Kelsey Grammer plays the title role in the Chicago-based political drama, "Boss," but admits the city itself is the major character.
Grammer, who stars as Chicago Mayor Tom Kane in the new Starz series debuting at 9 p.m. Friday, said he "got a sense of the city all the time" while filming at Cinespace Studios on the Southwest Side and around Chicago this spring and summer.
"Certainly we chose Chicago because it is the City of the Big Shoulders," Grammer said. "And that typifies who this guy is. Tom Kane's life energy, if you will, comes from Chicago. It bolsters that man, you know? His choices, his life, his energy is as big as that town and it's pretty damn big. It's got a swagger about it, an interesting dynamic that really is unique to Chicago.
"It is his relationship with that city, his relationship with the history of that city that makes him a remarkable guy. And that's what I like about him."
Some viewers may not find Kane likable at all. He's ruthless, unforgiving, demanding and generally unpleasant to be around. He's determined to cement his place in history as one of Chicago's greatest mayors, and does so through the use questionable ethics, intimidation and backroom deals.
Grammer, 56, still is best known for his role as fussbudget Dr. Frasier Crane on the comedies "Cheers" and "Frasier." Fans will forget Grammer the Emmy-winning comedic actor in the opening moments of "Boss," during a scene in which Kane listens silently as his doctor informs him he has a degenerative brain disorder that eventually will take his life.
Kane has little time to soak up the news before mayoral duties intervene. And he has no one to lean on; his marriage is a sham and he hasn't spoken with his daughter, a former drug addict daughter, for years. He doesn’t even trust his advisers with the secret, and decides to tell no one about the disorder that threatens his hold on power.
“Boss” is a big, operatic story of betrayals, intrigue and violence—all the hallmarks of classic Shakespeare plays—Grammer said, but added while laughing, “We don’t want to alienate anybody from the show [and have them] saying, ‘Oh dear God, we’re going to tune into a Shakespeare play.’”
Grammer has experienced events of a Shakespearean level in his personal life with the failure of two post-"Frasier" comedies, "Hank" and "Back to You," and a 2008 heart attack. Although the actor did not specifically address his acrimonious divorce from Camille Grammer that played out on Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” he did admit that “my personal life has had an opportunity to, kind of, take a nice little ride along with Tom Kane.”
“We all have our own history of damage and tragedy and upset and betrayals,” he said cryptically. “But mine has been rich … and well documented. A lot of that is bound to surface, or at least surface in the viewers’ minds, as they watch the show.”
Those who don’t follow tabloid fodder will see Grammer’s ferocious performance in a strong series that so impressed the brass at Starz it was renewed weeks before the premiere. The production will return to Chicago in February to start filming Season 2—and soak up more of that Windy City vibe.
Grammer will then be able to consume more of the Neapolitan pizza at Ravenswood restaurant Spacca Napoli, a "great spot," as he called it. "We were so welcomed in the city," he said. "The people were so genuine and lovely. It's been a great place to spend some time."
Grammer, who also serves as executive producer for the series, added that although the show’s creator, Farhad Safinia, borrowed liberally from and was inspired by Chicago's "storied history of colorful mayors," viewers should keep in mind that "Boss" is a fictional series.
"I have no idea if these things really take place in Chicago politics or in politics in general," he said, "but it's kind of fun to put the world out there."