LOS ANGELES—Aside from erudite "Simpsons" sociopath Sideshow Bob, Kelsey Grammer hasn't played a whole lot of bad men in his career. And he could argue that his next character, the angel of death on NBC's "Medium," isn't such a terrible guy either.
"Of course he's still an angel," Grammer notes. "But he carries a lot of baggage."
Grammer, who's also an executive producer of "Medium," makes a sweeps-worthy guest appearance on the show Monday, playing a well-dressed (in a black suit) and well-spoken Death who haunts psychic Allison DuBois (Patricia Arquette). The character is hardly someone you'd want to meet, but Grammer does describe him as "charming."
"I'm playing two characters, really. The angel of death is kind of channeling himself through this [other] character at one point, and I think that's probably as much of the story as I can tell you," says Grammer, who plays Beast in the feature film "X-Men: The Last Stand," out later this month. "The beauty of it is to keep him charming, quiet, well-mannered, civil, with sort of a wry sense of humor. I think that begins to be a little bit more perilous, because you know he carries a really big stick."
Grammer's comedic chops are well-established; he did, after all, win four Emmys playing the title character on "Frasier." And Arquette admits to having trouble keeping a straight face during some of the scenes she shared with him on "Medium." But she was also impressed with his ability to get under Death's skin.
"What was exciting about Kelsey is, obviously he's a wonderful comedic actor, and we've all seen that," Arquette says. "But he really has the ability to play very serious, [do] really deep work of a serious nature. There were a lot of interesting things -- pain, sadness, anger -- fascinating qualities that I wasn't really used to seeing in him. It was fun to watch."
Playing Death became a fun challenge, Grammer says, as he tried to figure out what would make such a being tick. What he came up with was a man who was a little bit bored with his work.
"It's been a long, hard road, but because he's had so much experience at it, he's fallen into -- this is actor's language -- requisite disrespect for his own job. It comes with ease, he doesn't prepare. He jus has this seamless, unconscious ability to achieve his goals without obsessing about them."
That's not the case with his own work, Grammer says. He does allow, though, that his appearance on "Medium" is not a warmup for another long run on television.
"I worked for 20 years in front of the camera. There's a big part of me that kind of wants to step away from it for a while," he says. "I have a new family [he and wife Camille have two young children]. I have a lot of other things going on in my life that I really want to devote myself to. And frankly, a TV schedule sometimes is prohibitive for the lifestyle I want to live now. It really is more about lifestyle."