“Traffic”: Topher Grace & Erika Christensen Interview

HOLLYWOOD, Dec. 11, 2000 — Yelling at Michael Douglas was a good day for Topher Grace.

Not because he has any animosity toward the 56-year-old star, mind you. But sitting in a car on the set of “Traffic,” the 22-year-old Grace was set to unleash a diatribe on why Douglas’ drug czar is naïve to believe that he could ever prevent drugs from landing in the hands of young Americans — even his straight-A, prep school daughter.

But while the scene shows Douglas unresponsive to Grace’s speech, behind the scenes was a different story.

“There was another line that Michael had … where he said ‘you’re pissing me off’ or something,” recalls Grace. “We did it three times and the last time he said, ‘I’m gonna go louder on this next one, is that OK?’ We came to that line and he started yelling ‘Get out of the car.’ And you have not been yelled at until you’ve been yelled at by Michael Douglas.”

It’s one of many highlights Grace, whose sole acting credit is his starring role on Fox’s “That ’70s Show,” will take away from “Traffic,” directed by Steven Soderbergh (“Erin Brockovich“) and starring, among others, Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro and Dennis Quaid — people who Grace shares credit with but hasn’t met.

Sharing the newcomer bill with Grace is Erika Christensen, 18, who plays the coked-out National Merit Finalist daughter who forces Douglas to face how close to home the drug war hits. For her portrayal, Christensen did research on cocaine addicts and attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, fascinated by a world she knew nothing about.

“I have no experience in drugs whatsoever, so I did a lot of research on exactly how cocaine affects your body,” Christensen says. “Real specifics, down to when you use, how long does it take for the high to set in, and how long the high lasts.”

But playing such a character had Christensen worried when it came down to watching her disturbing scenes with her family.

“They’re dealing with it amazingly well,” she says. ” I have younger brothers and I was worried — they’re 14. And they saw it and I came up to them afterwards and said, ‘Do you forgive me?’ And they said ‘Yeah, it was really good.'”

Christensen, whose TV credits include “Nothing Sacred” and “3rd Rock From the Sun,” says her experience on “Traffic” will forever alter her perspective on future film scripts.

“It’s an adult movie, and I had not done that before,” she says. “I played the cheerleaders. … It was a nice change for me to grab on to something and really play a character that is not me at all.”

Grace shares her sentiments.

“I don’t think I can top this experience to have that kind of director, that kind of actor,” Grace says of his debut film. “I think I’m gonna quit now.”

“Traffic” opens Dec. 27 in New York and Los Angeles.