How Topher Grace's newborn daughter gave his role in 'BlacKkKlansman' more purpose

Topher Grace has been incredibly outspoken about the difficulty of playing David Duke, former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, for Spike Lee’s new film, BlacKkKlansman. “I did a lot of research on this character, which was horrible,” Grace said in an interview for Build yesterday. “It was like the worst month of my life doing that research … it was the most depressing month of my life, spending all that time in that place.” He told IndieWire that preparing for this film — which is based on a true story — was so disturbing, he recovered by re-editing Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit” trilogy into a single movie. But he also acknowledged the value of playing a role like this, and said his newborn daughter helped him see that.

Grace welcomed his first child with his wife, Ashley Hinshaw Grace, in November while he was working on the role. And having a newborn around both helped and hindered his prep for such a dark character as this American white supremacist and white nationalist politician, and anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist, he said.

“Well, my wife would tell you that I was just terrible for a couple months. I was depressed from doing all that research, but at the same time it was also a really cathartic experience because we just had a daughter, so we had our first,” he shared. Having baby in the house made running lines for the film, which takes place in 1970s Colorado, somewhat difficult. “I’d be rehearsing lines, and [my wife] would be like, ‘Hey, can you like chill out with the hate speech right now? Our daughter’s two weeks old,’” he recalled.

But the country’s current racial climate gave purpose to this production — especially for someone who had just welcomed a child into the world. “Acting can be a silly job; we’re playing pretend for a living. But every once in a while, you get to be part of something important. … It’s really what Spike is saying here; we all got to help him a little bit to say something that’s now on a national level,” he said. “When my daughter was being born — it’s a very confusing world that I’m bringing her into. So it was so cathartic to be part of a project that maybe, in a small way, could say something.”

Working with the legendary Lee helped too. Grace said the director made him more comfortable when he had to reenact moments of pure evil. “That’s why you have to work with a great leader like Spike Lee … even some of the days we shot the Klan stuff, he’d kind of come up to me and kind of pat my back and say, ‘Hey, you’re serving my message and I know what I’m doing,’” Grace recalled. “And it made it OK. It never felt great.”

Grace shared a spoiler that shows how seamlessly Lee turned this film into a message for today: he opened with civil rights moment scene, and closed with footage from Charlottesville.

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