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'If Looks Could Kill' turns 30: Richard Grieco reflects on the spy caper — and the blockbuster he turned down

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Richard Grieco was one of the biggest, fastest-rising stars of the 90s. Coming off 21 Jump Street and the spin-off Booker, he landed the lead in If Looks Could Kill, a spy caper inspired by James Bond that had Greico playing a slacker high schooler who unwittingly becomes a CIA agent.

Grieco recently spoke to Yahoo Entertainment about the film, which turns 30 this year, and the rest of his career.

"I think it impacted my career in a way where it showed a little diversity ... where I could do comedy," he said. "I think it was all positive. And they're still talking about it today."

Watch more from Grieco in the video interview above.

Video Transcript

- Well, just who do you think I am?

- Michael Corbin, deep cover agent for the CIA.

- Uh huh. Yeah. Michael Corbin, French class reject.

KEVIN POLOWY: "If Looks Could Kill" turns 30 this month. This was actually your feature film debut.

RICHARD GRIECO: Yeah.

KEVIN POLOWY: Tell us how this one first came into your life.

RICHARD GRIECO: I was doing "Booker" at the time. And then this other script came called "If Looks Could Kill," directed by Bill Dear. Being a huge James Bond fan, I had never see anything like it. So I thought it would just be a fun departure in terms of a different character than what I've been doing so far.

KEVIN POLOWY: I think it was a bigger deal at the time to cross over from television to movies. Would you agree? Was it for you?

RICHARD GRIECO: Well, if you think about it, you know, you had Fox, which was a fledgling network at the time. You had CBS, ABC and NBC, and that's it. You had four networks. So at that time, to cross over into movies I think was more or less, not frowned upon, but looked at upon like, well, why is he doing a movie?

I think because of the content of "Booker" and "Jump Street," because they were such cool shows and the characters were different than other characters that have been on TV, I think it was easier for us to jump to movies than it would be if you're just on a sitcom. Because basically, what we're doing every day on "Jump Street" or "Booker," we're doing mini movies. The budget on those were $3.8 million an episode.

KEVIN POLOWY: The movie is called "If Looks Could Kill." I don't know if there's ever been as complimentary a movie title to an actor ever before or since. Where was your head at the time? I mean, I feel like you had to be feeling pretty good about things at the time.

RICHARD GRIECO: When I got on "Jump Street," it was supposed to be just for one episode. And then they did that whole kind of WWF thing with me and Johnny with the promos, like Rico-Depp, Depp-Rico, all that kind of stuff. And then it kind of took off. And so I went from anonymity to everyone knowing me in about two weeks. So that was kind of a shock. It was a crazy time. It really was.

KEVIN POLOWY: From what I've read, this film was originally written to be kind of like an Anthony Michael Hall nerdy type in "The Breakfast Club" meets James Bond.

RICHARD GRIECO: Yeah.

KEVIN POLOWY: Obviously, that's not the version you starred in. But were you ever were you ever privy to that version, or had they already moved past that point when you came on?

RICHARD GRIECO: I think they already moved past that point when I came on. Because the script I read was it was a fish out of water, high school kid, flunked French, and his only way to get-- to pass this French class is to go to France to get his credit. Once it got to me, they had me in mind and they kind of tailored it a little bit.

I was surprised with some of the things when I got the set, because the script involved like with a car, you know, with all the buttons and stuff. With those combat condom things, which they actually fooled me on the day of shooting. There's no way you can open them. No matter how hard you try, there's no way. So they didn't tell me. So I'm trying to open them and they don't open, but it was great for the scene.

KEVIN POLOWY: What kind of impact did that movie have on your career at the time?

RICHARD GRIECO: I think it impacted my career in a way where it showed a little diversity, you know what I mean? Or I could do comedy. I did like "Who's the Boss," and I did a spin off of "The Facts of Life" with David Spade and Mindy. For me anyways, it showed that I could play kind of the straight man that kind of soaks up everything. I think it was a positive. And just still, they're still talking about it today.

KEVIN POLOWY: 1991 was such a pinnacle for you between those two films. I mean, was that tough to come down from? Are you sort of constantly chasing that high in the years that followed?

RICHARD GRIECO: I'll be honest with you, I turned down everything from probably '92 to '94. I looked at how the old actors worked, and I was definitely wrong at that point about my assumption that you take one movie a year. If it's not the right film, you just don't take the film. I didn't know you do film after film after film after film. And there's a lot of films that, you know, I turned down that went on to be big things and other films that didn't. I don't regret it, because it gave me a good perspective in retrospect of what's going on.

KEVIN POLOWY: So there were no specific roles that you turned down that you would regret? Or were there like one or two that did go on to become big things?

RICHARD GRIECO: Well, one that I know that was offered to me was "Speed." I regret that. But Keanu did a great job. Because you got to think about it, known actors back then who were playing cops and being that age, I was basically the one person, you know what I mean, on their list. Because coming from a place of playing like Booker or playing a cop on "Jump Street" and then playing detective/cop/whatever on "Booker," it was kind of like if I was casting, that character would been the perfect choice for that film.

KEVIN POLOWY: And I know, at some point, you kind of-- I think you stepped away from acting to focus more on painting. Can you talk about that a little bit?

RICHARD GRIECO: I was painting in 1990. And then I did a movie with Dennis Hopper in 1998 called "The Apostate." Dennis was a fan of my work. And he said, hey man, you know, it's not about you, man. It's about them, man. You know, you can't like hold it on in your soul. You've got to express yourself out there and throw everything, like as Dennis-- only Dennis can do.

So in 2009, I made it public on Facebook. Sold my first piece. Talked to an art guy, what price point do I put on. And then all of a sudden, it kind of took off and I just painted for four years straight.

KEVIN POLOWY: How would you describe your relationship with acting these days? Are you are you all in again?

RICHARD GRIECO: Oh yeah. I'm all in. I mean, directing, producing, acting. I think-- I mean, even when I was painting, I mean, if something great came up, I would've taken it.

One thing, the first movie I did during this COVID thing, you know, there was apprehension. I wouldn't say fear, but just kind of like, is it going to be OK? What's going to happen? You're going to be around a bunch of people. You know, you're tested. And then once you get over that, I've gotten to the point right now where I really enjoy it. I really enjoy being on the set.

KEVIN POLOWY: Finally, I mean, you've had a lot of great cameos over the years, especially in recent years. Is there one that sticks out as your favorite?

RICHARD GRIECO: Well, I mean, come on, "The Roxbury" one is kind of like I don't know how many times I get people saying one liners to me. I just don't want to get sued. Is Johnny Depp going to be here? Is the club this way? Is that the-- you know.

That one and I think my little thing on "Always Sunny in Philadelphia." I just had a ball on that show. Those guys are awesome. What a great show.

Touch my finger and transfer your pain into me.

- It's a good idea.

- Touch--

- I'm not touching your finger.

- Touch my finger.

- I'm not touching your finger. Seriously, touch my finger.