BWW Interviews: Eric McCormack Chats New TNT Series PERCEPTION
THE BEST MAN's Eric McCormack will soon be starring in the new TNT drama series PERCEPTION, premiering Monday, July 9, at 10 p.m. (ET/PT). The show follows an eccentric neuroscience professor, Dr. Daniel Pierce (McCormack) who is recruited by the FBI to help solve complex cases. His intimate knowledge of human behavior and masterful understanding of the mind gives him an extraordinary ability to read people. However he is cursed with schizophrenic hallucinations and less-than-stellar social skills that often complicate his work and make it difficult to forge the close friendships and intimate relationships he craves.
Eric McCormack made his Broadway debut in the title role of The Music Man, headlined the American premiere of Neil LaBute’s Some Girl(s) and this spring returned to New York to star opposite James Earl Jones and Angela Lansbury in Gore Vidal's The Best Man. McCormack’s film work includes My One and Only, opposite Rene Zellweger; and The Sisters. His upcoming films include Barricade and Knife Fight, opposite Rob Lowe.
On television, McCormack has starred in countless series, miniseries and movies over the last 20 years including The Andromeda Strain, TNT’s Trust Me, the title role in Who Is Clark Rockefeller? and two seasons as Col. Clay Mosby on Lonesome Dove: The Outlaw Years. But it was his eight seasons as Will Truman on NBC’s Emmy-winning sitcom Will & Grace that earned him a Screen Actor’s Guild Award, five Golden Globe nominations and the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series.
McCormack took a few minutes before his 7 pm curtain call to chat about what first drew him to the role on this exciting new TV series. "I was a big Paper Chase fan from the 70s with John Housman. And 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 audience in the palm of his hand and that he’s funny and passionate and finds an interesting, humorous way to approach what could be a very dry topic. And then to find out outside of the classroom he is often crippled by symptoms of schizophrenia, I thought 'that’s a wild combination of an arrogant intellectual and the absolutely crippling conditions of the disease."
The actor is hard-pressed to decide whether he'd rather be in front of a live audience or a TV camera. "My preference always will be a combination. I love being on film, I love being on stage and they feed each other - for me they really do. And I never get a chance to be so far into one that I forget what the skills of the other can teach me."
Performing each night with his legendary co-stars from the The Best Man continues to be a learning experience for McCormack. "I've got James Earl Jones in my face every night, growling that growl and yet I’m the one playing the bad guy. Here's Darth Vader and I'm worse than him! It’s so much fun and what I learn from him and from Angela Lansbury is that you never stop. They’re in their 80s and after this show they’re going to go out and do Driving Miss Daisy together in Australia. I can’t ever imagine retiring when I stand on stage with them and realize this passion never goes away."
Would McCormack consider returning to where his career first began, on the stage in a Broadway musical? "It depends," says the actor. "I think it would depend on the show. Musicals have become so operatic now, you know, 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 know, 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 singing!"
McCormack sees certain aspects of his own personality in the role of Perception's Daniel Pierce. "What I love about him is that combination of so much confidence and so much crippling fear. And I think if there is anything that I can understand as an actor, I think it’s that."
He continues, "It’s that idea that sometimes the only way we see is by walking into a room and believing that we - that no one can do that better than us. And yet it’s really just a mask we put on disguising the fact that we’re terrified that we suck and we’re terrified that we’ll never work again. And 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 I’m on a crime scene that is absolutely shutting me down."
The combination of drama and comedy within the new series is what the actor relishes about the show. "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. And nothing gives me a bigger, better thrill than a dramatic crime scene in this show where I get 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 I’m never happy with just one."
Despite the fact that he is most well-known for his character Will Truman on 'Will & Grace', McCormack doesn't worry that he will be forever pigeonholed in the role. "It’s a champagne problem. You’ll never hear me complain about being Will Truman. It was a gift and it’ll probably be on my Tombstone," he joked. "But in the meantime between now and my tombstone, I have to play different parts and 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 DVD’s but in the meantime open your mind a bit and see there's other things I can do and you might enjoy them too.' So it’s important to push that without ever losing the perspective that I’m only starring on this show because Will & Grace was such a hit. It’s always just about challenging me and challenging the viewers."
PERCEPTION premieres Monday, July 9, at 10 p.m. (ET/PT) on TNT. THE BEST MAN is now running at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 W 45th St, New York, NY through September 9th. For more information, please visit: http://thebestmanonbroadway.com
Photo credit: Walter McBride