With all signs pointing to Frasier ending after next season, David Hyde Pierce is more careful than ever when it comes to picking movie roles. His rules of thumb: If a character is too Niles Crane, he's not interested. And if a friend offers advice, he's not listening. "You know what the most frequent suggestion is?" he asks. "'You really should play a psychotic serial killer.'"

Luckily, the man who's portrayed the younger Dr. Crane for 10 years understands something they don't. "I can't just leap into something completely different and expect people to buy it," Pierce says. "I have to make that transition gradually, which is what I've been trying to do."

His current role in Down With Love should help. Pierce plays a magazine editor whose star writer (Ewan McGregor) tries to seduce a popular women's book author (Renée Zellweger). While producers thought of Pierce immediately for the role (which has him doing some wooing of his own), he says the studio took a bit more convincing. "The studio was concerned that I'd look too old, and so they asked if I would read with a hair piece," he says, only mildly amused. "I said, 'No.' I told my agent, 'If they can't picture me with hair, they can't make this movie.'"

Playing hardball is something Pierce is surprisingly quite good at. Although he's used to acting in a slightly heightened reality on Frasier, stepping into Love's Doris Day/Rock Hudson-friendly stratosphere nearly scared him to death — or rather, to director Peyton Reed's death. "You just say, 'Okay, I'm gonna do this, and if you don't stop me, and I see it, and I hate myself, I will find you and kill you," Pierce says. (For the record, he's seen the film several times, and Reed's still alive.)

To return Pierce to a passive state, all one has to do is ask how he'd like to see Frasier end. "The writers on the show are so good, that I never think about it," he says. "I mean, Frasier and I learned to ride bicycles this year — I would never, in a million years, have dreamt that. I [just] want it to go out classy, because I think it has been able to sustain that for all these years."

Even without any solid post-Frasier plans to date, we're guessing Pierce won't lose his sense of humor. "After Treasure Planet, they've asked me never to do another voice in an animated movie again," he says. "Apparently, it's a financial problem for them."