Cast Eric McCormack in your project and breathe: you’ve got it covered. Chops out the wazoo: comedy, Shakespeare, song and dance, drama, and a driving desire not to phone it in. And audiences tend to eat him up.
In his latest joint, Perception, he plays a schizophrenic neuropsychologist who helps the FBI solve crimes. That’s right — don’t be staring at your phone when tuning in. Pay attention. Sit up. You’ll be glad you did. This is smart TV for smart people. Must be; the series is in its third season.
TV longevity like this is not as common as it once was — just ask the Toronto native who eventually made it to L.A. and found himself on a groundbreaking, ratings-fueled sitcom about a gay man and his best friend that changed…uh…perceptions. In fact, we did ask him about that.
In this Modern Man interview, Eric tells us what it took to bust past Will & Grace, how the heat gets turned up as a TV producer, and the two things that keep him in kickass shape.
Eric, a schizophrenic neuropsycholist? We know you want to break the Will Truman mold, but this?
I’ve always loved playing something that could utilize my energy. I was never great at playing the cool cat. It’s not too long before I want to bounce around the room.
What was it that attracted you to the character of Dr. Daniel Pierce?
His drive, his mental energy, his vocal energy, his highs and lows are just something I love throwing myself into. And throwing some comedy in there too because he has a very ironic sense of the world.
He sounds like a handful.
It’s a character where when I’m done at the end of six months, I need a break, but two weeks later, I’m like, “Oh, shit, now I miss him!” I’m very lucky to have found him.
TV seasons are different on TNT. How does Perception‘s season work?
We shot 15 episodes. This last one is a summer finale, but it’s really not a finale to the season. The season won’t end until next March . It opens with a bang and it ends with a classic kind of “what?!” cliffhanger that I’m excited about.
How intense Is the pressure to create a series that will hold an audience’s attention in this digital age?
I do think of that. There is a limbo area, because TNT is not one of these top four networks that have these certain expectations of ratings, but we do need to attract viewers in the summertime, late at night, and I’m very conscious of making the show as smart and as exciting as we can.
I’m live tweeting virtually every episode because I want to involve people. I would have loved to have had Twitter during Will & Grace, but it’s particularly useful now.
People are very smart these days. House of Cards and Breaking Bad are some of the best shows ever made, and people don’t take “just average” anymore. You have to constantly up your game. So we’re always thinking: how do we make the mystery more mysterious? How do we make the dialogue more challenging?
Television now actually makes people smarter, not dumber.
What was your post-Will & Grace career anxiety like?
Regarding “what is next,” my gut told me that it had to be something very different. I gravitated toward a show that I loved calledTrust Me, which I did for a year. I was really proud of it and I’m really sorry that it didn’t go, but as a result, I got into a relationship with TNT, so Perception came out of it.
The cancellation of Trust Me was a setback for sure, after all that TV success. So how did you soldier on?
That gave me more cause for alarm, because if a show like [Trust Me], that I think is good, can’t allow me to get out of the shadow of Will Truman, then maybe I’m trapped here.
It took a few more years and a few other projects, but when I read [Perception], where I’m lecturing on page one and deflecting a girl’s come-on on page two and hallucinating somewhere on page eight, I thought this is exactly what I was hoping for without realizing that’s what I needed.
I think I needed the payoff that comes with playing somebody this smart and this troubled at the same time. It’s an emotional and physical payoff. I need on a day-to-day level the challenge of memorizing these lines and telling these stories. It’s healthy.
Do you bring your Shakespearean and musical skills to this role?
I think what Pierce has to say in the classroom or [when describing a] theory is very Shakespearean. It can feel like a monologue, and what makes those monologues work is a musicality. I think that’s what people are hearing without realizing it. As crazy and as manic as he can be, there is a musicality to those moments.
You’re a producer on this series. How intense is that pressure?
I was a producer for a couple of years right after Will & Grace for a show called Lovespring International with Jane Lynch. I never took any credit for it because it came to me and my partner fully developed. I also produced a comedy pilot for TNT.
People get suspicious when they hear that actors are producers. Like, “yeah, so what do you do?” What I do is I cast people [with co-producers Kenneth Biller and Mike Sussman]. We script ideas and craft the look of the show. And I am also a guardian on the set, of the feel of the show, as new directors and guest stars come in. There is a continuity that can only come with that lead character being who he is week after week.
How about some fitness and nutrition advice for our Modern Man readers? You are always so trim and fit and not flabby.
My dad was always pretty slim, but I think television has put the fear of God in me. I’ve been working out with the same [personal trainer] since Will & Grace when I can, and I just try to eat less ice cream and bread. I’m not much of a fitness guru; it’s just fear and vanity.
In your life these days, do you see the impact that Will & Grace had on today’s television, popular culture, and our attitude toward gay people in general?
Frankly, I do. We were doing things that were almost taken for granted by the end of the series. And then, eight years later, there is the discussion of gay marriage and Prop 8.
We were showing something, and a lot of the people watching were 12 and 13 and 15. They’re the ones now who are leading the fight.
I’ve had a lot of response from young men and women who said that watching the show or watching their parents watch the show [allowed them to] change their attitudes because they were laughing. And that was a very big inspiration. So I think all of us have a really big sense of pride for that.