Finding solace in Shakespeare rather than tapping into his gut-wrenching family tragedy – Kelsey Grammer talks to us about his gripping new TV drama

2019-03-09 11:38
Kelsey Grammer


On his 64th birthday Hollywood star Kelsey Grammer opened up to Channel24’s Herman Eloff about his brutal new bully of a TV character that promises to have viewers tuning in.

Cape Town - Proven Innocent, which will air for the first time on South African TV on 11 March at 20:00 on Universal TV (DStv 117), centres on a legal team that takes on cases involving wrongful convictions.

For one of its A-list stars the theme of this procedural courtroom drama hits closer to home than many might know.

Kelsey Grammer, who takes on the role of bully Gore Bellows in the show, has a tragic personal history steeped in the brutal after-effects of violent crime.

At the tender age of 13 Kelsey’s estranged father, Frank Grammer, was shot dead outside his house in front of his second wife, Elizabeth. The man who shot Frank, Arthur B. Niles, was found not guilty by reason of insanity and was sentenced to several decades in a psychiatric ward.

When Kelsey was 20 years old his 18-year-old sister, Karen Grammer, was raped by four men and her throat slit by spree killer Freddie Glenn, who left her for dead. Karen reportedly crawled to a nearby house after the attack to seek assistance but unfortunately succumbed to her injuries before reaching help. Kelsey had to identify his sister’s body.

In a cruel twist of fate, Kelsey’s two half-brothers - Stephen and Billy - died in a freak scuba diving accident five years later in the Caribbean.

Kelsey Grammer

(HOLLYWOOD STAR: Kelsey Grammer. Photo: Universal TV/FOX)

For Kelsey there is no entertainment in real-crime documentaries - a genre that has in recent years seen a precipitous rise, thanks in most part, due to the boom of internet TV. "I’ve had to deal with a lot of real crime in my family so for me there isn’t entertainment in the real crime documentary drama genre,” Kelsey says over the phone. It’s his 64th birthday and he is in London when he makes time in his personal schedule to talk to Channel24 about his new TV show.

"I think I prefer shows to be dramatised. Like with Proven Innocent. For me personally that’s more watchable," he says with that instantly recognisable voice of Dr. Frasier Crane (Frasier/Cheers) which balances gently on the brim of being firm but also gentle.

The procedural format of Proven Innocent will be well-known to fans of crime shows like CSI and Law & Order. It follows a very specific recipe with defined acts and a self-contained plot that is introduced and resolved within the same episode.

In Proven Innocent Kelsey takes on the role of a shady District Attorney who has a history of throwing people in jail for crimes they did not commit. For the TV star, who is used to playing the good guy, it was pivotal that his character was multifaceted: "The challenge was to make sure he isn’t just one-dimensional and that there are more levels to him."

"I mean it can’t possibly be that every case he’s taken on has been wrong or every person he has sent to prison is innocent. We had very frank conversations on bringing balance to the character and ensuring there’s more to him. I also felt like the team was taking on the character in a responsible way and that meant a lot in me deciding to be part of it. He’s made out to be the monster but there’s also a human side to him and that’s very important," Kelsey said.

Rachelle Lefevre and Kelsey Grammer in Proven Inno

(IN COURT: Rachelle Lefevre and Kelsey Grammer in Proven Innoccent. Photo: Jean Whiteside/FOX)

In real-life Kelsey himself has twice had to block attempts by his sister’s killer to be released from jail. At a parole hearing in 2009, Kelsey wrote a letter saying: "She was my best friend and the best person I knew. She had so much to live for. I loved my sister, Karen. I miss her. I miss her in my bones. I was her big brother. I was supposed to protect her - I could not. I have never gotten over it... It very nearly destroyed me."

Once referring to Freddie as a "butcher" and a "monster" in a statement, Kelsey said he could forgive but would never forget the event that would change his life forever: "I accept your apology. I forgive you. However, I cannot give your release my endorsement. To give that a blessing would be a betrayal of my sister’s life.”

According to an article by Page Six, Kelsey relied on alcohol and drugs to cope with his loss and eventually served prison time for drunk-driving violations in 1990 before finding sobriety in rehab.

But don’t expect the star to tap into these heartwrenching personal tragedies for his on-screen portrayal: "I’m not a method actor so I don’t do anything special to get in character. I show up, put on my costume, get on set, and start working. That’s all I need. I just have to show up and do the work."

Kelsey, who has won five Primetime Emmy Awards, three Golden Globes, and a Tony, is a Juilliard scholar with rich experience in Shakespearean work. Not only did he complete a three-year internship with the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, but he’s also taken on various roles in everything from Shakespeare’s Macbeth to Othello.

When asked which he finds more challenging to master – Shakespearean or legalese? – Kelsey without hesitation answers: "Interestingly, and I don’t think a lot of people realise it, Shakespearean is the best language to perform. There’s a flow to it that really makes it easy and natural when performing. With legal jargon it’s a lot harder. With the language of the law it’s actually very counter intuitive and a lot harder."

He adds: "But there’s something in that. In the court room the lawyers are enemies battling it out. And they bend and manipulate the truth to show that their version of the story is the truth. And that’s why it’s so important that justice is blind. So, nothing can obscure the truth and the hope is that, that is what we all work towards. The truth."

The veteran actor agrees that these themes are more relevant now than perhaps ever before: "I think fake news has been faking it for a while, it’s only now that it’s become such a prominent topic. The show is perfect for this age and comes at a perfect time when we’re discussing prison reform and more lenient sentencing in America.

"I think the show so cleverly explores the judicial system and the question of fairness. People will be interested in that. Then there’s also a sub-plot that emerges which the viewers will want to follow. I think there are a lot of OMG-surprise moments which is exactly what will keep them tuned in. It’s those clever twists and turns that make for great viewing."

Proven Innocent also stars Rachelle Lefevre as Madeline Scott, an attorney who was wrongfully convicted herself. Madeline and her brother Levi, played by Riley Smith, were jailed for the murder of her best friend. And who was the man that put her away? Gore Bellows.

Follow all the drama and intrigue both in-and-out of the courtroom on Monday nights at 20:00 on Universal TV (DStv 117). 



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