Hello Niles, er, David Hyde Pierce

The beloved <em>Frasier</em> actor charms his fans at the Guthrie

He’s older now, his hair heading for higher ground, his wrinkles more set. In fact, these days David Hyde Pierce looks more and more like Kelsey Grammer, his supposed brother on the long-running sitcom Frasier. As Pierce informed his eager fans in a conversation with Joe Dowling at the Guthrie Theater Sunday evening, their resemblance was one of the reasons he got the job as Niles Crane—it certainly wasn’t his love for opera (nonexistent then) or his knowledge of wine (still nonexistent).

Pierce was full of such stories about his rather charmed career on stage and screen—including a stint at the Guthrie in the mid-1980s. “I’m having flashbacks,” he said upon entering the thrust stage, essentially unchanged from the old Guthrie space, “and I was never here before.” As he told the audience, he met his partner, Brian Hargrove, at the Guthrie when both actors were auditioning for Peer Gynt (neither got the part). He also joked that he was pleased to discover, early in his career, that some theaters, like the Guthrie, care solely about the art onstage, not about making money. Dowling cracked, “That’s changed.”

Pierce recently starred with Guthrie regular Sally Wingert on Broadway in La Bête (in this magazine, she called him the nicest man she’s ever met, apart from her husband and son—“a real mensch”). He told the crowd he had no immediate plans to leave the stage for television again, saying he felt he did everything he could on TV in his role as Niles, which earned him four Emmys. Nor, he said, did he expect to revisit his initial career plan—becoming a concert pianist—which he abandoned as an undergraduate at Yale. The key to going from musical ambitions to acting, he said, “was not being a very good concert pianist.”

Recognizing the conversation for the performance it essentially was, Pierce regaled the audience for 1.5 hours, at times getting up and walking about the stage to illustrate a point. But it may have been an audience member, during the Q&A portion of the evening, who came up with the best line. Having apparently dug through many decades of saved Guthrie programs (Q&As like this always tend to say as much if not more about the audience as the guest), she discovered a review by the late Star Tribune critic Mike Steele, who singled out a David Pierce for praise. “You had more hair then, less name,” she said. To which Pierce replied, “First of all, I love you.”