Spike Lee tapped into the banality—not to say blandness—of evil in casting usually amiable That ’70s Show star Topher Grace as BlacKkKlansman’s 1970s-era racist asshole David Duke. On Monday’s Late Night, Grace explained the insight he got into that casting process when he watched the former KKK leader’s shiftily crowd-lulling appearances on the old Donahue show where, Grace claims, Duke was able to largely disarm the initially hostile crowd. Calling his extensive research into the still-loathsome Duke’s hateful career “the worst month of his life,” the ever-boyish Grace said that watching Duke ply his snake oil vileness on TV talk shows was to “drill down into what makes him so evil.”
As for his portrayal of said racist trash pile (and big Donald Trump fan) in Lee’s new film about real-life Klan-infiltrating cop Ron Stallworth (played by John David Washington), Grace told Meyers that that research led him to some truly appalling places—and completely trashed his online book recommendations. (It also got him some weird looks when the star of In Good Company asked about buying the klansman and convicted felon’s autobiography at the local Barnes & Noble.) Citing the call from Lee as “a great day in your career,” the actor was yet faced with a unique challenge during Lee’s direction of one of the film’s klan rally scenes. Noting how directors often come up with new lines between takes, Grace asked for some special treatment after Lee would invent “the most racist thing [Grace had] ever heard” for his Duke to say. Pulling Spike aside, Grace said that he told Lee, “Hey man, no need to whisper that to me,” as the actor realized he was going to get some suspicious looks from the crew. Perhaps imagining burly grips with easy access to power tools thinking, “Did Topher come up with that?,” Grace said he agreed to say whatever Lee told him to, as long as the director said it out loud first.
And, lest the interview consist of all racist asshole talk, self-deprecating amateur film editor Grace told a few amusing stories stemming from his career as that nice guy from that movie you saw that time, as well. While his arrangement to up his coolness cred by blowing off War Machine co-star Brad Pitt at any future Vanity Fair Oscar party is solid—and likely to come to pass with BlacKkKlansman—onetime Saturday Night Live host Grace’s embarrassing tale of completely misunderstanding Meyers’ post-show compliment that he was “the best host ever” is the stuff late-night talk show anecdotes are made from. At least he got to watch Amy Poehler do karaoke in his living room.