In the new thriller The Perfect Host, David Hyde Pierce, held at knifepoint, delivers one of the more sublimely ridiculous movie lines in recent memory: "You can't kill me. I'm having a dinner party."
Hyde Pierce, who is best known for portraying Dr. Niles Crane on the sitcom Frasier, channels a darker version of the unabashed snob in the movie, which opens in limited release Friday (not yet in Toledo). After a bank robber on the run interrupts a meticulously planned dinner party at his Los Angeles home, Hyde Pierce's character turns the tables and becomes a host out of a nightmare.
In the tradition of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, Alfred Hitchcock's Rope, and any number of Woody Allen movies, The Perfect Host presents the dinner party as tense and emotionally fraught. Offering his opinion on why Hollywood so often equates dinner parties with high drama, Hyde Pierce said: "Usually there's alcohol and cutlery. So you're kind of asking for it."
He discussed The Perfect Host and his own travails as a home entertainer in a recent conversation.
Q. Did you enjoy playing Niles Crane with an edge?
A. It was nice because the character when you first see him is similar enough to the character I played on Frasier that there's an extra twist for people. He's a different guy, but definitely cut from same cloth. He's hosting a fancy dinner party and seems fairly sophisticated. The movie starts, and they think: "Oh, great. We know this guy. We're comfortable with him. This will be fun." The fun part is that you actually find out all that information is wrong.
Q. Is the film's intent to satirize the upper-middle-class love of dinner parties?
A. I think there's definitely the contrast between the sophistication of the meal and the derangement of the host. That may be true of most dinner parties. That may not be satire.
Q. Why do so many films have dinner party scenes? Are they inherently dramatic?
A. When you think about it, throwing a dinner party is a very theatrical act for most of us. My apartment is a mess until people are coming over for dinner, and then -- suddenly. People walk in the door, and of course they think this is how you live all the time. Now maybe other people do live that way all the time. Maybe it's just me. But even if it's not particularly upscale, there is a little bit of presentation that goes on in any dinner party.
Q. This is an independent film that was shot quickly. Did that limit how upscale the dinner party could be?
A. Of course, it could have been a much more elaborate affair. I'm sure that if we'd had a gazillion dollars we would have spent a week shooting the party scene, and we would have had a lot more people. We didn't have a thousand stylists and florists to make it look Hollywood glamorous. But I think this movie was made exactly as it should have been made -- even the quirkiness of the party. That's what would happen in this man's world.
Q. Your character displays graciousness toward his guests, mixed with thinly veiled contempt when they arrive late.
A. Again, it's that theatrical metaphor that you're sort of putting on a show. Just like if you're on stage and audience members arrive late -- yes, you want a full house, but you're still annoyed they didn't show up on time. That may be the same thing for having a big dinner party as well.
Q. Do you give a lot of dinner parties?
A. My partner, Brian, is a fantastic cook, so we'll occasionally have friends over, and he'll throw stuff together.
There's this great organization called Classical Action: Performing Arts Against AIDS. They'll have a classical musician come and give a recital in a private home. People pay a lot of money to hear a private recital and have food and everything, and all the money goes to charity. We've done that a couple of times in our home in Los Angeles. You get caterers in and tables outside and people on the lawn. That's a big, fancy deal.
Q. What are the keys to being a good host -- aside from not torturing any of the guests, as your character does in the film?
A. The thing that people always comment on about Brian is that he is amazingly at ease. People can show up spontaneously -- 10 people come over that we weren't expecting and we've got no food in the house -- and he will, with total calm, throw some incredible dinner together.
If it was me and people were coming over, I'd say, "There are eggs in the refrigerator, but you'll have to cook them." A great host genuinely is at ease in the midst of a party.