The God Committee Star Kelsey Grammer on Film's Ethical Subject Matter
Actor Kelsey Grammer has played such a diverse set of roles throughout his career across film and television. Every now and again, he'll stumble upon roles that challenge him, and one such is the weary Dr. Andre Boxer in Austin Stark's The God Committee. The story follows a New York hospital that has to come to a difficult decision when a donor heart unexpectedly. An organ transplant committee must convene within one hour to decide which of three other patients deserves the life-saving heart. God's work is now left in the hands of five doctors. I spoke to the star about what intrigued him about the film, his thoughts on the current healthcare system, chemistry with his co-stars, and his empathy with Boxer.
"I read the script, and originally they offered me the role of a priest as Father Dunbar, Colman Domingo's role. I looked at it, and I thought, you know what? I didn't play this kind of character," Grammer recalled. "I just asked if I could play Dr. Andre Boxer instead. They said, 'Hey, we haven't thought of that. I also think it's extraordinarily. It was something I haven't done before, and that's what usually attracts me to a little, which is the case in this play." Based on the play by Mark St. Germain and adapted for the screen by Stark, the doctors deciding are Boxer (Kelsey Grammer), a cynical but brilliant heart surgeon; Jordan (Julia Stiles), an idealistic up-and-comer; and Gilroy (Janeane Garofalo), a weary bureaucrat. As the debate over the heart heats up, ethics and bribes clash, leaving the committee members to question what's more valuable: morals or money?
"I was fascinated to find that these all these kinds of elements already exist," Grammer said. "The research into growing human organs in other animals, all kinds of stuff like that, and the project does exist. That, to me, was fascinating. Of course, I applaud people's efforts to do this because clearly, there's an issue. This is just way too much demand and far little supply. Maybe we can affect some change in that by virtue of the film. I don't know. You know, it's a nice pipe dream." As much of a commentary as the current US healthcare system is the focus of The God Committee, Grammer provided some nuance into the discussion.
"I think the for-profit [health care] system, honestly, is probably the best system we're going to get because it motivates me. It motivates people to excellence," Grammer said. "However, there are always disappointing people within that context who can take advantage. That's a human issue I already knew. Of course, 'health care' is a nice phrase, but 'care' doesn't necessarily guarantee 'health.' You're hoping most people, if we were to really tackle it, would I think, be responsible for their own health a little more. I think basketball and football are dangerous ideas, but I think maybe it's too political." To place it within the context of the film, "There aren't enough people volunteering organs, and there are not enough activities headed to solving the crisis of organ transplants," Grammer explained. "I think maybe it will get better, but it's probably always going to be a bit of a dicey game of this God Committee concept. That obviously is an expression coined decades ago about this life and death decisions a group of doctors makes about a patient. This is pretty dramatic and pretty intense."
Grammer compliments his cast for helping to make such a powerful film. "Honestly, everybody was great. Janeane was great. Colman's fantastic," he said. "I mean, we had such a good time in terms of that. It's a difficult subject matter at the end and to work with Julia was the presumptive choice. She's just wonderful. She's a very gifted young woman. You want in my own approach to kind of look at her and say, 'Wonder why is this guy having trouble with giving it up for her?' Or like, 'Why is he such a jerk?' Of course, as you find out, he's been dealt a pretty difficult hand. He has decided that human indulgence or human experience on the level of just love or whatever it might be is something that he really can't afford because the clock is ticking for him. He wants to get this extraordinary thing done if he can. It's a race for him, and he decided he can't indulge itself in the normal life."
The actor broke down the deck that's stacked for his character. "I don't know if it was really a challenge to achieving any of it except that It just hurt," Grammer said. "When you're along for the ride to the cabin, you're playing a character; it just hurts when they hurt. He's hurting, and he's hurting big time, and when I watch the film, I cry. I actually am sort of collapsed in emotion. It was a hard journey to play because I just saw him. It's just sadly not being able to enjoy so many things that other people can." The God Committee, which also stars Dan Hedaya, comes to select theaters and on-demand on July 2nd.