When it comes to self-aware actors, a photo of Rob Lowe could be the defining one to illustrate the phrase.
In the adult phase of his career, the star who built his fame on such 1980s movies as “St. Elmo’s Fire” and “About Last Night” has spoofed his image in ventures from the “Austin Powers” comedies to DirecTV ads — while still maintaining his performing career in series (“The West Wing,” “Brothers & Sisters,” “Parks and Recreation”) and Lifetime true-crime movies. Now, Lowe shows he still knows how the game is played as the FOX sitcom “The Grinder” debuts Tuesday (Sept. 29).
He portrays television star Dean Sanderson Jr., whose long-running role as a lawyer ends … prompting him to become the real thing in his hometown of Boise, Idaho, where his intentions worry his actual-attorney brother Stewart (Fred Savage, of “The Wonder Years” fame). Not only does the TV-trick-using Dean affect his sibling’s life at the firm headed by their father (William Devane), but also after-hours with Stewart’s family, which includes the wife (Mary Elizabeth Ellis) who was Dean’s girlfriend in high school.
“When I read this script, I had no sense of what it was going to be,” Lowe tells Zap2it. Also an executive producer of “The Grinder,” he says, ” My agents hadn’t given me any background, so I didn’t really know what to expect, and that was the very thing I really responded to. In an era where we all want things to be less and less derivative, this was not derivative. This was a tone I hadn’t seen before. It was challenging on the one hand, and also really, really accessible on the other.”
Part of the accessibility of “The Grinder” comes from the brothers’ ever-shifting relationship, and Savage is putting his flourishing TV-directing career (“Modern Family,” “2 Broke Girls,” etc.) on the back burner to return purely to acting.
“This was a first time in a long time I didn’t really think through the implications of a job,” he maintains. “it was all very thoughtful … like, where I wanted to go and what I wanted to be and, ‘OK, this job can lead to that.’ And after reading the [‘Grinder’ pilot] script and meeting with the guys, it just seemed like a really fun way to spend a week. And, then, there was all of this [the series order] that happened.”
Having had so much TV experience himself — now also encompassing his animated, just-launched Comedy Central series “Moonbeam City” — Lowe likes the chance to consolidate it into his “Grinder” role.
He reflects, “I learned a tremendous amount from ‘The West Wing.’ I learned a lot from ‘Parks and Recreation’ and ‘Brothers & Sisters.’ You learn the good things, you learn the bad things, the cautionary tales … all of it. I sort of feel, without being too ‘fine’ about it, that everything has sort of led to this. I don’t know how many episodes of television I’ve done, but it’s a lot, so it’s sort of a perfect time for me to play a guy who’s done a lot of episodes of television.”