Spencer Grammer Talks Acting With Her Father And Grammer Holiday Traditions - Exclusive Interview

Lifetime's heartwarming Christmas movie "The 12 Days of Christmas Eve" brings family front and center. Award-winning actor Kelsey Grammer stars in and executive produced the film, which centers around businessman Brian Conway learning to value his family relationships and refocus on what truly matters. Kelsey's real-life daughter Spencer Grammer stars in the film as his daughter Michelle. The characters' strained father-daughter relationship is a key part of the story as the father attempts to mend fences in time for Christmas.

Spencer grew up watching her father act and then went on to have a successful career on screen and in voice acting. She was excited about the opportunity to work together on this film. During an exclusive interview with The List, she shared what it was like working with family and how her father has inspired her career. She also opened up about some of her favorite Grammer family holiday traditions.

How her father influenced her acting career

You starred in this film along with your father. What was it like for you two to act together?

It was such a pleasure. I had an incredible time working with him. I have grown up watching him work. I used to come to set, used to watch the "Frasier" tapings when I was 16, 17, 18 because I always was interested in acting or directing. It was a joy to actually be able to act with him. I've always wanted to. I always thought we would do some Shakespeare play together, but to do a holiday Christmas movie was actually incredibly fun, and we had a great time.

Had you two ever acted together before that?

No. I had done a little part in "Cheers," but I was an extra. I didn't have any lines when I was 5, so I don't think that counts. So this was our first time really acting together, and I think I impressed my dad. I think he was impressed. I've been working in this business for a while, but it was our first time, and it was a joy. I can't say anything more positive about it.

Growing up watching your dad acting, do you feel like that impacted how you became an actor and the kind of actor you are?

Yeah. That might be why we worked so well together. Growing up and watching my father work has impacted me and taught me the kind of work ethic that he has, and some of the comedic timing as well. I think also, comedians are born out of a lot of tumultuous life experiences because if you didn't laugh at it, you'd cry. So some of that comedic timing comes from that, from some of my own personal experiences as I've grown up. But a lot of his influence on my work [is] about being in the moment; our moment-to-moment work was great. Truly, he has always been an inspiration and influence on me.

Portraying a father-daughter dynamic with her real-life father

A lot of the film is about family and about the father-daughter dynamic. Do you feel like that made it easier or helped drive the message home? 

It made it [so] much easier not to have to build so much of a history because I already had one, and it added that little something extra to the experience and to the work. We have our own sort of banter. 

I love my dad very much. He was the person who raised me. Being able to spend time with him at this age, being a mother myself, and being able to work with him [made me] feel very lucky. I have friends who have lost parents, and to have this bit of [a] relic, this actual, tangible thing we can watch of him and me together, is really lucky.

Will you be watching it together this season?

That's the plan. That's the plan. But crazy stuff happens with traveling. I'm in New York right now, but I think I'll be able to get back by then.

Why real life can be harder than acting

Were there any challenges working with family?

I know people always talk about how working with family is impossible. I found that to be quite the opposite. All the work is easy. The family stuff is a lot harder. I think it takes a certain kind of person to be a performer and to live in a fantasy. Part of my job is living in this fantasy world. I'm also a writer and a director finishing my MFA at Columbia right now, and I thrive in this imaginary world sometimes. Sometimes, real life is harder. It's hard. It's hard in general for everybody.

We had a lot of fun, actually, because we could just play, and the lines are there for you, and it was great. It's "The 12 Days of Christmas Eve," so he gets 12 chances at Christmas Eve. It's like "Groundhog Day." There were some scenes where I was like, "Yeah, normal Wednesday. Your dad's potentially dying. Totally normal thing. Everyone does this, right?" But it was really fun. It was healing. 

I love working. Being on a set is such a luxury, and to be paid for what I do is incredibly lucky as well. It was really fun. It was incredibly less stressful than directing and producing a movie. I was having a blast. I [was] crying or laughing or running around getting hair and makeup done. It was so much fun.

Connecting to her character as a single mom

Did you feel like you connected to your character, Michelle, in any ways?

Of course. I'm divorced, so I am mostly a single mother, although I co-parent really well with my ex-husband. But [I've experienced] those years where you don't have somebody to take your child, or you're stuck, and you're still pursuing a career, and those things have always been very important to me. [I also want to be] an example to my son that you can still work and you can still make your life happen. You have to prioritize, and it is hard to schedule those things. Needing help from family, not getting help from family, and figuring it out on your own because of whatever logistical issues you might have were definitely some things [that] resonated with [me]. 

And of course, my dad and I have had times that were difficult, like any father [and] daughter [or] any mother and daughter have, but we've grown a lot over these last few years.

Becoming a parent has allowed me to have empathy for my own parents and taught me to appreciate what they did, the hard sacrifices you make, [and] the times you do get it wrong. [As] a parent, you get it wrong sometimes. If you were always right, you might realize there was something probably wrong with your idea of what being a parent was. [Parenting] definitely is something you wish you could do better, always. I think I could always be a better daughter. I could always be a better mother to my child, and being able to work through that in a film is a luxury.

I have a mentor who always talks about acting as a healing art form. In some ways, it really is, because no matter what character you put yourself in the shoes of, you find empathy for them. It heals parts of yourself when you're not even expecting it. I hope this movie does the same thing for people when they watch it. If you struggle with a relationship with your dad or with your daughter or whatever, you can enjoy this and watch us also struggle on screen as real-life father and daughter, and then laugh a little bit, and also remember that Christmas is about being with family, no matter how good or bad they might be to you.

Grammer family holiday traditions

What are the big takeaways you hope the audiences get from this film?

Live life every day like it's your last. Make the most of it, and prioritize the things that are really important in your life: spending time with family, connecting with your children or your husband or your wife or whomever. That's what I hope. That doesn't mean it's easy to do. I just mean [you should] try. Just do your best, even if it's just for a minute. Just do one second, one minute of it. Baby steps. Baby steps.

Do you have any holiday traditions that are important to you?

This is a big question I get a lot. I always watch "Elf," and I always watch "Christmas Vacation." In fact, I already watched them because I did this Christmas movie in September, so I've already started Christmas early because we were already in the Christmas spirit. There are a few others. 

It depends on where I am in the world, but in New York, I always love to go see the tree at Rockefeller Center. I do always love to look at the window decorations, the window displays. Those are some of the things that I love. Ice skating in Central Park. And in LA, the Rose Bowl [and] Rose Parade. I've been in New York for the last five years. I just moved back to Los Angeles, but I like to go to the beach in LA when it's sunny out in the middle [of winter]. 

Also, my dad usually has a Christmas party or a New Year's party, and we sing karaoke. I always sing something really good, like "Zombie" by The Cranberries, something really festive, or "You Oughta Know" by Alanis Morissette, which I think is [from] one of the greatest albums, feminist albums of the 20th century.

I actually started playing guitar recently, so I did learn "Last Christmas" by Wham! on the guitar. It's quite easy, and it's very fun to play. I might bring that one to Christmas this year — a live acoustic version at the holiday party. No big deal. Then we'll watch "The 12 Days of Christmas Eve" again. Clearly, that's also part of our new tradition.

How she balances her career, family, and personal life

In this film, the main character is learning to find a balance ... Do you ever find it difficult to find that balance in your own life between yourself, your work, and everything else?

Yeah. That's the main struggle, especially when your kids are really young. Even now, I'm in the middle of this press circuit, and I also have some press for "Rick and Morty," and I'm in pre-production on a short film I'm producing and directing for [the] completion [of] my MFA at Columbia. It's my thesis. I've been in preparation for a while, and I am missing some of my son's life right now, which is difficult for me. It happens when you have to work, but you have to work. He understands that, and I'm lucky enough to have an ex-husband who is around to take care of him and able to be there when I can't be sometimes. But mostly, I've been around a lot.

Somebody said this to me recently. They had a family member who was passing away, and they were so worried that they weren't going to be there. And the nurse said to her, "They know you want to be there, and if you aren't there, it's okay because they know that you would be if you could be." I feel like it's important to tell your kids you can't be there all the time, but you want to be, and you would be if you could be. I sort of live that way.

You do have to prioritize yourself at times. You have to take care of yourself. You can't take care of a child if you can't take care of yourself too. It's hard, but I love being a mom. It's been the greatest gift I could have ever gotten, and it taught me what love really is. It's taught me how to love my parents even more, too. It sucks when I can't be there all the time, but it's okay. We'll go to therapy later. We'll talk about it.

The most important lessons she's learned in her career

What is the most important lesson you've learned throughout your acting career?

It's kind of the same advice I got for parenting. It's a constant commitment to being creative. You have to be willing to always strive for more. If you're struggling with getting on-camera work, you have to re-evaluate. Maybe you want to do theater; maybe you want to direct; maybe you want to do voiceover work. You have to keep pushing yourself and keep finding that place. There's enough space for everybody to be acting, but maybe not all at the same time.

The advice I got when I started [in] this business was, "If you can do anything else, do it," because there are times when you're going to be not working, and you're going to be rejected often, and you really have to choose it. It's a life commitment, and I wouldn't want it any other way. I truly love what I do. I'm now going into directing and writing. I think that's a natural progression [of] storytelling. I've been given a lot of opportunities as an actress, and I want to also give those opportunities back to other actors to play roles that I maybe wish I had gotten the chance to play when I was younger and also older. 

It's important to have more women in film, more women producing and directing. Lifetime [offers] a great opportunity for that. I think at least 50% of the directors of these holiday movies are women. They want to bring a voice to that audience, and it's an incredible honor to be a part of that world and be in one of their movies this year, especially with my dad. It's really special.

How she fell in love with voice acting

A lot of people also know you, or at least your voice, from "Rick and Morty." What's it like for you as an actor doing voice acting versus [being] on camera?

I love voice acting a lot. I forgot how fun on-camera acting is, too, because I took some time off the last couple of years. A lot of people did, but I had a pretty severe injury, so I had to go through rehab and stuff, so I haven't been working. This was my first [on-camera] job back after having taken some time off, and it was such a pleasure. 

But voice acting is ... I love making sounds of things. I love screaming. I love imagining that there are aliens coming and I'm fighting people off. You don't get to make as many noises when you're on-camera acting. I get to be like a 10-year-old child putting on my own play with myself when I get to do voice acting. 

And I love that I get to be in a booth. I love that complete and utter silence that you can only get in one of those deadened sound booths [with] just your headphones and your thoughts. It is a joy. I do love voice acting. I did a narration job this summer for Google as well, which was also really fun. I've been really [enjoying it]. I had no idea, and then once I started doing it, I went, "This is my favorite thing in the world." 

I also love on-camera acting, but it's a little more stressful for me. You have hair and makeup. You're always on set, and you're always with a lot of people. So there's something really freeing about being alone in your own little world that I love.

Tune in to "The 12 Days of Christmas Eve" starring Kelsey Grammer and his daughter Spencer Grammer on Saturday, November 26 at 8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT.

This interview has been edited for clarity.