The Hot Seat: David Hyde Pierce

The actor goes psycho in a new thriller, but is "a stoner at heart."

Illustration: Dan Park

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There are some big twists in The Perfect Host. Is it harder for viewers to go into a movie fresh now, with Twitter and all?
I actually predate Twitter, and it drives me crazy when people ruin a movie just in conversation. I'm one of those people who sticks my fingers in my ears and makes odd noises when people start talking about a film. I can't really complain, because it takes me so long to see things that everyone and their mother should already know the plots of. I was very upset when somebody told me the ending of Citizen Kane. I haven't seen it yet. Isn't that terrible? Apparently, it was Kevin Spacey. I guess that's the ending.

You play a psychopath in the movie, which is a departure for you. Would you explore the opposite extreme, a stoner in a bromance or something?
I think that's so close to my real life that it doesn't interest me. I'm just such a laconic stoner at heart.

In the film, you do a really insane kick. And I read that you kickbox. You don't seem like the type.
I used to do it. I didn't spar with people; it was purely for exercise. But also, you're right: If I was going up against some gigantic thug, it would be stupid. I'd kick him five times, and then he'd look at me and kill me.

Do you identify with the character? Not to imply that you're crazy or anything.
[Pause] I think that desire to do terrible things to people when they come to dinner, that's something I identified with. No, no, I'm kidding.

Are you into cooking, like your character is?
No, I'm not interested in cooking. I like to eat things, but I don't cook them well. It's the difference between me and Niles.

Wait, you're not exactly like him?
I hate telling people that, but it may possibly be true.

Speaking of Frasier, it's been off the air for seven years, and a lot has changed in sitcoms. Are you a fan of the trend to not have laugh tracks?
Even back when we were doing our show, the laughs that you hear are almost 100 percent [from] the live audience. So I prefer that, but I also like the single-camera style with no laughs. There are a few [shows] that stubbornly stick to the old format—The Big Bang Theory is filmed in front of a live audience—and I think it can still work.

You started out as an actor in New York in the '80s. Did you have any odd jobs?
Yeah, for my very first job in New York, I signed on as temporary Christmas help at Bloomingdale's, selling neckties. I sucked at it. You would think, How hard could that be, right? I didn't like telling people what to buy. And ties at Christmastime are the last resort of the desperate. I was not meant to sell anything to anyone.

Wet Hot American Summer was released ten years ago this month. Are you showing up to the anniversary party at the Music Hall of Williamsburg?
Williamsburg, Virginia?

Brooklyn.
Well, it would certainly be a surprise to me. I thought they were having, like, a historical re-creation down in Williamsburg. That would be so perfect.

Are you surprised that it's attained such a cult status?
I don't think any of us had any high or low expectations for the movie; we just loved the script and knew it would be fun to shoot. But I think the thing that caused it to have a life was that it's so smart, while being kind of vulgar and odd and childish sometimes. It's also really sophisticated in a way. And people are very passionate about [it], which is fun. They don't just go, "Oh, I saw that movie you were in." They're like, "Oh my god, I love that movie." Sometimes they scream out of cars when you're walking down the street: "Wet Hot American Summer!"

The Perfect Host opens Fri 1.

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