Interview
Culture
S&U interviews
4 min read

Kelsey Grammer is back in the building

As vintage comedy Frasier reboots, Kelsey Grammer talks with Krish Kandiah about his comeback and the significance of another recent role in Jesus Revolution.

Krish is a social entrepreneur partnering across civil society, faith communities, government and philanthropy, He founded The Sanctuary Foundation.

A group sit in a lounge playing musical instruments while the man closest to the camera laughs.
Kelsey Grammer plays Pastor Chuck Smith in Jesus Revolution.
Lionsgate.

Staying up late on a Friday night to watch Cheers was one of the regular highlights of my childhood. My parents were as bewitched as I was with the sonorous voice of Kelsey Grammer. Indeed, the whole world loved it. His spin-off sitcom Frasier went on to run for 11 years, winning 37 Emmy awards, a feat only recently surpassed by Game of Thrones. Grammer himself became one of the most decorated, well-loved – and well-paid - actors in the world. 

Nearly 20 years after its final episode Frasier is being rebooted. This time it is returning to Boston, the place where everybody came to know Dr Frasier Crane’s name. I, like many, are jubilant, convinced that the warm, masterful and often farcical humour will resonate just as well with a new audience. But what about Grammer? How does he feel about putting on the jester’s motley and playing Dr Crane again? 

“He's fantastic.”, Grammer explains to me with a broad smile and clear enthusiasm. I find myself wanting to tell him everything that’s keeping me awake at night.  

“Whatever it is about this journey with Frasier: he's lived a kind of a parallel life with me. Now we've found our way back to one another.” 

Grammer seems to be as excited as I am about the comedy comeback, but has Dr Frasier Crane changed over the decades? He explains: 

“He's a little wiser, a little calmer about some things. He's still a bit of a nuts on others. But the growth of the last 20 years or so in his life is reflected, I think, in this performance now.” 

Sometimes our greatest triumphs are accompanied by our lowest moments. At the same time that Frasier was first showering Grammer with fame, fortune and critical acclaim, he was wading through personal trauma. Substance abuse, addiction, and divorces resulted. I had to ask Grammer if he was a stronger person this time around:  

“I came to this one differently. I came to this one prepared to enjoy it. The previous manifestation of Frasier was a little bit much maybe a little bit too soon. It was challenging at times.” 

Grammer’s personal journey fascinates me. He seems to have resolved the sense of emptiness that so often accompanies great success.  Perhaps a clue can be found in the film Grammer is in London to promote. Jesus Revolution is based on a true story from the 60s and centres on a small church in Florida which gets invaded by hippies.  Grammer plays the role of Chuck Smith, the pastor who is torn between two very different congregations.  

“He spoke to my sense of good. People finding themselves, finding their way forward and not giving up, not relenting. I loved his search and his courage in the face of a waning congregation and the challenge of trying to make God relevant in that time.” 

Time magazine covers from the 60s and 70s.

Two Time magazine covers beside each other. One reads 'Is God dead?' The other 'Jesus Revolution'.

The film illustrates this challenge by bookending two editions of Time magazine. At the start of the film Grammer waves a 1966 cover at his sparse, stiff congregation. It is jet-black and asks pointedly “Is God Dead?” By the end of the film Grammer, surrounded by a crowd of unlikely long-haired worshippers, is clutching a Time Magazine from 1971, this time featuring on its cover a psychedelic picture of a bearded Christ proclaiming “The Jesus Revolution”.   

Grammer’s character experiences his own personal Jesus revolution in the movie. He welcomes those long-haired bare-footed hippies into his home, his church, and his life, and as he begins to see the world – and God - through their eyes, he becomes a kinder, braver and happier person.  

This is what I see in the Hollywood superstar I am interviewing: someone willing not only to talk openly about his faith, but to actively promote it. He is a man on a mission as he tells me: 

"You can defend and champion and be an activist for a sort of alternate lifestyle or any number of things that you think are important. I applaud that. But it's also okay to applaud and champion the idea that a life of faith has equal value…” 

Grammer, now wistful and warmer, adds: 

"I just thought, I want to do something that has value, meaning, you know, other than just making people laugh." 

Grammer grew up in a family of faith, but that family was also torn apart by heartbreak. His father was brutally murdered when he was just 13 years old. Seven years later his sister was abducted, raped, stabbed and left to die in a trailer park. I ask Grammer bluntly how he can have faith in God after such horrors and suffering: 

“Well, I've been wrestling with it my whole life, since the early days of when tragedy first came knocking at the door… And I spent a long time looking around, you know, thinking, what the heck happened? Very recently, I stood on a baseball field at one of the harvest revivals and I just said, “Where were you?”. He said, “I was right there.” 

Grammer has found a way to make sense of his life, a way to deal with trauma and tragedy. Like Chuck Smith making room for the outcasts, like Dr Frasier Crane making time to listen to troubled people on the radio, Grammer could be a new sort of pastor for a new generation.   

“I think people are walking around with broken hearts. I hope they have a chance to say: ‘Well, maybe, maybe this faith thing isn't so bad.’”  

Maybe he’s right. For a man that has experienced more than his fair share of personal tragedy, I have the feeling that he knows what he’s talking about. I came away feeling moved by his continuing faith in God despite everything he has suffered and despite everything he has struggled with. I hope audiences will see something of that authenticity and challenge in Jesus Revolution.  

 

Jesus Revolution is on UK and Irish cinema release. Tickets are available now.

Column
Character
Culture
Economics
4 min read

This revolting rich list is a freak show

What are we to make of this quite nauseating spectacle?

George is a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics and an Anglican priest.

A collage of famous, rich, people such as King Charles, Elton John and others.
The Sunday Times.

General elections are no longer a clear choice between socialism and capitalism, but we should still be as offended by the privilege of the few over the poverty of many. That’s only natural, whether we’re informed by envy, a secular sense of fairness or a religious faith.

The yawning chasm between rich and poor in the UK is offensive. When PM Rishi Sunak was drenched in his vale of tears this week outside Number 10, as he announced the general election, he was seeking a mandate to preside over this inequality, in which he so richly participates.

He stood there exactly three days after he and his wife waved from the pages of the Sunday Times Rich List, based on the newspaper’s “conservative estimates of the minimum wealth of Britain’s 350 richest people.”

The Sunaks stood at 245th on the list with a measly £651m. Just 20 years ago, when I was in business, that figure would have put them near the top. Some of my business contemporaries had even made the Rich List with just a few tens of millions.

Not anymore. Mere multimillionaires barely make the cut. The ever-widening gulf between the super-rich and the rest of us means that the top 165 of last Sunday’s list of 300 are now billionaires, compared with just 20 a quarter of a century ago, while the “bottom” of today’s heap struggle by as half-billionaires. 

It does make you wonder what the Sunday Times is doing with this revolting annual survey. It has become such an anachronism since it started in the Eighties, when greed was good and we worshipped Croesus impersonators.  

Every year, we’re invited to press our noses up against their plate-glass window and drool at a world that’s as alien as a pharaoh’s to the slaves building their pyramid. What do they want from us for this display of greed? Envy?   

Times (even on Sunday) have changed and the Rich List satirises itself. Look at the ads that support it. There’s one for a 122-metre yacht that can be chartered for three million euros a week. A few pages later there’s one for a Swiss clinic “for the treatment of mental health and issues of substance and behavioural dependency”. Could these ads be related?  

So what the Sunday Times is presenting is a kind of freak show. Roll up, roll up, see the people who are tax exiles from the planet. 

The Rich List is just for the British mega-rich. So no room here for Meta-billionaire Mark Zuckerberg or space-wingnut Elon Musk. But it’s nice to see at the top of the list, with just a couple of hundred million over the £37bn-mark, the Hinduja family, whose leading lights so publicly acquired British passports some years ago, with or without government help.  

And here’s Lakshmi Mittal (No. 8 with £15bn), who was recently accused of profiting from both sides of the Ukraine conflict, after a part-owned Indian company bought nearly £2.4bn of Russian oil since the start of the war. Which newspaper revealed this? Step forward the Sunday Times.  

And there’s vacuum magnate Sir James Dyson (No. 5 with £21bn) who backed Brexit and then moved his global HQ to Singapore. That’s the beauty of being so rich; you can escape the consequences of your own actions. 

Most of the list is what similarly might be called colourful. These cannot, by virtue of their economic separation, be normal people. So what the Sunday Times is presenting is a kind of freak show. Roll up, roll up, see the people who are tax exiles from the planet. 

Money is its own reward. But ultimately its power is empty. 

What are we to make of this quite nauseating spectacle? Sure. there is no virtue in poverty. But nor should there be a prosperity gospel, which holds that the righteous are financially rewarded, other than in the outer reaches of an American charismatic movement. 

Among the things that make us go “hmm” in this report is the attitude to life. Phones 4u founder John Caudwell (No. 109, £1.5bn) says “If I stopped I’d probably be desperately unhappy.” Hmm. New entrant to the list Graham King (No. 221=, £750m) made his fortune from public money contracts for accommodation for asylum seekers that inspectors have described as “decrepit” and is currently the subject of charges under the Housing Act 2004. Hmm. 

Cursed are the rich, for they shall lose touch with reality. That’s not a heretical rewrite of the Sermon on the Mount, with its “Blessed are...” Beatitudes. There are actually four lesser known woes in the Gospel of Luke: 

 “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.” 

These woes aren’t about revenge. But they do speak to the consequences of extreme wealth – such as profiteering from desperately vulnerable people or working so hard you can’t think properly. 

Money is its own reward. But ultimately its power is empty. Today, the Sunday Times should be as ashamed of idolising it as those it lionises for making so much of it.