Lanky, personable, and looking for all the world like Alan Alda's long-lost son, Topher Grace made an impressive film debut with his role in Traffic (2000), Steven Soderbergh's epic and widely acclaimed look at the American war on drugs. Grace received positive notices for his work in the film, which cast him as a cocky prep-school boy who turns his girlfriend (Erika Christensen) on to heroin and cocaine. The role marked a drastic departure from the young actor's regular job on the popular Fox sitcom That '70s Show, where he portrayed Eric Forman, a level-headed and predominantly wholesome high school student coming of age in "Me Decade" Wisconsin.
A native New Yorker, Grace was born in the city on July 12, 1978. Raised in Connecticut and Massachusetts, he began acting in school plays and was a student at New Hampshire's Brewster Academy when his performance in a school production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum effectively secured him his first professional job. Among those to see the play were Bonnie and Terry Turner, parents of one of Grace's classmates and the would-be producers of That '70s Show. Impressed with the young actor's work in the play, they tapped him for the role of Eric Forman during his freshman year at the University of Southern California. Grace, who had studied acting at the Groundlings Improvisation School and the Neighborhood Playhouse, made his television debut in 1998, winning over both new fans and critical approval. His acclaimed work in Traffic two years later saw the actor's popularity further increase, acting as another testament to the beginnings of a promising career.
While continuing to appear on That '70s Show, Grace remained selective of his film roles. Aside from showing up in a cameo as himself in Traffic director Steven Soderbergh's 2001 remake of Ocean's 11, he didn't appear in a film for three years. However, with his supporting turn in the Julia Roberts drama Mona Lisa Smile, it appeared Grace's film career was building steam.
For his first big-screen starring role, Grace played opposite Kate Bosworth and Josh Duhamel in the 2004 love-triangle comedy Win a Date With Tad Hamilton!, which was mostly well received by critics and audiences. Later in 2004, the young actor could be seen in the ensemble film sophomore effort from Roger Dodger director Dylan Kidd, entitled P.S. Cast as a twentysomething student who appears to be the reincarnation of an older woman's deceased high-school sweetheart, Grace offered a sense of soulful gravity to the under-seen romantic fantasy before rounding out his breakthrough year with a powerful performance as an ambitious young executive whose sense of synergy sets the boardroom ablaze in In Good Company. In the short span of just one year, Grace had proven himself capable of believably playing both a lovelorn Piggly Wiggly manager who can't muster the courage to express his love to the woman of his dreams, and an overambitious white-collar powerhouse who discovers something called a soul after casually assuming the position coveted by an experienced ad man twice his age. Whereas most actors of his generation would have been happy doing teen comedies and cashing in on the success of That '70s Show, it was obvious that Grace was opting for quality over quantity in making his transition to the big screen.
And then it all went quiet. In the years between 2004 and 2007 -- just when it seemed that Grace should have been building momentum in his film career -- the only place he could be seen outside of That '70s Show was in fleeting appearances on Saturday Night Live and the short-lived Comedy Central series Stella. After wrapping up his impressive run on That '70s Show in 2006, many may have wondered what would become of the promising, fresh-faced star. Any concerns that his onscreen momentum may have been slowing would soon be addressed in short order, however, when the grandiose trailers for Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 3 offered the first glimpse of Grace as symbiotically infected web-slinger nemesis Eddie Brock -- aka Venom. A film series that was fast on its way to becoming one of the most successful comic-to-screen adaptations of all time, the Spider-Man films benefited not only from their talented casts, but from director Raimi's meticulous attention to detail. In Grace it seemed that Raimi and company had chosen the perfect mirror for Tobey Maguire's humble hero; not only were both actors of roughly the same age and basic physical stature, but they each possessed the kind of wondrous, wide-eyed gaze that permits the viewer to see the fantastical events that the Spider-Man series so effectively presents through the eyes of characters that, despite being of comic book origin, aren't so different from the filmgoers themselves.
~ Rebecca Flint Marx, All Movie Guide