The very John Hughes-ian ’80s comedy “Take Me Home Tonight” does not make jokes about slap-bracelets. Or side ponytails. Because, says star Topher Grace, the point was to make a movie celebrating the decade, not mocking it.
“We wanted it to feel like we actually went back in time and really made an ‘80s movie and just put it in the vault,” says Grace, 32, who helped conceive the film’s story, “and we took it out of the vault today, blew the dust off of it, and it’s an ’80s film.”
In fact, the movie, in which Grace plays a 23-year-old MIT grad with no direction other than taking one wild night to win the heart of his high school crush (Teresa Palmer), actually had been gathering dust. “Take Me Home Tonight” was mostly finished in 2007, but Grace says the film’s abundance of cocaine—hey, it’s a movie about the ’80s—resulted in studio reluctance to release it, until producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer (“The Dilemma”) came in and took the movie off the shelf.
“We waited and we realized the movie wasn’t going to be dated because it was already entirely dated anyway,” says Grace, who joined co-star Demetri Martin (who recorded his stand-up CD, “These Are Jokes,” at the now-defunct Lakeshore Theater in 2006 and plays a small part in the film as Grace’s character’s old friend), 37, at the Elysian Hotel to talk about their ’80s geekiness and approaching the much-mocked decade with a sense of respect.
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Why do you think when people cover the ’80s the inclination is usually, “Let’s be ironic about this”?
Demetri Martin: Maybe it’s just easier. I do think there’s some sort of connective tissue in collectively remembering things. And maybe it’s easier to feel superior as a group. It’s like when I look at an old encyclopedia: I’m like, “Constantinople? No! It’s Istanbul, stupid.”
Do you at least correct it for future generations?
DM: I just correct it and put, “Demetri was here.”
Topher Grace: The easiest thing to see when you look at that encyclopedia is what was wrong. The first thing we had to do was take out the reference to a huge cell phone or someone saying, “Oh, [ CDs]; that will never take off.”
So basically everything that happened in “Hot Tub Time Machine.”
TG: You know what, to be honest, yeah. I love “The Wedding Singer.” That’s a really great romantic comedy. But that was only [made] eight years out of the ’80s. If we were to make a ’90s movie right now it would be very hard to contextualize what the ’90s were to people … It takes about 20 years like “American Graffiti” or “Dazed and Confused” to say, “Wait a minute, there were a lot of amazing things that happened then and that was my youth. I really want to say something very real about that time.”
What do you guys think of when you think about 1988?
DM: I’m old enough that I think of being a freshman in high school. I grew up on the Jersey Shore, actually next to where the show now [takes place]. So for me there’s more of a guido side to what I remember from the ’80s. There’s a scene where Topher and Dan are driving listening to NWA in a car. [I remember] a dorkier version of that that takes place in New Jersey.
TG: If you can imagine a dorkier version of that.
How would you describe your hairstyle at the time?
DM: As I’ve gotten older now, I’ve just relented and my hair kinda grows down. So I figure if I just have enough of it it’s a haircut. And if it was shorter it’d just be a Caesar or something, which probably isn’t my best look. Back then I hadn’t quite figured this out so I’d have to have gel and stuff in my hair.
Topher, what were you into in ’88?
TG: My babysitter from fifth grade, in 1988, just texted me this morning, ’cause we went on a radio show this morning and she now lives in Chicago. … Literally I remember in 1988 making these videos with her in the den. We’d put on plays, me and my sister. It’s crazy that I [remember that].
Were you playing Bret Michaels at the time?
TG: Good Lord, no. I was in fifth grade.
Teresa Palmer's character Tori tells your character, Matt, that girls can tell when guys are looking at their boobs. How do they know that?
TG: [That was actually inspired by ...] There were a lot of times on “[That] ’70s Show” where we’d have an hour or two off and we’d just go hang out. That was a great group of guys. And Wilmer [Valderrama] and I, we were like 22 or something, had this thing where we were sitting next to each other, and we decided to employ the ways we look at girls or check girls out on each other to see if girls could tell. And it was so crazy obvious. I remember he and I laughing going, “Oh my God, these girls totally know.”
DM: I was reading a book once about perception. They discussed body language in the book. I’m talking a little bit out of my ass here, but the author said that men and women perceive differently their range of vision. And often women do check out guys as much as men [check out women] but we’ve evolved the male animal, human, whatever, to have a narrower focus.
TG: And it’s not a metaphor.
DM: So it takes a little more effort for us to scan, which makes it more noticeable. Whereas women can size up a larger tone visually.
Topher, in the film your character is a human calculator. How many times in your lives has math gotten you out of a jam?
DM: If a jam is getting laid, I’d say many times.
Demetri, you mentioned memories of being a geeky kid. Who’s geekier between the two of you?
TG: Oh, that’s a good question.
DM: That is a good question.
TG: Let’s use the math to figure that out.
DM: I was going to say that in the kingdom of geekdom there are many different shires. So we live in maybe parallel shires. I think Topher’s very well-versed in “Back to the Future,” “Star Wars.”
TG: That’s my shire.
DM: He’s made trailers of things that he likes.
TG: I’m into editing too, yeah.
DM: I think that’s definitely geek stuff. Mine is a lonelier corner of palindromes and word puzzles and stuff.
TG: Both equally sexy things that chicks dig.
DM: I definitely have found this, and maybe you guys [have] too, there [are] certain things that you might be interested in and you’re excited about them when you’re young and then you share those with other people and it just stops conversation. You’re like connecting with people and then you’ll be like, “You know, that’s a palindrome by the way.” And you just get blank stares and you’re like, “Note to self: Don’t share that with people.”
TG: Well, isn’t what you’re saying actually the opposite of what you’ve done in your life?
DM: Yeah, that’s the thing. At least for stand-up it’s kind of a weird playground where you can make your own reality a little bit. So for me I always try to just be honest … As opposed to artifice or manipulation. I think someone who was really popular in high school, [it] must have been great. But you can’t then later be like, “Oh, yeah, guilty as charged, I was a dork in high school.” And then you find out, “No, you weren’t, come on, man. You got laid when you were a sophomore? Give me a break.” As opposed to like, “I was on the math team, yeah.” And it’s not like a surprise; I’m not saying to everybody, “Can you believe I was on the math team?” Obviously I was on the math team.
TG: This is what I’ve noticed ’cause in L.A., L.A. is this huge epicenter of the most popular person. Can you imagine, every single high school in the world where someone says, “You’re so beautiful, you could be a movie star,” all of those one people move to this town called L.A. That was not how it went down for me, by the way. The thing I’ve noticed that girls say when I’m on a date or something, ’cause I say, “Were you popular in high school?” And they go, “No, I was friends with everyone.” And I go, “I don’t know; I don’t think that girl existed because I was part of everyone in my high school and your equivalent never talked to me.”
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