When Martin Lawrence heard of Kelsey Grammer's desire to join him on the new FX sitcom Partners, the actor's first thought was, "How can we make this comedy work?" But comedic success has never been tough to figure out for either actor, both of whom made their marks on classic sitcoms. Before breaking out on the big screen in such hits as Big Momma's House, Lawrence spent five seasons playing smart-mouthed DJ Martin Payne on his eponymous Fox sitcom in the '90s, while Grammer portrayed erudite (and snooty) psychiatrist Frasier Crane for 20 years on NBC's Cheers and Frasier. Now, on their new series (which premiered August 4), the pair have come together to form an unlikely partnership as mismatched lawyers — Grammer's Allen is a corporate shark; Lawrence's Marcus fights for the underdog — who cause chaos in the courtroom.
TV Guide Magazine: Why did both of you want to do another sitcom now?
I wouldn't have come back it if weren't for Martin. I had a great run on TV, and so did he. It was us sitting down in a room together about two years ago and falling in love pretty quick. I thought we could get in the sandbox, kick it around, and come up with something funny, and I think we actually have.
Lawrence: We're from two different worlds. I thought it would just be really interesting to try.
TV Guide Magazine: What drew you to this particular idea?
This is an updated, more contemporary Odd Couple, [though] it's a little edgier.
Lawrence: I gravitated to the fact that Marcus could be brash and outspoken, but at the same time have a heart.
Grammer: When I get on a sitcom, of course everybody's going to say something about Frasier. But this is not Frasier, and that's what appeals to me.
TV Guide Magazine: Do either of you find it tough to break out of the shadows of your past characters?
I don't find it difficult if I put my mind to it and I'm concentrating on what's in front of me. As far as me playing a lawyer, I don't really know nothing about lawyers [laughs]. So when you see [a few] Martin-isms in there, that's just me not really knowing the attorney thing as well as I could know it.
Grammer: You're doing a great job, by the way.
Lawrence: Thank you, Kelsey!
TV Guide Magazine: The show takes on same-sex marriage and racial profiling. Are these guys going to spar over social issues every week?
I think what's fun is we acknowledge that they come from different worlds and they're open about it.
Lawrence: The beautiful thing is that when our characters clash, they learn something from each other.
They're both very vulnerable. Yes, Allen is kind of a shyster and Marcus is a do-gooder, but they both share a kind of decency. They're trying to find that in each other week to week.
TV Guide Magazine: Will you get into their personal lives?
I'm not sure. Allen's wife is supposed to be a bombshell, very va-va-voom, but she's hidden right now. Having him married was my choice. We watched Frasier go to first base with a couple hundred women, and I'm fed up with that.
Lawrence: You'll see Marcus's relationship with his mother and his daughter and that he loves them very much. Well, his mother is a bit overbearing at times.
Grammer: I love one of Marcus's lines in the first show: "My bedroom is 20 feet from my mother's — I know hell!"
TV Guide Magazine: Since this show is on FX, do you feel like you're able to push the boundaries of the traditional sitcom?
It's always about good stories in the end. Frasier was a traditional sitcom; Martin was a traditional sitcom. But there was nothing particularly traditional about them. They happened to be shot in a multiple-camera format, and that's what's going on here. It's housed in a traditional setting and format, which hopefully is reinvigorated by these two performances.
TV Guide Magazine: Do you get to do any improv?
It's close to the script. We give the writers the best shot to perfect the words they've written and if I think the words aren't very good, I'll tell them [laughs].
Lawrence: The good thing is, Kelsey and I are very armed if we ever have to go there.
Grammer: It's a great process because we shoot so fast, you really have to go with your gut.
TV Guide Magazine: Now that you have worked together for the first 10 episodes, was it easy to develop a chemistry?
Well, Kelsey is so good — I mean, he is really good. And if you want to keep up with him, you have to deliver.
Grammer: I feel the same way about Martin. When I see him really go off, I think, "S---, this guy's funny." I go, "Oh, damn, I've got to do something now."
People need to really tune in to this and enjoy all this love we're bringing to them.
Partners airs Mondays at 9/8c on FX.