Eric McCormack – Changing Our Perceptions
Updated: May 10
Eric McCormack stars in Perception.
Changing Our Perceptions
by Jay S. Jacobs
As TNT's Perception returns for its second season, Eric McCormack's "This-ain't-no-Will" performance as brilliant-but-mentally-troubled Professor Daniel Pierce is taking on fascinating new layers. Dr. Pierce is the world's foremost expert in neurology and brain conditions, and he has learned his specialty the hard way: he has been struggling with schizophrenia since he was in his 20s.
The first season closed in a dark place with Dr. Pierce fighting a losing battle with his demons. One positive was that he re-met Caroline (Kelly Rowan), now a brilliant psychiatrist, but once just a gorgeous girl in a frat that Daniel had fixated on. Though he never actually met her back then, Caroline became the basis for Nicole (also played by Rowan), Dr. Pierce's long-standing hallucinatory friend, confidant and advisor. However, can the real woman ever live up to decades of an idealized mental image?
In the meantime, Dr. Pierce's problems are straining his relationship with his protégée Kate (Rachel Leigh Cook). She is a former student-turned-FBI agent and Daniel often acts as an advisor on criminal cases in which mental health issues come to the surface. However, Dr. Pierce's own problems are straining their friendship and working relationship – and it is not being helped by the return of Kate's cheating ex (Scott Wolf).
Soon before the second season of Perception was set to premiere, McCormack gave us a call for this exclusive interview on his series and his career.
Congrats on the second season. This year the show went from ten episodes to fourteen. Was it nice to see that TNT was so strongly behind the show to let it stretch out more?
Well, of course I was delighted. Particularly I liked... it's weird, I thought we were showing all 14 in a row. Turns out we're showing ten and then they are holding four back for the winter. But that's good, too, because it seems to indicate that there is a reason to keep people interested until the next summer. I thought it was a real vote of confidence.
The first couple of episodes look at Daniel's relationship with Caroline, who is of course the real-life inspiration for his hallucination of Nicole. Do you think that there would ever be a chance that the real woman could live up to the one in his head?
Well, it sounds like you hit the nail on the head. That's the fun of that idea, which I didn't even see coming. When we finished the [first] season, I didn't know that that was [show creator] Ken [Biller] was intending. I don't even know if he did. That idea of: If you literally could have your fantasy woman or your fantasy woman made flesh in the room, which would you choose? Of course you'd want the real one, but the real one doesn't go away. The real one is a real person that doesn't actually bend to all of your whims because she is not actually in your brain. I think that's the fun, particularly of the second episode. Him realizing that there was tremendous comfort in her as a hallucination. But it still gave Kelly Rowan a lot to do. Those were fun scenes to play.
In the season premiere, Daniel notes that he is so happy he's no longer even cynical. Can Daniel survive long without his cynicism?
Probably about fifteen minutes. (laughs) Yeah. As he says in the one scene: "I'm happy, which is really annoying." It's not just something he hides behind; I think it is a world view that comes out of being a scientist. Being a realist. Being an academic. He can't just put on rose-colored glasses. It's false to him. Ultimately, what we'll discover with it [is] medication is for him. That's a real line that we walk. He absolutely knows that medication is crucial for most everyone with his disorder, but in his case, it is a false front. He needs to work through it without them.
Several of the episodes looked at the original hopes and dreams of Daniel when he was young, before having his mental issues. Where do you think he would be had none of those happened? Do you think he'd be more content?
More content in the long run if he hadn't [had the condition]? The interesting thing is that we did in that episode, which was called "Kilimanjaro" last year, we saw me as a young man. We so loved the actor that played me, Shane Coffey, that the writers are writing more for him, in terms of flashbacks. There is one particular episode that we just shot where I really look at myself again in a different perspective in flashbacks. JoBeth Williams comes into the series for an episode and plays my mother. We see her and him together. I think it's actually really important when you show an audience a character like this that is so specific. He is a professor, and he has this disorder. "Who was he and how did he get there?" is a question that people constantly ask. We did allude to the fact that there was a time before his mental break that he was ballsy as hell. He might have been a rock star. He might have climbed mountains. I think that is still in there, that part of him, but the fears and the paranoia that actually come with his disorder will always overcome that.
In last season's finale, Daniel kissed Kate. It turned out to be one of his hallucinations, but it was obviously on his mind somehow. There have been hints of romantic tensions previously as well. Do you think they will ever try a romantic relationship or that there is too much to lose on a personal and professional level?
I think it's literally the second thing you said. There is too much to lose. But their connection will always be a bit amorphous that way. There is a connection to the past because she was his student. There is a connection to work, that's why they are together on a weekly basis now, because she brings him in. But there is something else going on there that dare not name its name. This year another wrench is thrown into the works because Scott Wolf comes on the show as her ex-husband, which rekindles stuff with her. I've got stuff going on with Caroline and eventually another woman. So there are a lot of things in the way of Kate and I, which there should be. You can screw up a series pretty early by going down that road too fast.
They seem to be trying to make Kate a harder character in the first couple of episodes of the new season. Like I noticed she referred to the opposing lawyer as a "lefty." In the first season even though she was in such a tough job, Kate respected and understood Dr. Pierce's anti-establishment leanings. Do you think the two characters will be more at odds in their beliefs this season?
I know the scene you mean. We actually debated about that. We were going, "Well wait, what are we saying? Is she Republican?" We don't know. It's never defined. We certainly define her a little more this year in terms of her relationship with her father [played by Dan Lauria]. He was a cop. She's a cop's daughter. While the other girls were going to ballet class, she was doing her homework at the precinct – watching her dad interrogate guys. So there is a toughness to her that her soft, gorgeous exterior belies. Underneath it is a tough girl. There's probably some old-fashioned values. I think that the fact that her husband cheated on her, we'll get to see some real anger in her, in between the two of them this year. A real hurt.
You seem very comfortable giving lectures. Do you think had things turned out differently you'd enjoy being a professor?
You never know. I could never be as smart as Daniel is, but I do love talking in front of people. (laughs) My father was an actor, briefly, in his youth. He used to think there's no point in being an actor, there was no money in it in Canada. But he thought of being a teacher just because it might have satisfied that jones a bit. I could definitely see it. My brother is a teacher. I know he benefits enormously from it.
Daniel is obviously a very different role than Will [from Will & Grace], for which most people know you. As an actor, do you enjoy being able to surprise people with your characters?
Yeah, totally. I come from the theater, where particularly I spent the first five years of my career in a Shakespearian rep company in Canada – The Stratford Festival. We'd do Measure for Measure in the afternoon and a comedy at night. Or King Lear. We were the same person show to show. That versatility always seemed to me kind of the point, really. You get into television, where success can damn you a little bit. You go, "Well hold on, don't you want to see me do things?" And the answer is: The audience doesn't necessarily need to. They have other actors to play those parts. So you have to push that wall down and say: I enjoyed that. I loved that, but that was seven years ago. Now come with me on this new journey and let me show you some other stuff I can do. I think when audiences open their minds to it, there is actually a kick. Anybody that saw Hugh Laurie in Blackadder, that ain't got nothing to do with House. He showed two very different sides of himself. There are countless examples of it.
You had a really successful run with The Best Man on Broadway last year. Any more theater coming up?
Definitely. A couple of producers I befriended in that show, we're talking about things down the road, whether it be New York or in London or something. There's always something theatrical in the near future. I'll always have to go back to that, to rekindle. Yeah, it'll be there. I'd love to do something in London one day. That would be exciting.
Copyright ©2013 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: June 24, 2013.
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