Kelsey Grammer: Finding the beast inside me

Kelsey Grammer spent 20 years as TV's favourite neurotic shrink. Gill Pringle finds him triumphing over his own demons
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Having played a shrink on TV for almost half his life, its no surprise to learn that Kelsey Grammer is a master of self-analysis. In a life marked by personal tragedy and bouts of self-destruction, he has emerged a grateful survivor; a painful process during which he has come to know himself far better than many of us who mostly shirk from personal scrutiny, afraid of what we might discover.

"Life is supposed to get tough. Its how we deal with it that counts," says Grammer, smiling brightly. Unspoken and hanging silently in the air are the ghosts in his past; the murders of his father Allen, in 1968, and sister Karen, in 1975, and the deaths of his two half-brothers in a 1980 shark-attack. Unable to deal with so much tragedy, he drowned his demons in the bottle, famously crashed his car, and, briefly, even served prison time before finally getting sober at the Betty Ford Clinic 10 years ago. "Therapy helped enormously," he reveals. "If you don't reach beyond where you're comfortable, you will not grow. So that's my mission. To grow, to change, to become the best human I've been given the equipment to become."

But we're not here today just to revisit painful times, and he moves on. "You don't ask for fame, right?" he asks. "You don't really act to be famous, you act to work and to have a good job. And this thing came along for the ride with the television, which is such a powerful medium. There's really no place you can go where you can be sure somebody won't recognise you. So you just roll with the punches - you're just polite about it and say, 'thank you', and as soon as you've done that you move on and people leave you alone," says the 51-year-old actor who first played Dr Frasier Crane on Cheers in 1984 and guest-starred as him on Wings in 1990 before finally resurrecting him in 1993 in Frasier.

And when the time came for him to finally walk away from Frasier Crane forever, two years ago, he was able to do so without any sense of remorse. "I knew it was coming and I'd been preparing for it for a couple of years. I did Scrooge that summer, which was something fun and was like a departure. And then I basically took the next year and a half off and discovered that I liked retirement. I loved it. I mean, I never was really retiring - I'm still doing things," he says, alluding to his various behind-the-scenes endeavours, including his executive-producer role on the hit TV series Medium.

"And I have this new family and I have a beautiful bride and I have a life that's worth living," says the twice-divorced Grammer, whose 1997 marriage, to the former Playboy model Camille Donatacci, has proven third-time-lucky, sealing his happiness with two children via surrogate birth; daughter Mason, four, and son Jude, two. "As an older parent I'm more of a child now than I ever was before and that's the best. The more mature you get the more comfortable you are with your children," he says.

The current Mrs Grammer was preceded by Doreen Alderman, a dance instructor and the mother of Grammer's 21-year-old daughter, Spencer. Divorced in 1990, his second marriage, to the exotic dancer Leigh-Anne Csuhany, ended in 1993 after two years during which time he had another daughter, Greer - now 14 - with make-up artist Barrie Buckner.

"My marriage to Camille is for keeps. This is the last time I wed," he vows. "I've made a lot of mistakes in the past but Camille is the answer to my prayers. This time it's forever, and nothing will break us apart. Camille and I are going to grow old together. All the other women I've known are nothing in comparison.

"So in regard to my private life, retiring Frasier Crane was an easy decision. And besides, 20 years on television is enough," he says , discussing his first major screen outing in the two years since he bade a final adieu to Crane.

His latest incarnation sees him draped from head to toe in blue fur, starring in the dual role of Dr Hank McCoy and Beast in X-Men: The Last Stand, joining an all-star cast that includes Sir Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart. Grammer had his doubts when approached to play another doctor - although any fears of typecasting were quelled the instant he donned the blue, furry, body-suit and latex prosthetics. Unrecognisable beneath the costume, only his distinctive resonant voice gives a clue to his former alter ego.

"For actors, it's all about playing dress-up, I mean, isn't it?" he asks, sipping on bottled water in a penthouse suite at Santa Monica's Casa del Mar hotel, overlooking the Pacific Ocean - just a few miles from his own palatial mansion further up the coast. "Its always fun to do that because that's who we are. I want to play dress-up. I want to play cowboys and Indians. Its all the same thing - we're having fun."

"Dr McCoy is a chemical engineer. He, in fact, is responsible for his own demise in terms of his colouring and hair," explains the actor who has a recurring speaking role as Sideshow Bob on The Simpsons. "Beast's super-power is mostly his brain. He's a thinker and his intellect is the most powerful thing he has working for him. He's also a great fighter and physically very agile. To me he's like Othello. He's powerful," he enunciates grandly, lest one forget his Shakespearean background. "But more than that I thought of Frederick Douglass, the black American who was a great man of letters and of politics in the very early days of the American Revolution: extraordinary stature. And I felt that way about Beast. Stature and a towering intellect and clearly a physically different kind of person."

Putting things into perspective, X-Men: The Last Stand is little more than a big-budget special effects picture about cartoon superheroes. "I like working with costumes actually," admits Grammer. To me its the first thing that tells you what your character is. That's the way I always work, especially in theatre. When the costume shows up its: 'Wow! Now I know what to do'. Especially in period pieces, which I enjoy doing.

But there'll likely never be any escape from his most famous creation. He was even recognised as Frasier Crane by Masai warriors, during a family vacation in East Africa.Asked what motivates him to continue working when Frasier has made him one of the richest actors in Hollywood, he says: "Its fun.The money isn't the motivation anymore. Its nice to be able to pay your bills but its really more about trying to do something good.

'X-Men: The Last Stand' is released in the UK on 25 May