Until some smash new TV show comes along that either puts Kelsey Grammer at its center, or gives him plenty to do as an ensemble member, he’s going to remain best known for his long runs portraying Dr. Frasier Crane, first on “Cheers,” then later on “Frasier” (the character also had one guest appearance on “Wings”). But in between numerous TV roles and small parts in feature films, Grammer has carved out another career as a voice actor, with those deep, sonorous pipes proving to be a great, pliant calling card. He was cantankerous Stinky Pete in “Toy Story 2,” has been irregularly playing the singing homicidal maniac Sideshow Bob on “The Simpsons” for more than two decades, and earlier this year was the narrator of a short promotional film for “WrestleMania 32.” In the new animated film “Storks,” he plays Hunter, the ruthless, profit-driven CEO, and stork, of Cornerstore.com, a company that once delivered babies, but now sticks with consumer goods. Grammer, 61, recently spoke about the film, his role, and his career in Los Angeles.
Q: Who is this nasty stork Hunter?
A: He’s someone who has gone against the instincts of the storks (to deliver babies), and has turned them into a messenger service. He is kind of a marketing genius, and a man who, once he discovers what he thinks is right, insists that it will be so. And he’s based on Rip Torn. We worked together years ago in the film “Down Periscope,” and we hit it off really well. When I get to play an animated character I tend to look for the guy that the character reminds me of. So I thought this character was in the same vein.
Q: How did the role come to you?
A: The usual way. I got a call to do it. I read the script, thought it sounded funny, and said let’s do it. I almost always just say yes to any animated film. For whatever reason, I think the greatest films being made today are animated films.
Q: Sideshow Bob is a very odd character. How did you get that gig?
A: Sam Simon, who was a producer and writer on “The Simpsons,” had been a writer on “Cheers.” Then he went off to do “The Tracey Ullman Show,” (where characters from “The Simpsons” first appeared), and one day he called me and said, “We started this cartoon thing, and it’s gonna become its own show, and we have this character who sings but has never actually spoken anything yet. He’s called Sideshow Bob and we thought it was time for him to become a voice character. Do you think you’d like to sing a Cole Porter song?” I said sure! That was the genesis of it, and it was because when I was doing “Cheers” I always used to sing when I’d walk into work. I’d sing (he breaks into song), “Oh, the good life!” and I’d walk onto the stage. That’s the kind of spirit I had, and still have. So Sideshow Bob was inspired by the idea that I sang all the time.
Q: Does voice work limit you as an actor or does it free you up?
A: It’s more freeing. You are, of course, under the constraint of the director, who has a vision, so what’s gonna happen is gonna happen, whether you like it or not (laughs). But the best thing to do is abandon yourself to the idea of what would this character would do.
Q: You were also the voice in a promotional piece for this year’s WrestleMania. Are you a fan of the sport?
A: I grew up in Florida, and I remember watching the Great Malenko on TV when I was a kid. I looked at him and thought this guy’s fantastic! He had such character and size, and he was really engaging. I actually became more of a fan by doing that voiceover. It was like an extended commercial spot that celebrated the history of WrestleMania, and what’s to come. It was lovely when I said (lowers his voice), “ ... and the Giant,” because I remembered watching Andre the Giant and the other legendary guys. I was really drawn to the copy. It was sort of about the whole culture of wrestling and how these guys are bigger than life and they’re heroes. It had a kind of tongue in cheek tone to it, but also a celebratory tone, and an inviting tone. So it was a great challenge. I loved the piece when I did it and when I saw it.
“Storks” opens on September 23.
— Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.