Five Favorite Films

Five Favorite Films with David Hyde Pierce

RT chats with the star of Frasier and the new psychological thriller The Perfect Host.

by | June 30, 2011 | Comments

There’s a lot more to David Hyde Pierce than Niles Crane. Though he’s best known for his multi-Emmy-winning role as a highbrow, fastidious shrink on Frasier, Pierce has carved out a distinctive career on stage (he won a Tony Award for his starring role in the musical Curtains in 2007) and as a voice actor (key roles in A Bug’s Life, Treasure Planet, and The Simpsons). In the psychological thriller The Perfect Host, Pierce plays a man preparing for a dinner party when an escaped fugitive turns up at his door; what follows is as twisty as a corkscrew, and audiences expecting good ol’ Niles are in for a surprise. In an interview with RT, Pierce shared his favorite films, and discussed his juicy role in The Perfect Host, how he prepares for a role, and the legacy of Frasier.

 



Bonnie and Clyde
(1967, 89% Tomatometer)



I would say… It’s a really hard question to answer, first of all, because there are so many great films, and it’s hard to pick just a few. But certainly, Bonnie and Clyde is one. It’s perfectly cast, beautifully shot, and that ballet of death at the end was something unlike anything I’d ever seen before. [Everyone in the cast] were incredible. Estelle Parsons, oh my gosh.

The Godfather (1972, 100% Tomatometer)



The Godfather. The palette of the movie, the colors. There’s something about the production design and the cinematography. Everything about that. I mean, I like the story, the characters, all that, but the thing, when I think of the movie — like if I’m flipping channels and it’s on, I have to stop and watch it — the thing that catches me is always just its rich, rich, rich deep palette. It’s incredible. I mean, they’re all great films, the first one especially. When I was a kid and it was on TV, I would always have to go make spaghetti and watch it. I could not watch that movie without having spaghetti and tomato sauce. There was just something so evocative about those guys making sauce in the kitchen.

Horror of Dracula (1958,
89% Tomatometer)



Horror of Dracula. First of all, the match up of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee was so brilliant. They were so great together. Plus, the ending — I hate to say this, because you’ve to see it — when Dracula has Van Helsing at his mercy, and the sun’s come up outside, and Van Helsing tears down the curtains, so the sun comes streaming in, and then takes two candlesticks and forms a cross. It’s just so cool. And I think that’s the first time anybody ever did that in a movie; now they do all kinds of versions of that thing. But I just thought that was pretty brilliant writing.


Unfinished Piece for a Player Piano
(1977,
N/A)



I will give you Unfinished Piece for the Player Piano. Oh, it’s a great movie. It’s a Russian movie; [Nikita] Mikhalkov is the director, and it’s a Checkhov play, really — it’s based on Platonov. Chekhov is unbelievably difficult to do, to capture the mood, to capture the humor, the incredible sadness and pathos of the characters, all that. It’s very rare that you see a great production of Checkhov. I saw this when I was rehearsing a production of The Cherry Orchard. The great British director Peter Brook was directing, and he set up a screening of this movie for us. It’s just, it’s also a beautiful movie to look at, and also it was a great director, but it’s the characters, both the acting and the depiction of this wonderful, very specific group of Russian characters is unmatched.


A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy
(1982, 71% Tomatometer)



Last one is A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy. I don’t think it’s up there on most people’s lists. I just think it’s so beautiful. It’s very funny, but very gentle, and it also deals with issues of life and death in a very serious way. I can remember every time I saw it crying at the end. And part of it, too, is [Woody Allen] makes this incredibly good use of Mendelssohn’s music. I think the entire score is — I’m not sure about the soundtrack — but the score is Mendelssohn. I just think it’s a really exquisite piece of filmmaking.

Next, Pierce talks what audiences expect of him, how he prepares for a role, and the legacy of Frasier.

On to The Perfect Host. I know there’s only so much people want to give away about the movie itself, but I think my first thought watching it was, “This is pretty unpredictable.”

David Hyde Pierce: Good! That’s excellent. That is definitely meant to be unpredictable. Every time you think you know where you are, it should change, and every time you think you know who someone is, that should change. I think the cool thing is that also happens to the characters in the movie as well.

It’s funny because watching it, I’m like, “Oh, I think I know where this is going.” And then, all of a sudden, we see a side of you that we haven’t seen much before. Did you enjoy upending audience expectations in this movie?

I love the character to begin with. I think any actor would love to play this character. But it’s a really nice ride for me, because it does sort of start out meeting the audience’s expectations if you’re familiar with my work. The beginning of the movie is very much what you might be used to. And then, I sort of depart from that pretty extremely. I think it worked well for the movie, because I think it helps lull the audience into sort of saying, “Oh yeah, I remember this guy. We’ve seen him before.”

[rtimage]siteImageId=10244427[/rtimage]
I don’t know if you still feel this way, but I’ve read you’ve always felt like theater was number one for you. But one of the things that came to mind as I watched this was that it has a sort of theatrical feel, in the sense that it feels a little bit like, say, Rope, where it’s cinematic, obviously, but there are these people who are trying to maintain some sort of veneer of respectability within a contained space while there are scary things going on underneath. Would you say that’s part of what the appeal was for you?

It’s funny; you are not the first person to say that about it, and it’s something I did not get at all, reading the script. What appealed to me was the character, the story, the back and forth between the actors. What ended up being very theatrical about it, though, was that we had such a tight shooting schedule, only 17 days. We had four days of rehearsal, which doesn’t always happen on a movie, where Clayne Crawford, who plays opposite me, and Nick Tomnay, the director, and I got to really work through the characters, work through the emotional arcs of the characters, figure out what the physicality of the whole thing would be. And then, because there wasn’t a lot of time, it was a chance to really have good long scenes, and long interchanges between the actors. You know, I don’t know that it’s theatrical so much as, maybe we’re not used to that kind of thing. Filmmaking has become so much about quick cuts and jiggly cameras and stuff like that that maybe it just harkens back to an older style of filmmaking.

This is Nick Tomnay’s first major feature as a director. When you’re working with a “newbie,” how do you approach the material?

What I did was, I met with Nick, and I had seen a short film that he’d made on which The Perfect Host was based, and seeing his work in that format and having conversations with him, that’s all I really needed. I liked him, I trusted him, and he really understood the film because he’d written it. From that point on, it didn’t change the way I prepared for the film, and when we were on the set, all of my expectations were borne out. He was amazing. It’s a very high pressure situation, directing your first feature — no time, very little money, things go wrong, and he handled everything. He constantly kept a serious voice, focused creativity and support on the set, and that was amazing, I think, for a first-time director.

[rtimage]siteImageId=10244428[/rtimage]
Shooting something in 17 days shows discipline.

Discipline and also, he really knew what he wanted. When you have that kind of time available, you can’t just shoot endlessly. You know, you have to budget, and then figure it out in editing. Which is not to say he was stuck; because he knew exactly what he wanted, he could change and improvise and throw stuff out, because he had the overall shape of the piece in his head.


Shifting gears slightly, I’m sure you get this all the time, but I wonder? Obviously, you’re best known for playing Niles Crane on Frasier. When people come up to you and say, “I loved you on that show,” or “Hey Niles!”, does it get old? Have you accepted that as part of what the public perceives you as?

I love it. I love it. People are very affectionate. The kind of thing you have on a long-running television show like that is very particular. It really has to do with affection; it’s not star worship. People feel like you’re a friend, they feel like you’re a family member. Some people grew up watching the show, some people’s parents watched the show, some people’s — God help us — grandparents watched the show, you know. So it doesn’t get old, but I do.


One of the things I’ve read you saying is that Frasier felt like doing an Oscar Wilde play on television. That’s kind of something high to shoot for, especially in the world of TV. Are you still surprised how popular it was, given how it was a bit smarter than a lot of other stuff going on at the time?

No, I don’t think it was smarter; I think it was really good writing, and I think it holds up. If you see a rerun now, it’s still funny. It wasn’t tied to contemporary references or jokes about what was going on in the press at the time. It was very carefully written by really, really skillful writers. And that’s the Oscar Wilde comparison, I would say. It was a great cast — I wouldn’t take anything away from the acting, which I think was also pretty good — but I really feel that the core of that show [was the writing]. And the incredible thing about it is, for 11 years, it sustained a really, really, really high level of writing.


What are you doing next? Are you working on any plays right now?

I’m in pre-production; I’m going to direct a musical, a new musical. We’ll do that in the fall. And then, I’m going to be acting in a play in New York, the Manhattan Theatre Club in New York, at the end of the year.

[rtimage]siteImageId=10244429[/rtimage]

You’ve done theater, you’ve done voice acting, you’ve done TV, you’ve done movies. Do you approach everything based on what the assignment is, or is there any similarities underneath everything?

I’ll tell you, I wouldn’t have been able to answer that question, except now that I’m directing for the first time, I use the same exact process that I use when I approach any part, which is, I’ll do anything. I will explore any avenue; I will do research on any aspect of the character. I’ll go to see a concert, I’ll go to the museum and look at paintings. Walking down the street, some person does something that gives me an idea. A dog does something that gives me an idea. You never know. If I’m going to talk about my approach, it is to open myself to influence that might spark something about a character or about a show.


So, for example, when you were doing, say, A Bug’s Life, did you read up on insects or visit museums?

No, I didn’t do that. That’s a little bit what I’m saying; in that case, the script was the script. I didn’t have to physically act out things. I was just sort of reading a script. But, I guess what I’m saying is that I try to do not just what you would literally expect, not the most obvious things. I did a play in London last year, and it took place back in the 1600s, so I went to a museum and looked at paintings from the 1600s that were about scenes that had nothing to do with the play. Because I knew everything about what life was like on stage in the scenes that we had. What I didn’t know was, what happens when these people go home? Or what happens when they go out to drink? So, that kind of stuff, because those are the things you wouldn’t expect. You never know what it might tell you about the character.


What did you do for your character in The Perfect Host?

I spent a lot of time talking to myself.


The Perfect Host opens in limited release Friday. Check out David Hyde Pierce’s filmography here.

Tag Cloud

Fall TV Tubi Lifetime Christmas movies Fox News vampires Peacock composers Animation Chernobyl Marathons indie FX Freeform cancelled television Nickelodeon mockumentary comiccon Sneak Peek medical drama YouTube Red sequel RT21 Mindy Kaling Trivia Classic Film NBC 2019 boxoffice Masterpiece Calendar cults screenings Reality Competition Marvel The Witch Disney Channel series Extras Musical war Shudder Superheroe Writers Guild of America Marvel Television Interview American Society of Cinematographers Photos Polls and Games cancelled TV series versus Musicals docudrama period drama Dark Horse Comics toy story miniseries 2018 Netflix Christmas movies renewed TV shows Chilling Adventures of Sabrina psycho discovery Heroines Bravo SundanceTV Showtime Turner Classic Movies Netflix anthology Sci-Fi animated singing competition GIFs Creative Arts Emmys Grammys revenge comic directors foreign A24 Certified Fresh cars finale LGBTQ strong female leads Lucasfilm TCA 2017 blockbuster Starz dragons Box Office Action DGA Avengers Elton John Syfy Britbox Awards Crunchyroll robots Emmy Nominations streaming 24 frames canceled TV shows Walt Disney Pictures BBC America Toys MTV 20th Century Fox halloween TLC YouTube Premium Mary Poppins Returns National Geographic Western Red Carpet Endgame batman DC Comics justice league crime drama San Diego Comic-Con Winners A&E Comic Book Trailer ratings binge Country Comics on TV YouTube south america IFC teaser politics supernatural book Emmys Pride Month 71st Emmy Awards Sundance USA Network Binge Guide true crime The CW Pirates 21st Century Fox WarnerMedia Cartoon Network comics ITV Martial Arts Winter TV PaleyFest Apple TV Plus Kids & Family name the review reboot Superheroes space theme song OneApp adaptation MSNBC thriller Schedule CW Seed DC Universe cartoon Disney Plus Disney+ Disney Plus diversity spanish language Best and Worst movies HBO Hallmark cats Ovation dceu Election stand-up comedy Character Guide award winner MCU VH1 Summer Baby Yoda rotten movies we love Reality Oscars Song of Ice and Fire Mudbound Rocketman BBC police drama romance Watching Series Opinion Super Bowl sitcom 2016 FXX werewolf Paramount Apple TV+ adventure Rocky CMT 2020 what to watch witnail Vudu TBS casting travel ghosts BET Star Trek Black Mirror Rom-Com Sundance Now Lifetime DirecTV Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt cancelled TV shows Pop Arrowverse latino Teen harry potter ESPN VICE anime Acorn TV mutant natural history transformers Drama History Valentine's Day TNT LGBT spy thriller cooking doctor who Disney talk show Film Christmas Sony Pictures Discovery Channel canceled crime 007 Logo psychological thriller TruTV hispanic Awards Tour Crackle screen actors guild Set visit E3 Lionsgate USA cinemax hist Holiday Rock Premiere Dates Apple TV Video Games OWN X-Men FOX Food Network Spike Tumblr Star Wars children's TV DC streaming service Esquire crime thriller TIFF Pixar technology sports Nominations Television Academy spinoff zombie Amazon Universal Tomatazos cops richard e. Grant Amazon Prime Video TV renewals CNN CBS All Access 2017 RT History Adult Swim Fantasy Pet Sematary Nat Geo historical drama Cannes independent Tarantino Shondaland Holidays Cosplay TCM Horror festivals green book PBS SXSW IFC Films Mystery HBO Max Amazon Prime crossover First Look zero dark thirty joker E! Disney streaming service Turner Ellie Kemper Hulu Podcast See It Skip It biography video dramedy President Captain marvel Biopics TV Land Comedy APB WGN Women's History Month documentary Year in Review television Family cancelled Infographic Comedy Central The Arrangement Anna Paquin New York Comic Con zombies 45 slashers elevated horror tv talk The Walking Dead dc Film Festival Paramount Network breaking bad spider-man political drama Music aliens The Purge Countdown Spring TV El Rey TCA Winter 2020 free movies kids golden globes game show Stephen King SDCC Mary Tyler Moore spain christmas movies ABC Family social media quibi disaster game of thrones nature TCA facebook Warner Bros. Epix Spectrum Originals romantic comedy sag awards Mary poppins AMC Thanksgiving Academy Awards Marvel Studios Hallmark Christmas movies First Reviews serial killer science fiction Trophy Talk based on movie GLAAD CBS unscripted Columbia Pictures GoT Quiz blaxploitation Ghostbusters 2015 ABC Brie Larson jamie lee curtis NYCC Sundance TV YA