then I remember her calling Bonnie just, by the way they ran Saturday night live at one point and she called me but I didn’t know she was my friend’s mom. So, I was at school just in my dorm.
Lewis: At USC?
Topher: I think she was kind of a little high and like “Hey it’s Bonnie” and like ‘Do we go out? Like who are you?’ Then she was like “No, this is Lindsey’s mom.” And this was before the show existed so she explained what the show was about, a couple of years ago I bumped into one of the producers on it and they said “Yeah, we had auditions for like a thousand kids.” They went through everyone in L.A and I guess, I did know when I went to the audition that everyone was too cool, they were all professional nerds. They had like product in their hair like a little bit of makeup on. I was actually a nerd who couldn’t get laid in college at that moment, but these kids they’re all reading the scripts in the hallway and kind of like “Donna, I’m such a loser.” And I was like ‘I got this’ because I had real life experience.
Lewis: So you did, what was it like your audition? Were you nervous?
Topher: More nervous that I’ve ever been for anything because I had a feeling, I just knew it’d be a life changer if I got, even if I only went for 10 episodes or cancelled or something it would be totally life changing for me. But then after I got it I was, I won’t say depress but I would say really life if you haven’t dream that big or anything near that scale and then it just happens like, I mean I left the room and they were like “We are on after the Simpsons before the x-files.”
Lewis: How many auditions did you have to do?
Topher: I did like 12 mini auditions where they just want to see if I could repeat what I done the last time or come up with something new, and then this one big audition was the real one.
Lewis: The cast members or was it just you?
Topher: No, the only person in the cast member was Mila who was 14 at time. But it was funny I remember everything that happened that year and that’s it. I don’t remember anything after it because everything my learning trajectory was so inverted that first year it was so hard. I remember working in the pilot the director said ‘great job on that scene, but you didn’t face any of the cameras” like I was that new to it. So, that first year was like the most intense experience my life and then got easier.
Lewis: So there was the 12th audition and the final one where there were like ‘we’re gonna make a decision after this.’ How did tell you?
Topher: They came out and said “Hey we’re taking you to dinner because you got the part” and over at dinner they were telling me like I was sleep walking state. The funny thing is I went back to school it was spring break, so I hadn’t gone back home, I’m from Connecticut but I hadn’t gone there because I had this audition and spring break everyone’s gone. And I just walk through it had no one to tell, I told like one Korean student who was there because he couldn’t go home but he knew English. And then what happened is I started having headaches because I had like 2 months until we started working on it, and I started just feeling, I knew I was very lucky but it was just a weird place to be, I have never dream anything like that to happen and then to know you’re going to do it. It wasn’t until, actually I went home for a week and skip school so kind of messed up about it, and then when we started working on the pilot the first day we started working I felt better. It’s like you just won the lottery you’re too lucky or something.
Lewis: It’s 16 to 20 hour work per day.
Topher: It’s worse for me because I never get to memorize the line and you know really never been on a set before. So, once I realize how hard it was gonna be I felt better.
Lewis: Because why? You realize it was a lucky thing and you had to work for it?
Topher: Yeah, it felt unfair I don’t like I get why a lot of people who win the lottery have like problems.
Lewis: Because then you work for it.
Topher: I think that’s right, I never really actually thought about it. But I think you just feel like someone gifted you something and then boy did we really earned it because we really did it for the next 7-8 years.
Lewis: Was it 8 seasons?
Topher: It was 8 seasons, 200 episodes. I looked back on it now it was really the most beautiful thing doing that show, because we were kind of the age of the kid that started and then we were having these experiences at the same time that. I’m such good friends with Wilmer, I go home and sleepover at his house and he was in high school and then we come back and you know, we sometimes go see a movie together, and we just came from working all day together. And then it was our first meeting you know.
Lewis: All of you were kind of like newbies I guess, maybe Ashton did some stuff.
Topher: Laura never acted, Ashton never acted they modelled and Wilmer could barely speak English, and Mila and Danny acted a little bit.
Lewis: What was the greatest lesson you learned from the first season in the first year?
Topher: I guess it’s mostly teamwork stuff, I wasn’t in sports so I didn’t have your understanding of, but true teamwork not just kind of like ‘hey listen to what everyone says’ but like really, who do I pass the ball to that’s gonna score and that’s why I think that show did so well, I mean there are lot of reasons but that cast really jelled fast and we all knew like this is Ashton’s strength, this is Laura’s strength.
Lewis: What would you say is the biggest lesson from the whole 8 years’ experience if you look back on all the seasons? What was the most important thing you took away?
Topher: Just the other night I was in a tense conversation with my wife, it wasn’t a fight because I was wrong but I really was wrong and I think I learned to say I’m wrong.
Lewis: Over the 8 seasons?
Topher: Yeah, I think a lot of the people don’t, that’s a skill that we don’t pay a lot of attention to but that’s another teamwork thing and we have a kid now and like. I remember most of my stuff was with Laura Prepon, right? I worked with everyone but she’s amazing actress and amazing person and she’s in orange is the new black now and an incredible success and I remember in like the 5th or 6th episode, it wasn’t like a fight it was I thought that she did the joke one way and the middle of the run through, you kind of rehearsed it and run through the writers and the network and stuff. I did what her idea of the scene was because in the moment I was like ‘wait, she’s right I’m wrong.’ So, I did it, it was kind of a dancing we were doing.
Lewis: Does she know you were gonna do her way?
Topher: She was well with it because she was such a rock star and then I was only 19 then but I was like ‘hey, you were right.’ When you’re a student in school there’s not a lot of times you have to, sure it’s better if you say I was wrong but I don’t think there’s no classiness for that you know, and a lot of your work from high school is like very individual, and certainly the plays I thought I was right maybe to myself a couple of times I was wrong, and I said to Laura like “You were right I’m sorry” and I really meant it and there’s no way she remembers this, but it was amazing for me and then over the 7 years it’s making that process quicker. Like before comes a thing, you know what I’m saying? Shaving down your ego.
Lewis: How do you keep yourself grounded while you guys were just blowing up? You know individually as a show, as a group of kids how did you stay?
Topher: Everyone handled that pretty differently. But I have great parents and I had been to boarding school so I already in the process of going home all the time, and it was kind of the same schedule you know summers is off, winter break off. So, I had a very real place, they were in the same house since I was born, so it always felt like I could go out to the real world and kind of come back in and they were great, they’re really great my parents, and they really. That work I think is done before the thing happens to the person.
Lewis: how do you think people should handle when a big break in their life, when they win the lottery or something happens? How can someone take a step back and handle that or approach that with grace moving forward so that they don’t blow the opportunity?
Topher: I would’ve love to make it better to, there were certainly some mistakes. But I think like, one thing I hate I remember at the time was people would say “Don’t change” you don’t know what that means, especially when your 19, like I want to change like I hate my life. I didn’t hate my life but I wanted to do so many different things and people saying not to change, it’s an impossible thing to do and it’s probably bad not to change. They’re saying like ‘stay grounded’ I didn’t know what that meant. I sadly don’t know if there’s a way to.
Lewis: It’s messing up and fumbling along the way so you can learn the lessons you need.
Topher: I think that’s why I was saying the most valuable lesson is saying that you’re wrong. I’ll give you an example that all these lessons I live with every day because I’m still doing the same job, is the director David Trainor he directed every episode of that show, very rare for a sitcom director to do all 200 episode. And he’s a wonderful human, he started on Broadway so he comes from a really working with actors play, some of these TV directors they’re coming out more from a visual place, but he’s coming at an acting place and like I said I was so in terms of just communicating with the actors, I’d say like “In my mind I thought you were gonna do that differently.” That’s not something you can say to actors. But we were all starting and he was very patient that first season. I think in episode like 7 or 8 really early on, came up to me and said like “Can you do this scene faster? It needs to be quick.” And he did even a nice way like “I think Eric would be” but I understood the message was like faster. I was mad because I really like the way I was doing it, it really step on my ego.
Lewis: The first season.
Topher: I don’t mean my ego like I had a huge ego, I mean more like just did personally hurt my feelings. Like I had opinion on the scene as you always, if you’re an actor I think of any consequence is because you have an idea for the scene.
Lewis: Point of view.
Topher: Yeah, point of view, but you know you’re not the boss you’re hired to do that. So, I eventually did it faster but I was grumbling about it. I think when I saw it I didn’t even pay attention if it was better or not I was just like feeling really mad about it, and then like I want to say 2 years later we’re still on the show season 3, I was having a dream I woke up like early in the morning and like ‘what was he writing about that?’
Lewis: Wow, 2 years later.
Topher: And I was like I notice how brilliant the guy was like I don’t know if he was right but we both have good points. Half a year after that I was like ‘he was right’ and so that was now like 2 and a half years later. I realize what I needed to do was when a director comes up to you and have that exact conversation that I have with myself which is ‘you can’t stop yourself from being offended.’ You know if I came in here, like you can’t. But what you have to do, it’s getting from 2 years to 3 seconds to say like ‘Okay, let me listen, let me open myself.’ I’ve tried to take that process and now spike lee here or when this directors comes up to me, if anyone comes up to you and say anything is wrong about you, you can kind of like put up a wall. And so that is an example of something that I’ve taken with me.
Lewis: That’s a powerful skill because most people can hold to words or something that someone say or doesn’t say, an acknowledgement or non-acknowledgement and hold on to it for years like you said or months or days or hours. And it can consume their minds so much where they aren’t incapable of taking action on their dreams.
Topher: It wasn’t every minute of every day thinking about that scene.
Lewis: I mean you’ve dealt with this and I think actors probably dealing with this the most because they are constantly critic or judge. So, how do you teach other people to deal with those emotions or they don’t hold on to something but they take the feedback quickly?
Topher: I don’t know how to tell someone else to listen, like it’s impossible. But I will say to people who don’t listen especially as collaborative as a film set or a TV set, the punishment is theirs. You know even if they think they’re standing up their thing if you don’t know how to listen it only hurts you.
Lewis: Who’s been the most brilliant person you worked with?
Topher: We did an episode in my podcast with Lewis Howes that change the game for me.
Lewis: An actor where you were just like “Wow, I’ve never experience someone so brilliant” whether it’d be a scene or director or like.
Topher: Maybe a couple of people. With directors was definitely David Trainor who directed 70’s show, early on with my first film Traffic Steven Soderbergh was someone I was always a huge fan of. Like to be able to work with him, I didn’t even know how to appreciate that because it was my first film, but in retrospect I look back he also holds the camera right there with you. Paul White is an amazing director that I worked with who you’ve seen his stuff good company. He’s amazing and I did a play with him on New York, another amazing experience. And Spike Lee, Chris Nolan that’s been like my. More and more I’m working with just directors that I really love, so the list gets more and hopefully I can add more and more to that list.
Actors. Adam Driver was in BlacKkKlansman, I’ve got some stuff for them and I thought he was.
Lewis: Guy is brilliant.
Topher: Yeah, the star wars movies now but he’s also like, him and John David Washington and that movie were like, I had one or two scenes were like it was the 3 of us and I was like ‘this is a really fun day’ it was very heavy subject matter but like just bouncing of actors like that is so much fun.
Lewis: What is it about those actors that make them so unique? That you like wow this is a talent beyond.
Topher: Like this isn’t fair, like his vessel is so much better. His deep voice and this like a way of delivering lines, and if I wanted to copy I couldn’t. You know who else was very great for me? A very informative work was Dennis [?], I actually done 4 things with him and he was in traffic but then we did this movie good company, we did this movie a couple of years ago called ‘truth’ with Cate Blanchet and that was another set where I was just like. Robert Redford was in that and I go like ‘screw it we go dinner sometimes.’ But I think, I always knew it was working with great people because I’ve been in great ensembles but it’s more and more like obsessed with it, just getting around with good people.
Lewis: Experience the journey. What makes those people so great do you think? You know these few people you talked about these actors.
Topher: Oh what’s kind of like the thread? I think it’s that they don’t care about the money. All of these directors and actors all of them there, when you’re doing something for money it takes on it’s a different thing and it keeps kind of, you know what I mean it keeps getting more about that and you kind of say. I lost money doing blackkklansman.
Lewis: You lost money because you’re an executive producer or?
Topher: The film made money, I wish I had a piece of it. But they said “We don’t know if you’re right for this” they never see me do that kind of role, so I said “Let me go and read for spike personally.” And then when I got it they say “We love to have you” but it’s a local hire, meaning you have to be from New York so they don’t have to fly you out and I said ‘I’ll fly myself.’ So, when you’re making decisions from that point of view, but it’s all ego you know like ‘I didn’t get paid, I had to go in and audition.’
Lewis: So you felt like you got a pay cut you know you get to do things, you have to drive yourself to work or whatever.
Topher: It’s not hard. You got to live life way before. There was a period of time I was in this movie and I was looking around and everyone had an assistant and I was like “Why do we need an assistant for? My life is so boring.” Like when you’re out of work, I was an actor majority of the time, like you can go and get your own dry cleaning.
Lewis: A lot of free time.
Topher: One time I had an assistant because in my contract, I was producing a movie and I was like ‘can you dial [?]’
Lewis: So what was that experience for you being like this?
Topher: It’s 2 very different things playing the character, doing the research for the character was just like near depression, like it was because I really wanted to come correct for Spike and I did it. I read his autobiography which is like basically his version [?], and then I was watching this interviews with him and my wife, we just had our kid at that point and she was like “You need to take it to the basement.” When we started shooting it, it was more fun because I said there’s so many great people to work with but the research was depressing, the doing it and also the idea of working with Spike on something at that very moment, [?] just happened they added that stuff at the end later. So, you’re watching the news every day you are so frustrated as we all are.
Lewis: And then you’re the one giving the lines that’s like the bad guy.
Topher: Spike wouldn’t come up to me “don’t worry, I know we shot all klan rally all these week, but this isn’t what the film is gonna be like.” Just an artist you know you’re an actor people shouldn’t be listening to what you’re saying, you know what I mean? But we all have opinions and to go and work with someone like Spike who people should listen to, and to be able to say something. I remember when the trailer came out we improvised a thing, I mean I went up to spike and say “What if we work in America first because it kind of happened recently?” and he said “Yeah, that’s great.” So, during the toast I said America first and then that was the end of the trailer.
Lewis: Giving a speech?
Topher: Yeah, I’m giving a speech and I agree to toast. And then when it was at the end of the trailer I was like “Is Trump gonna see this?” Like I know he watches TV you know. So, it was a very cathartic experience, it was very tough cathartic to be able to have all these frustrations and kind of be able, you know Spike who’s saying something.
Lewis: I remember when you had your own opinion and the director said ‘Yeah, I like your opinion.’
Topher: We did lot of rehearsals too, I think that might come out of rehearsals. You know John David that was his first starring role.
Lewis: Now what is that like for your personal life when you play a character that is this evil in a very sensitive touchy you know subject? Not like the bad guy in some star wars movie.
Topher: Well, if you’re playing The Joker you can do a little bit like “well, maybe I kind of see his point of view because my made up stories or whatever.” And this like I couldn’t find that thing that the more I read and did research on him I mean it was a lot, I couldn’t find that thing that made me sympathize with him, so what I did is I kind of played pure evil but totally covered up, and that’s how he is in my opinion. It’s all really easy to digest and the deeper you go, and I hope that’s what in the movie the more you get to know the character the more.
Lewis: How do you feel, I mean did you attacked personally in your personal life?
Topher: I said that to Spike during cast you know “I read the subway sometimes.” And he said “You’re with me like don’t worry about it” and it’s true. The thing I was scared about was black people thinking I was racist, white racist thinking I was racist and someone wouldn’t get it. And I haven’t had any of that but I don’t really hang out with any of these people. I was nervous when it came out and I was glad that film was, I saw it in Cannes for the first time it premiered and I remember saying to spike like “I hope we get this but it is so much humor on top of something that’s so heavy.”
Lewis: It’s a beautiful movie man very good. Now, what is life like pre-marriage and baby as an actor thriving in Hollywood and now you have a one and a half year old married and what it is like life right now as a father being an actor, starting a podcast, you know doing these projects, how do you handle it emotionally, physically, spiritually, and everything?
Topher: Well, it’s amazing. I mean everyone tells you and you don’t listen beforehand.
Lewis: And you wait as long as you can.
Topher: I did, I literally did. But it does get worse but it gets so much better that it’s worth a ride and my daughter is now at this age. I would say podcast if I go project by project the podcast is the most fun because it’s 5 minutes from my house and I have a reason to leave once a week, and what’s great is it’s not just you know you got to hear my life story, but like when you came out we got to talk about like you know I never written a song and literally I’ve never been hook up to a lie detector test or certainly never done beatboxing. So all these adventures, everyone who has a new kid should definitely have a podcast where they have a different expert comes, it’s like a [?] for a 40 year old. So, that’s really fun and there’s nothing kind of hard about that and I’m home 2 hours later with my kid.
I’ll tell you there’s an adaptation of the hot zone that’s coming out Nat Geo, which is one of my favorite books in the 90’s and I’m in it and there’s a scene where I had to cry and the real difference I notice was beforehand I had little trouble crying sometimes, I had to work my way up.
Lewis: After the job?
Topher: It was I couldn’t like it’s a very emotional scene.
Topher: Yeah, and I just like so fast I just went there because you just, I don’t know you are just more loaded up. You didn’t know that chamber existed for you.
Lewis: Do you feel that you are a better actor then because?
Topher: I’m certainly a better crying actor. If you want me to be less emotional maybe that’s hard now but I think it’s good, you can always scale it back you know is scale it back you know what I mean, but find a new kind of cylinder.
Lewis: Do you feel more urgent to be a working actor or you kind of like I had my time and if something comes cool, but I want to be a father.
Topher: It would be hard to find the actor who is a dad, actually it’s probably not true you probably could find it you just probably wouldn’t like that guy. I’m like part of the reason that I’m excited to have a podcast and hopefully we monetize it at some point because I love to you know take one movie you’re off the dock. When you were young you were thinking how can I be an actor, but now I just want to stay home.
Topher: Yeah, even before we had a kid we crave the schedule. I’ll have 2 months where I don’t have work and then I get the next every 4:30 in the morning, you know it’s like I’m all over the place. Every project is so different, I love to have a company and work at.
Lewis: Every day?
Lewis: You have the opposite life of most people. Most people don’t want to go to an office and work every day, they want to have the flexibility and freedom to have creative projects, but you did that for 20 years.
Topher: Yeah, I grew up my dad come home at 6 pm every day and I think that was good for me and good for him.
Lewis: The routine is powerful. Whenever I’m travelling too much I feel like I’m off my workout schedule.
Topher: But you probably got, like if you have a problem you’re like ‘Okay, let’s sit down and fix it.’ But I hope in terms of what I think your original question was which was you know ‘do I seek out project as much?’ No, a little bit of that is having a kid and a little bit of that is kind of like feeling confident that like I’ll probably work again.
Lewis: The right projects will come to you.
Topher: There was a time 10 years ago where you go like ‘Come on.’ But you know what’s funny is I realize I didn’t have to do that, it’s just I was young you know.
Lewis: The anxiety of it. There’s a lot of actors I think we might have talked about this briefly on your show. There’s a lot of actors who are huge hits and then for 3-4-5 years they’ve got nothing because they’ve been casted a set of role or whatever and they just can’t get to auditions.
Topher: I ended a business in a really unfair way. I’ve worked hard to earned in retrospect, you know mean. But it’s still probably nothing compared to someone who has entered from the ground and. So, I have great respect for people who you know really have to grind it out and try to earn it now.
Lewis: What would you say your biggest insecurity?
Topher: My penis is too big. My biggest insecurity.
Lewis: Or fear.
Topher: It wouldn’t have to do with work anymore. You know that’s another thing with having kid, really when I met my wife it starts feeling you’re in a family that it would be like [?] and then I can do nothing, except maybe be in Spike Lee’s movies, climate change maybe you can do a little something. We kind of talked being a new family and stuff, and also being a new dad is like you just think of every worst case scenario. Save yourself man you’re not married, like why do I care so much about this human.
Lewis: What’s the greatest you learned from your daughter so far?
Topher: It would be something involving patience. She’s not that old.
Lewis: Learn about yourself through her.
Topher: Well, yesterday was ‘I take Tuesdays’ that’s all me. We’re spending all day together and she’s hitting like pillow and like this is a good 5 minute and we got to fill up 12 more hours.
Topher: You know, I hate to be cliché because what everyone says ‘but you didn’t know you could love someone that much.’ but everything I’m saying everyone said before.
Lewis: But it’s true.
Topher: It’s totally self-centered she looks like me.
Lewis: What’s been the greatest challenge being married in a relationship while having a new child?
Topher: You know it’s funny that everyone says it’s the sleep and I was like ‘I’ve done all-nighters on film.’ And it’s not that, all-nighter is this incredible amount of stress and so I would say it’s kind of a sleep and my wife is a rock star, I mean like I’ve really married up so she’s great parent I am a good co-parent with her but she’s born an amazing parent and she’s also a rock start at everything she does. So, I’ve just been trying to kind of bend the knee like in game of thrones, and she’s. But that’s part of any business right? Like I feel like Sim on this podcast. Sim has already made one of the great podcast of the podcast world and I did have point that people that I would just friends with more on movies and producing and stuff. I realize I do want to work with friends if they’re the best at what they do, but that’s not always the case with your friends. So, I didn’t know Sim, I mean I met him once few years ago and then I went on a podcast and he said “I want to take you out to lunch” I thought it was kind of to hang out or something, and he was so passionate about it Sim is, I mean he’s at the forefront of this new thing that I thought “You know I’d like to work with him on this, like he came up with that format.” Like I am winning being married to my wife and she just doesn’t know it, and it’s the same thing with Sim I’m kind of like.
Lewis: I just show up and
Topher: Exactly. And if he feels that way about me and my wife feels that way about me then it’s. Did you remember what I made you talked about when you came on mine? I was like do other motivational speakers, do you hate them? But then you turned on Facebook and everyone like living their best life but you actually did it but like. I was so obsessed to be like ‘what does it feel like to be?’ What a weird time we’re living, no one could do what you do normally 10 years ago. But now everyone is like talking on their phones and like.
Lewis: Everyone is trying to be a coach of something and that’s why I’ve tried to take on a different angle and not be necessarily coach even though people come to me for coaching and mentorship or whatever, but I try to be a facilitator. A facilitator of ideas and saying.
Topher: Because you can do that. The other thing you can’t really, you can’t tell someone to do this. I mean talk about yourself.
Lewis: Here’s how I learn, I was chasing my dreams doing this and here’s what I learn and something to try.
Topher: Like watching these people and also one I can do this so much better and 2 you’re saying you’re doing it wrong.
Lewis: It doesn’t bug me because it allows me to rise to the top. It’s like everyone is looking for answers or solutions, it allows my platform to continue to rise.
Topher: I feel like that one I watched a terrible movie.
Lewis: I also looked at like I want people to succeed, like if their dream is to be a coach or this or that, I want you to figure it out one day, because I want to collaborate with people who are rising.
Lewis: So, I look at you know have you seen someone who is a bad actor when they’re starting out but working for 10 years and now it’s like their career took off.
Topher: I don’t want those people to take off, especially white male 40’s I want those people to fail miserably.
Lewis: It forces you to get better though.
Topher: That is true.
Lewis: If that is a competition it forces you to say “You know what good. I’m gonna learn how to be better, I’m gonna learn how to grow.”
Topher: You know who’s the best actor talk? I mean I don’t really want to watch actors talk but for me is Ethan Hawke. I just straight up YouTube videos of him giving interviews, he’s always saying stuff that’s life really important about the craft and outside the craft and he told this story about ‘river phoenix’ because they were in the explorers together. Do you remember that? In the 80’s there are like kid actors, like who knew they were gonna blow up so hard. They were 2 kids with 3 boys who go out to outer space and he decided to boarding school and just decided to be a real kid, river phoenix became everything. He was the coolest guy in Hollywood all of a sudden and you got to hear him tell this story, but river phoenix was like a rolling stone interview where he was on the cover and talking about reading [?]. He was in agony of jealousy of river and he said when he died it just exploded him, like he went ‘I was wrong that guy was making me better the whole time. Like I wouldn’t be in dead poet’s society.” Like he wouldn’t know what he’d be doing today if he didn’t have that.
Lewis: Competition of that other.
Topher: I don’t even know if that’s just competition it was like he also respected them all at a certain level and thought it was great, I was like ‘it is so great that he told that story’ because I do think you’re right people respect. Like playing tennis you play with someone better you get better.
Lewis: LeBron James wants competition because it’s gonna make him score more points and be one of the greatest of all time as opposed to all he needs is 20 points to win.
Topher: This is the difference between you and these guys on Facebook, this is what I’m saying you actually came from when you say that I go “Oh, you know you’ve been on the field.”
Lewis: You’d rather play against the best and win, as opposed to like that was an easy season we won the championships because we didn’t play anyone.
Topher: I know you’re right. In the way that movie making is like sports.
Lewis: It’s like if there is a hundred bad movies and you were the only good one you will win every award but it’s like.
Topher: Back that up did you mean the Academy Award?
Lewis: Yeah. You know what I mean it’s like you’d rather win knowing that there were four other great nominations.
Topher: I think what’s better is they even make you better, it’s not just like you kind of can feel the, competition is actually the wrong word.
Lewis: Not competition but just other quality work. Other people doing great work that make you want to do great work as well. Here’s more of quite a personal question for you, hypothetical. Imagine this is your last day, imagine in a couple of years one of your last days and your daughter isn’t able to speak yet so it’s coming up in a few months and you can live her with lesson that you can record on video or you can say over audio that this will be a lesson that she can.
Topher: She’s at the age now I’m like share.
Lewis: She’s 16-18-21 she can open this lesson and listen to it, watch it. She can take it in what would you say to your daughter on how to experience her life?
Topher: You know its funny something I talked about on Ana’s podcast because it was a movie I did with Ana. I had had enough successful things that I got to produce a movie and it failed so hard. It was number 11 out of 10, I mean it was just like. It wasn’t for me the lack of trying, it was not of me lack of knowing anything about that do something like that, and I cared so much about it and I was so. I knew that it got held for a little bit very painful and in that time I felt that I digested the lessons but it was kind of too late. So, I knew there was learning going on but when it came out I was just devastated and then a couple of months later like from that time on my life has been unbelievable because it thought me so much.
Lewis: Even after you failed miserably?
Topher: I mean everyone has a different story but failure is the most wonderful teacher, there’s nothing to be ashamed of it’s like all the current success I am having is because of trying to go deeper in a thing that I didn’t understand and there’s no way I’m watching my daughter right now, you know she didn’t start walking until she fell on the floor like a thousand times. So, I’m sure it hurt and she can’t talk about it. I didn’t even understand the job acting was until I got out of it as a producer and saw all these other elements and every right move I make now is because I made the wrong move then. It was great talking on about it because, by the way I like the movie ‘still’ it wasn’t a terrible film.
Lewis: So what would you say to her?
Topher: Just don’t be, you know the time I have so many wins in a row and you get addicted to that feeling but it’s actually, I try to do this mathematically once it’s like when you’re feeling challenge you’re actually going up the mountain, and when you’re going down the mountain you feel amazing like there’s no challenge. It’s like so much fun but then you look at it later and you go ‘I didn’t do anything.’ But every time you’re messing up I felt it the whole time in that 70’s show, I learned the best way to an interview and that’s only from doing. I so embrace failure now. When I fail my status is rising which I think a lot of people think when they’re failing they’re going down.
What I’ve notice for me is that when you’re dealing with obstacles and you’re even failing against them but then you’re learning how to do it better, that’s when you’re actually climbing, it’s just painful.
Lewis: This is called the 3 truths.
Topher: I think about a Lewis Howes metaphor for climbing, something with rock climbing.
Lewis: So you kind of shared one already but maybe you’ll have a different 3 here. So, imagine this is your 2nd death, so imagine this is like your last day 100 something years old. You live as long as you want to live, achieved everything you want to achieve you have the life of your dreams. You go through failures ups and downs but it’s the final day and you look back and you say ‘I don’t want to regret anything I did it all.’ And you get to leave behind 3 truths, 3 things you know to be true from all of your experiences, lessons that you would share with the world. What would you say are your 3 lessons or 3 truths to the world?
Topher: Failure would be one. If you are getting that penis reduction surgery research the doctor.
The other 2 would be. I’m not anyone that anybody should listen to.
Lewis: What do you feel your life experiences that make sense for you?
Topher: I would say maybe one that’s in tandem with that failure thing as being up for anything. I notice that when you came to our podcast because we were talking about sports and they were talking about being an orator or kind of and then someone came in and said “We’re going to write a pop song.” I thought you were gonna be like ‘I can’t do this’ because you want a guy who’s confident and who is not, but you jump right in man and you told me the story when we we’re talking so I knew it was going to be like that. We’re you doing a musical in high school?
Topher: And if there’s.
Lewis: I was scared but I jumped in.
Topher: I was scared of football but I didn’t football I was doing the musical. So, I think that quality which I learn maybe later in life I wish I had, it has to do with failure but I think it’s a slightly different thing. That is true it’s worse than not have to try.
Lewis: I think it was a while ago.
Topher: I really believe in that, I’ve had a couple of instances where some director will say like ‘you know we want them to fly out here to try out for it but don’t waste the trip, who knows I can’t promise you the role or whatever.’ Get on that plane and go, you never know. And then my other one would be, I think there’s a balance of real world and fake world, it doesn’t have to be just Hollywood although Hollywood is a much more pronounce, like you really can tell what is the red carpet and what is you at home in sweats. But I think everyone has a version of you know kind of this curated work life and this home where you feel comfortable, and I think you have to be tipping the very least tipping in the direction of home. I heard this thing on Charley [?] once years ago when he was interviewing Andre Agassi and he said “Hey, I’m gonna ask you a question what’s the best day of your life? But first I’m gonna play the same question I asked Pete Sampras on my show last month.” So they turn to the monitor and Pete Sampras said.
Lewis: Beat Agassi or like?
Topher: No, something like a tied match set with Agassi overtime you know whatever. And then it came back to Agassi and he said ‘What would be your best day?’ and he said “I’d probably have like a barbecue with my family, like it wasn’t about tennis at all, and it showed the difference between those 2 players. Sampras was kind of a real robot about it Agassi was more of an artist and I do believe that your personal stuff is tied, whatever your professional wants or dreams can’t happen without that balance.
Lewis: That’s pretty interesting. I don’t think I’ve heard that truth before. I want to acknowledge you for a moment for constantly showing up and reinventing yourself, because I think it’s hard to you know be a star in one show and then continue to reinvent and do other challenging projects and try to do that in that space. I’ve seen a lot of actors who haven’t been able to do that and you have been doing for 20 years.
Topher: If someone ask me on the red carpet about blackkklansman “Did you ever see yourself playing the grand wizard of the KKK back when you were in that 70’s show?” I was like “What?”
Lewis: But it’s powerful man because you are willing to take risk, you’re willing to take the jump, you’re willing to fail, and I acknowledge you for that. I acknowledge you for being a powerful father, a great leader for your family and everything that you do taking the risk for the podcast, so congrats on that as well.
Topher: Thank you and by the way I was just so your audience knows, I was 2 episodes in before you. People had vouch for you and I was aware of you but you don’t know what’s actually gonna show up with that kind of energy and we should give you a cut on that show because you were so great, the adventure went so great. Thank you for coming on man.
Lewis: It went downhill afterwards.
Topher: Weirdly kind of it could but it’s when you see that something, it’s just like doing a show or movies if you can see it start working then that becomes the roadmap of how to become like we do this kind of thing.
Lewis: So kind of led the way for.
Topher: Let me tell you the first 2 episodes were if they’re airing right.
Lewis: Make sure you guys check out the podcast called ‘Minor Adventures’ and where can we connect with you online?
Topher: I’m not too active on social media but I guess follow minor adventures.
Lewis: On Instagram or twitter? Where is that? You’re on Instagram right?
Topher: Yes, once I got married I post 2 phots a week that’s a promise. You’re reminding me I have to post at some point this week.
Lewis: Is there a website for you as well?
Lewis: My final question is what is your definition of greatness?
Topher: Give me other answers real quick.
Lewis: I’ll give you mine. It is to discover the unique talents and gifts within you and use those gifts to pursue your dreams in the pursuit of your dreams make the maximum impact on the people around you.
Topher: Yeah, that sounds pretty thought out, I don’t think I’m gonna have something that quick. At this point in my life what I’m trying to do, 10 years ago it was trying to get a date with you know whoever, but I would say right now I am trying to not focus on an idea of what I think I should be, maybe that comes of 40 years. You know when you’re younger you think like I should be, just not having any because I feel more confident in my 20’s than I did and the perfect example is the podcast or something strange like that I wouldn’t have thought I would do. If I identify these qualities you talking about that are good and just being confident really remaining open. So, I think I would just remain open and confident on things are.
Lewis: There you have it my friends, I hope you enjoyed this episode with Topher Grace. Make sure to check out his podcast ‘Adventure’ as well that I just went on and we recorded a song and go listen to it. It’s pretty cool and exciting to see what we created in a short amount of time. If you enjoyed this share with a friend lewishowes.com/781. Share it out, spread the message of inspiration and greatness far and wide just make an impact on the lives around you.
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Remember that you are an incredible, beautiful one of a kind individual. There’s no one who is ever going to be like you ever again. You are here for a reason and I hope you remember that. You’ve got an opportunity to do something special with your life, you’ve got different moments where you can maximize the gifts and the talents that you are born with, you can discover new talents and gifts. You can learn new skill and master it and then apply that by giving value to other people with your talent. You can make magic in your life if you choose to work at it, you just got to be willing to step up and have the confidence in yourself. I hope this podcast the school of greatness has given you different tools and inspiration and confidence to allow you to take the leap of faith into the unknown, the leap of faith into the scary, messy times of life because once you get through those scary messy times there is incredible beauty on the other side. I love you so very much and you know what time it is, it’s time to go out there and do something great.
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