is already something of a TV icon, after spending most of the past
decade as Will Truman, the best friend of a neurotic Jewish New
Yorker in the groundbreaking sitcom Will & Grace. The series
Ė which ran from 1998 to 2006, made stars out McCormack and co-stars
Debra Messing, Megan Mullally and Sean Hayes. However, beyond
breaking down walls of tolerance (McCormack and Hayes' characters
were both proudly out gay men), the series was
one of the biggest popular hits of the decade.
Will & Grace is all you know about Eric McCormack, you don't
know nearly enough of the story. The Canadian-born actor (his
sister, Mary, is also a well-known actress, just finishing five
seasons starring the series In Plain Sight) has had a
fascinating career which has encompassed television, theater and
latest role is just another left turn in a career that has taken
many. He plays Dr. Daniel Pierce in the series Perception, a
brilliant college psych professor with no social skills who is also
battling with schizophrenia. Due to his unusual empathetic
understanding with mental illness, he is often contacted by the FBI
Ė in the form of his beautiful former student Kate Moretti (played
by Rachael Leigh Cook of She's All That and Psych) Ė
to offer insight into crimes in which the perp appears to be
psychologically unstable. Dr. Pierce tries to use the puzzles of
the crimes to fight off his own massive demons.
While he is
waiting for the Perception
premiere, McCormack has also been putting in duty in the
Tony-nominated Broadway revival of Gore Vidal's The Best Man.
The show allowed him to work with an all-star cast including James
Earl Jones, Angela Lansbury, Candice Bergen, Michael McKean, Kerry
Butler and John Larroquette. McCormack is leaving the role (to be
replaced by John Stamos) the day after Perception premieres.
A few weeks
before Perception was set to premiere, we were invited to
take part in a conference call with McCormack about his new show,
his current Broadway role and his career.
drew you to the part? Was it immediate, you read the script and went
"I got to do it?"
Yes, it was
that first page where Iím lecturing was a big one for me because I
was a big Paper Chase fan from the 70s with John Houseman.
The idea of playing... not just a neuroscientist not just somebody
brilliant... but the fact that he is a teacher, that he has that
thing that obvious talk with his hand. Heís funny and passionate and
finds an interesting way to approach what could be a very dry topic.
He finds a very human approach. I thought, okay, I love this guy.
Then to find out that outside of the classroom he is often crippled
by symptoms of schizophrenia, I thought thatís a wild combination of
the arrogant hubris that comes with an intellectual and the
absolutely let us say crippling conditions that the disease brings.
What kind of
research did you do?
I did as much
as I could, because I think itís crucial that we represent all
aspects of this: the neuroscience and also the academia but most
importantly the schizophrenia. Not to mention the FBI reality which
is somebody else's job, but with incredible accuracy. We started
with Dr. Michael Green at UCLA who is a neuroscience professor with
schizophrenia as his expertise. And then I sat down with Elyn Saks,
a fascinating woman who wrote a book called The Center Cannot
Hold. She is a law professor at USC, but she wrote a book about
her own schizophrenia, which completely blew her mind out in the
70s. She was like writing brilliant papers one day and in the
hospital strapped down to a bed the next and has such tremendous
memory of it that she was able to describe it. Some of the passages
in her book about what it feels like to break psychotically were
absolutely crucial to what I do in the show.
I wanted to
congratulate you on the success of
The Best Man. Itís really terrific.
Itís been a fabulous experience.
I know youíre
working with some real legendary actors in that cast. I was
wondering if thereís still things you can learn from them, and also
do you have a preference of live theater versus TV?
question first, my preference always will be a combination. I just I
think itís really important Ė particularly if you come from the
theater and you get in television Ė just to keep going back and
forth. I love being on film. I love being on stage. They feed each
other, for me they really do. I never get so far into one that I
forget what the skills of the other can teach me. In terms teaching,
I mean I've got James Earl Jones in my face every night. I mean at
the end of that show he is in my face growling that growl and yet
Iím playing the bad guy. You know, here's Darth Vader and I'm worse
than him. Itís so much fun and what I learned from him, from Angela
[Lansbury] is that you never stop. Theyíre in their 80s and after
this show theyíre going to go out and do Driving Miss Daisy
together in Australia. I canít ever imagine retiring when I stand on
stage with them and realize this passion never goes away.
you see yourself returning one day in a musical?
I think I do.
It would depend on the show. Musicals have become so operatic now,
the age of the 70s musicals that I grew up in where you have to be
an actor first then a singer second is almost gone. You've got to be
a contestant on American Idol to star in musicals now. But if
the right one came along I would love to do it. I do love my
of your personality or idiosyncrasies did you bring to the role of
What I love
about him is that combination of so much confidence and so much
crippling fear. If there is anything that I can understand as an
actor, I think itís that. Itís that idea that sometimes the only way
we succeed is by walking into a room and believing that no one can
do that better than us. Yet itís really just a mask we put on
disguising the fact that weíre terrified that we suck and weíre
terrified that weíll never work again. I think understanding that
dichotomy is understanding what it must be like to have the drive
that says I need to be in front of a classroom or I need to solve
this puzzle even though Iím on a crime scene that is absolutely
shutting me down. To have that disguising someone from one that
ultimately would rather be in a laboratory than out to dinner with
people is to understand the world that he lives in, mixed
challenges have you found on taking on the producers cap now that
youíre wearing that?
I am a
producer on the show. Iím certainly not the producer. I
couldnít produce the whole thing and be in every scene. The guys
that created the show
Ken Biller and Mike Sussman
do a fine job at producing it creatively and there are some great
guys producing it physically. My contribution as a producer. mainly
I wanted to make sure that we all conceived the look and feel of the
character and weíre on the same page. I wanted to have a say in the
casting and I was certainly in the room for the casting of Rachael,
Kelly and Arjay. Iím really excited how that worked out. Then to
say just, hey, itís important that the tone of the show, whether it
be dealing with how do we shoot a hallucination and accurately
reflect what schizophrenia can look like or feel like? How do we
have a scene where heís angry but thereís also a comic element? How
do we do that and accurately represent how a professional behaves?
How would a schizophrenic behave? Itís important that I always have
the ability to speak up and to take ownership of that. Thatís the
main way I produce.
you think that youíre going to explore the DID multiple personality
because sometimes that is connected with paranoid schizophrenia?
Have you decided maybe you want to delve into that?
If we did it
would be another character. He is not a multiple personality. I
donít think we did this first season, but I can definitely see,
hopefully if we get a second season, dealing with that as problem
with someone. A number of the episodes this first season, there is
someone with a mental illness who clearly looks on the outset like
the guy who did it. And itís always Pierce as an advocate saying,
ďWait a minute, just because he has schizoaffective disorder, or
just because he has this condition, lets see whatís underneath
that.Ē Almost in every case their symptoms made them look guilty, in
fact there was something else going on. So thatís the main way that
he becomes an advocate for mental illness.
What do you
enjoy more, drama or comedy?
It's like I
said before with stage and screen. Itís kind of the same thing. I
love doing both. When I was on Will & Grace nothing made me
happier than having a big dramatic scene with Debra in the midst of
the crazy comedy. Nothing gives me a bigger better thrill than a
dramatic crime scene in this show where he gets to suddenly say
something inappropriate that clearly is going to be funny. I love
the mix. I think the magic is in the combination and Iím never happy
with just one. In the play Iím doing right now itís definitely
humorous, it is essentially a comedy, but my character is definitely
has some very dark, dark moments and that combination is always
What do you
find challenging from an acting aspect?
In Pierce? In
the character, you mean?
Like I say
itís a combination of being accurate enough to plot out: okay in the
course of an episode - and we were often shooting two episodes at
the same time just for cost reasons, so it was really a lot of work
on my part to make sure that there is accuracy here in how he
behaves situation to situation. But you also want unpredictability,
that the fun of the character is that he surprises the people around
him and he surprises himself sometimes. I like sometimes to discover
he surprises me. That somehow my reactions might be something I
hadnít thought of. And yet still remain within the realm of being
accurate and being sympathetic and being responsible to the mental
seen the first four episodes I've really enjoyed them. Some of your
best moments I thought were when Dr. Pierce sort of gets into his
rants about big business and his conspiracy theories, are those fun
to play? And also do you think that it makes it kind of ironic that
he sort of ends up working with the FBI? How does he justify that?
I think yes.
My favorite things about the show are the dichotomies, I know I keep
throwing that word around, but that idea that he can go from
confidence to not confident. The idea is heís kind of working for
the man when heís in there and yet completely paranoid about big
business, about big law enforcement. I just like that combination.
In the pilot thereís an interrogation room scene where he basically
just says, ďNow look Iím not one of them, so donít be afraid of
that.Ē And heís not, heís such a fish out of water when Kate brings
him into the FBI that his behavior is coming from the point of view
of someone that doesn't trust any of these people. He just knows
somewhere in here is somebody innocent. I think heís more interested
in that. Itís not so much ďIíve got to find a guilty partyĒ thatís
the crime solver's job. He wants to make sure that the innocent
people who perhaps have a mental illness or perhaps are hiding
something because of some condition they donít know about, donít get
thrown under the bus by big brother.
I really like
the dynamic between you and your co-star Rachael Leigh Cook. How
would you describe your working relationship with her? And
characterize your characterís relation with her, Kate Moretti.
Well, this is
kind of the fun other element. Weíre still trying to sell this show
obviously weíre focusing on who he is and what he does and what
condition he has. But what Iím really hoping is that the viewership
of TNT, that in particular women watching get into is this
relationship is very much what I call a "donít stand so close to me"
teacher / student relationship. She clearly was his favorite back
in the day and now sheís all grown up. Even though sheís
considerably younger than him, sheís in her 30s and sheís fair game.
Thereís something about the combination of "well I used to be your
teacher" and also the emotional detachment that you see with his
condition that he feels. Even though he definitely has feelings for
her, he doesnít feel worthy. He doesnít feel he's emotionally
equipped. There's this episode coming up, one of the early ones
where I meet her father who's an ex-Chicago cop and all of the
sudden Dan Lauria [who plays the dad], in one particular moment he
says, "Oh I remember you, you were the teacher she had the big crush
on." All of a sudden itís like, oh, so maybe this goes two ways. I
love that. I think that the audience will start to see - we donít
push it too much early on, but over the course of ten episodes
thereís definitely feelings there on both sides they donít know what
to do with. As for working with Rachael, she is just so funny. Sheís
such a bright girl. If you really want to see how bright she is you
have to follow her on Twitter because she has the kind of ironic
one-liner perspective of a comic, even though she looks like a
beautiful actress. Sheís going to be a big surprise I think to
people. Mostly on this show she has to be the FBI detective, but I
think thereís an element hopefully that people [will appreciate]. I
remember Jodie Foster in Silence of the Lambs where sheís
like 5 feet tall and she's standing with all these big uniformed
cops and theyíre all staring at her like, ďYou work for the FBI?Ē I
think weíre going to get that sense with Rachael that as much as I
have emotional things and my condition to overcome, she has her
position in the FBI. A pretty, short girl at the FBI is not going to
get taken seriously by the bosses. So bringing me in, helping me
help her is a big part of her emotional transformation.
most of the people that recognize you now recognize you
from Will & Grace. How important is it to you that you donít get
pigeonholed as Will Truman?
It's like I said, itís champagne problems.
Youíll never hear me complain about being Will Truman. It was a gift
and itíll probably be on my tombstone. But, in the meantime between
now and my tombstone, I have to play different parts. Just as I have
to push and stretch myself, I need to ask my fans to do the same. I
need to say, "Look, you can always go back and watch the DVDís but
in the meantime open your mind a bit and see that there's other
things I can do and you might enjoy them too." Itís important to
push that without ever losing the perspective that Iím only starring
on this show because Will & Grace was such a hit. Itís always
just about challenging me and challenging the viewers.
What do you
think it is about
Perception thatís really going to connect with the viewers? And
now that youíre on Twitter how is that going to help with the
promotion of the show?
Iím not a
natural tweeter. Itís work to make myself tweet everyday. But having
work that Iím excited about like the play in the last few months,
when we first got started it was fun to tweet about that. As weíre
getting closer now in the next few weeks Iím going to start tweeting
a lot about [Perception] because I want people to see the
show. Iím excited to share it. I never do work just for the sake of
doing it. I do it because I want as many people as possible to enjoy
it. This is particularly for summer, I think this will be a breath
of fresh air. So much of summer programming is fun and silly and
escapist and reality shows and competition shows. People love a good
mystery solving show, but I love the point of view of this. I think
we've gotten to the point now where we canít just see regular cops
following regular things because [there are] a lot of those shows.
Itís nice to see it coming from the angle of someone with a very
extreme point of view on life. A guy that is a neuroscience
professor with schizophrenia is coming at a crime scene from a very,
very different perspective, sometimes humorous, sometimes extremely
intellectual. Some of the cases that weíre going to tackle are
things that wouldnít necessarily come up on a lot of other shows
because there wouldnít be anybody. Theyíd have to go to an expert,
someone like a Daniel Pierce, to solve it. So, having our guy David
Eagleman, who wrote a book Incognito: The Secret Lives of
the Brain, to have him as our resident expert allowed us to come
up with some plot lines that are really fun. For anyone that likes
the twists and turns in an hour long mystery thereís going to be
some really surprising episodes.
CLICK HERE TO SEE WHAT ERIC
McCORMACK HAD TO SAY TO US IN 2013!
TO READ WHAT CO-STAR RACHAEL LEIGH COOK HAD TO SAY ABOUT PERCEPTION