In case you were wondering: Yes, Topher Grace is as nice as he seems. The 31-year-old actor made a name for himself playing the sweet and nerdy protagonist of the coming-of-age sitcom That '70s Show ("Oh my God, I was far nerdier," he says of comparisons of himself to that character. "I was worse!") for seven years, before chucking it all for a film career. He's appeared in well-regarded indies like P.S. and In Good Company—and as Venom in Spider-Man 3—but the actor says he chooses roles carefully. "I spent a lot of time in my twenties working," he reflects. "It's been better moving into films because I've been able to have time off." But he still keeps busy: This year, Grace appears in the ensemble rom-com Valentine's Day, out Friday 12, and Predators, a sequel to the sci-fi classic, out this summer.
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So how's it going?
Well, I just finished five months in the jungle with Robert Rodriguez [filming Predators]. I think I sprained my entire body.
The stunt guys will kind of look at you and go, "So, do you want to do the stunt?" And I'm like, "Well, yeah, I want it to be me." And then I will get bruised everywhere. But it's fun, because it's the craziest stuff I've ever done and it's on film, so that's the good news.
So how did you end up in Valentine's Day?
I remember going to meet with Garry [Marshall], and I said, "I want some of these Garry Marshall moments. Give 'em to me!" I wanted one of those box-slapping-on-the-finger- moments [from Pretty Woman]. He's the undisputed champ of romantic comedies.
You and Anne Hathaway have one of the funnier story lines in the film.
We both see acting as being very competitive. We wanted to beat the other story lines.
Having Anne Hathaway play a phone-sex operator will do that. Your onscreen chemistry is definitely believable.
Anne was one of my first friends in Hollywood. It's weird to have known someone for that long and have never worked with them, and it was a real treat to have the opportunity. And it's funny, because our characters are supposed to have known each other a really short amount of time. I think when you know someone that well, it translates into chemistry on the screen.
Do you relate to your character?
What I liked about Anne and my characters is that we're in a situation that I've been in before, which is you've been dating someone for like, eight days, and Valentine's Day rolls around and you just don't know where it is, even if you have strong feelings for the person. Sometimes you play a character and you don't know what they're going through.
So I have to ask, because the movie is called Valentine's Day—
I am bracing for all of the Valentine's Day questions!
You know they're coming. But have you ever done anything crazy for a significant other on V-Day?
Here's what I'll say: I'm the right demographic to watch the movie, because I watched it and enjoyed it, and nobody cares less about Valentine's Day than me. The 30-year-old male is about as far away from Valentine's Day as you can get in the human experience.
I hate it too. One of the characters in the film calls it a fake holiday—that's totally true.
I think the movie does a good job of servicing every point of view: the romantics on one end of the spectrum to the skeptics on the other end.
It is a pretty far cry from Predators.
[Laughs] I really get off on doing both. I call it having a well-balanced meal. But it was a really weird thing to go from one right into the other.
Your character in Predators is rumored to be a serial killer, which is something you haven't really done before. How do you prepare?
I like to go murder a hobo right before every role. [Laughs] No, I don't know. It has a lot to do with reading the script. The script is a blueprint for the film—there are very few bad scripts that make good movies. If you really like the character and understand the utility it serves within the movie, that's a part of my process.
Was it a challenge?
I really crave new things and new experiences, and this certainly was one of them. Predators is very bloody—it's very different!
Valentine's Day is out Fri 12.