I focused on the physicality. All these guys, who are either geniuses or want to be seen as geniuses, have a way of branding themselves physically,” says Topher Grace, referencing the inspiration for tech mogul Billy Bauer in Black Mirror’s “Smithereens.” Grace, who is barely recognizable in the thrilling episode, costars with Sherlock and Fleabag’s Andrew Scott.

Black Mirror is poised to earn an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Drama Series, with Grace as Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series.  This is a shift away from Outstanding Television Movie, the category Black Mirror has won in the past three years.

Grace’s career is a fascinating one, taking off when he dropped out of USC to play the lead in That 70s Show for most of his twenties. In recent years, he’s taken to portraying more fringe characters to critical and commercial success, the most notable being Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke in Spike Lee’s Oscar nominated film BlacKkKlansman.  On June 25th, Grace will star in an episode of Jordan Peele’s The Twilight Zone.

Grace spoke to Awards Focus about his experience on Black Mirror, the series’ best episodes, and his unexpected path to launching “Minor Adventures with Topher Grace.”

Awards Focus: Let’s start with when you first got involved with Black Mirror. Had you been interested in Black Mirror for a while or did this come out of left field for you?

Topher Grace: I don’t think there’s any actor who isn’t excited about Black Mirror, and hasn’t said to their agent, “Please let me know if anything ever happens.” But you don’t know what the future of Black Mirror is. No one does.

AF: Did you have any favorite episodes?

Grace: With a great anthology show, everyone has to share their top three.  My wife and I have debated a lot, but our favorite is “Be Right Back.”  I also love “USS Callister.”  But we’ve had many discussions with friends about that. It’s a sign of a great show when people can’t decide what the best episode is.

AF: What drew you to “Smithereens” specifically, and to Billy Bauer?

Grace: I got the call right after BlacKkKlansman came out. When I heard what the plot was, I figured this character was going to be really evil like my character in BlacKkKlansman. But when I read the script, it was so much more ambiguous and interesting than that, and I thought, “Charlie Brooker (Black Mirror writer/creator) is such a genius.” I would’ve been excited to be involved with Black Mirror regardless, but it was my good fortune that it was a really delicious role.

AF: You can draw parallels from the company Smithereens to Facebook or Twitter. Did you draw inspiration from any real life tech CEOs while preparing for this role?

Grace: I focused on the physicality. All these guys who are either geniuses or want to be seen as geniuses have a way of branding themselves physically. They all have something that makes you go, “That guy always wears a black turtleneck,” or, “That guy has crazy long hair.” One of their great skills is drawing that attention. I didn’t want to be too specific about any one person, but I thought, “Can I take little bits of each person? How would he stand out in a crowd?” We did a photo shoot for a magazine cover, and we didn’t know whether we’d show that before my character is introduced. They decided not to show the cover, so it’s a total reveal seeing me in a bathrobe at the silent retreat. That was the right call.

AF: Were there any scenes that you anticipated one way while reading the script that evolved differently while you were on set?

Grace: That set in Spain was so magnificent. That house is such an interesting structure, and it informed so much of what we were doing. We were in the desert, and most of my scenes are on the edge of a cliff. At one point, he references “God Mode,” but his whole thing is God Mode:  how he dresses, what he’s doing, and even the set felt that way.

AF: The episode as a whole has a pretty pessimistic view of how all consuming social media can be. Do you feel personally connected to that theme at all?

Grace: I don’t think there’s anyone who doesn’t struggle with the question, “What is the right amount to let this new technology invade my life?” While shooting, I thought, “Oh my god. I remember in 2008 and not even knowing about Twitter, and now I’m checking my Twitter on set.” It’s like sugar: some people have a huge battle with sugar. Some people are just aware of it. But everyone has a relationship to it. Technology’s been such a tasty thing. We have to all monitor ourselves.

AF: Out of all the episodes of Black Mirror, the world of “Smithereens” is probably the most recognizable.

Grace: It’s set one year in the past from when it was shot. When I got the script I went, “Oh my God, I’m doing a period piece.” Very few Black Mirror episodes were in the present, and I don’t know if any of them were in the past.  There are some episodes that benefit from taking place in a time that we don’t understand, where it’s a little removed.  But in this case, it’s great that he’s set it one year in the past, because I think that was Charlie’s way of saying, “This is happening right now.”  When I was originally doing press for this, I was thinking how many people were probably reading about all this on Instagram or Twitter. It’s just so ironic.

AF: Let’s switch gears and talk about your podcast, Minor Adventures with Topher Grace. What was the origin of that idea?

Grace: To promote BlackKKlansmen, I went out on Anna Faris’ podcast, and it was so much fun. Sim Sarna, her co-host at the time, took me aside and said, “I want to do your podcast.”  I really didn’t want to be a host. He said, “No, I’ll come up with a format that you’ll enjoy.” A month later, he said, “You just have to go on an adventure with someone.”

AF: What made you decide to pursue that?

Grace: We did a pilot episode, and I had so much fun. Whitney Cummings was the guest, and the adventure was doing a lie detector test with someone from the FBI. It’s the most fun thing I’ve ever done for myself, because it’s something different every single week, and I get to do it with people that I either know pretty well, or people I’m a huge fan of and get to meet. Especially since I had a kid, I don’t get out of the house as much as I used to. It’s a great way to force myself out there, hang out with friends, and have a new experience.

AF: How do you choose those guests?

Grace: I have a list of people that I’m a huge fan of that I want to meet. We did a hostage negotiation with Thomas Middleditch. I’d never met him before, but I’m just such a huge fan of his. I wanted someone good at improv, and he’s maybe the best alive. Some guests are friends of mine, like Joseph Gordon Levitt. He came on and we wrote a jingle, and he’s really amazing at music.

AF: How do you choose the topics?

Grace: I have a great producer, and we have all these different ideas of things that we can do that are also an audio experience for the audience. We got ordained and married a couple.  We wrote a pop song and they actually recorded it at the end. We try to make one more different than the next.

AF: What do you see for the future of the podcast, especially through quarantine?

Grace: Unfortunately, it’s a physical, live experience. Some podcasts can be done from home, but we really need the guest and the expert in one room. We have to figure out what that is, but we’re not alone. The whole industry is trying to figure out how to do that.

AF: You’ve been away from TV for a while, and now you’re back with Black Mirror and Home Economics.  How does TV feel different now?

Grace: To me, working on Black Mirror was like working on a movie. And while watching it, it felt like watching a movie.  With the quality of productions now, there’s no difference between television and cinema. I really love great stories and working with really talented people. It’s just: does something about it speak to you as an actor? Do you want to work with these people?