WITH AN EYE ON ... : Meet David Hyde Pierce, an actor who ‘out-pompouses’ the pompous one on ‘Frasier’
David Hyde Pierce looks enough like “Frasier” star Kelsey Grammer to be his brother. In fact, some viewers wonder if the two men, who play brothers on the NBC Thursday-night sitcom, really are related.
“Fortunately, there is a physical resemblance between us,” says Pierce from his Los Angeles-area apartment.
In the show’s development stages there weren’t plans for radio psychologist Frasier Crane to have a brother. Then the show’s casting director, Sheilia Guthrie, came across Pierce’s photo and brought it to the producers’ attention.
“We thought it was an uncanny resemblance,” says David Angell, creator and executive producer.
Although the producers were unfamiliar with Pierce’s work, he was hired to be Niles Crane without reading for the producers or the network.
“We just hired him,” Angell adds. “We got a strong feeling that it would work and it’s worked out terrifically ever since. We needed to humanize Frasier more, so we needed someone who out-pompouses Frasier and he (Pierce) achieves that nicely.”
Producers couldn’t give Pierce a definite description of his character until they came up with this: Niles is Frasier-- if he hadn’t gone to Boston and met all those people at Cheers.
To get snobbish, intellectual, neurotic Niles down, Pierce watched Frasier’s earliest appearances on the show that ended last season and “figured out what he was before he was Cheers-ified.”
New York-born Pierce is an Ivy League (Yale) graduate, but says that he didn’t know many folks like Niles.
“I was in the theater crowd primarily, and they were more Bohemian,” Pierce says. Originally a music major, Pierce discovered that he loved performing and wasn’t as interested in the off-stage practice necessary to become a professional musician.
“I acted in college, and then it dawned on me that if I could get paid, it would be fun,” he recalls. After a series of smaller parts, he landed the lead in the Christopher Durang play “Beyond Therapy” in New York.
“I played a waiter, and fortunately, it’s the only time I’ve had to be a waiter,” he says. He did, however, play a tie salesman during his 10 years in regional theater, starting in 1982.
During that time, Pierce made his first foray into film, with the movie version of “Bright Lights, Big City.”
His one line was, “I’m sorry, the bar is closed.”
Says Pierce: “And I was very good. Here I had done Shakespeare and Chekhov and I was petrified! I had that one line and it cost me more to join the film actors union than I made in the movie, so I had to borrow it from my agent.”
In 1989, Pierce was part of a theater group that included Brian Dennehy and Linda Hunt. The group performed Anton Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard.” Pierce went on tour with the play for several months in Russia (leaving a week before the failed coup) and in Japan.
When Pierce returned to Los Angeles, he continued work in film and theater and eventually landed a lead role in the short-lived but critically acclaimed “The Powers That Be” for NBC.
He’s happy about “Frasier’s” success and finds the characters into three-dimensional people.
“He may be uptight,” he says affectionately of Niles, “but he has feelings for his brother and sure, he has some fairly major psychological problems, but he’s probably a good therapist.”
In his spare time, Pierce says he would love to play the organ “in a church that’s small enough that they wouldn’t need someone really good.”
“Frasier” airs Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. on NBC.