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
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
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 in to
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