Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—A cross between “CSI” and “A Beautiful Mind,” TNT’s new drama “Perception,” premiering Monday, July 9 at 10 p.m. (ET/PT), stars Eric McCormack as Dr. Daniel Pierce, an eccentric neuroscience professor who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia.
One of Pierce’s former students, now an FBI agent, recruits him to consult on specific cases needing his particular expertise. Rachael Leigh Cook (“She’s All That”) plays Agent Kate Moretti.
McCormack, 49, spoke about his new series, a significant departure from “Will & Grace,” the groundbreaking NBC comedy in which he starred for eight seasons. On that show, he played a gay lawyer whose best friend is a Jewish interior decorator (played by Debra Messing).
Front Row Features: You’ve guest-starred on a few half-hour comedies since “Will & Grace,” but you haven’t starred on your own series until this. Was it a conscious choice on your part?
Eric McCormack: I needed to flex the other muscles that I hadn’t flexed in a long time. After doing “Trust Me” at TNT, it whetted my appetite again for how much I love doing an hour (series), and more complex characters. Then, when this one came along, I couldn’t say no.
Front Row Features: Did you know when they came to you what the whole premise of the series was? Did you guess the twist when you were reading it?
McCormack: Good question. We shot the pilot in Toronto over a year ago, so it’s been awhile, but I’m pretty sure nobody gave it away to me. Unlike a movie like “The Crying Game,” hopefully this is going to last for a long time, so the reveal at the end of the pilot is not crucial. If people know about it, it’s fine. I just think reveals like that are fun. I don’t think it’s going to be a shock. All the clues are there when you go back and look at it again.
Front Row Features: What do you like about Dr. Pierce?
McCormack: What I love about the character is that as a neuroscientist who is also suffering symptoms of schizophrenia, his brain is his best friend and his worst enemy. The relationship he has with that is revealed in the pilot. He’s not on his meds. That’s a controversial thing for someone to do.
Front Row Features: Can you talk a little bit about the challenges of playing someone with schizophrenia? Did you do a lot of research?
McCormack: I said to (series creator) Ken (Biller), “Can we just make this guy a gay lawyer? It might be a little less work for me,” but he was very insistent. So we did a lot of research together. While Ken was trying to get the show together, I went out and met with some fascinating people, including Michael Green from UCLA. He’s a neuroscientist there, who is an expert in schizophrenia. We also had lunch with Elyn Saks, who wrote a fantastic book called “The Center Cannot Hold,” about her days as a brilliant law student, and having her first episodes, her first breaks with reality in the ’70s.
Front Row Features: How did you choose Rachael Leigh Cook as your co-star?
McCormack: With the character of Kate, we saw a lot of terrific actresses that you believe that they were cops, but what Rachael brought into the room was a sense of humor. There was something about her that reminded me of Jodie Foster in “Silence of the Lambs.” She’s someone you look at and go, “What a minute. You’re going to come in here and bust this big guy? You are going to solve this crime?” She did it in a surprising way, and it was having those odds stacked against her that I loved.
Front Row Features: How hard was it to learn some of the technical dialogue for this?
McCormack: I used to watch “ER” and think, “Oh God, I would never want that job.” We throw a few words around to make sure that the credibility is there, but it’s less medical and more about his passion, that he’s putting the pieces (of the puzzle) together. I love that challenge.
Front Row Features: Can you talk about the frantic pace at which you have to play Dr. Pierce?
McCormack: The show is sponsored by Red Bull. No, I love it. It’s a way to use my natural energy. He tries to keep up with his own mind, and the guys have written some speeches that just were fabulous, that you’ve got to just dive into and that I didn’t know if I could play.
Front Row Features: Is there a particular challenge to be in a scene with a lot of people, but you are by yourself?
McCormack: We’ve shot certain scenes in a couple of episodes both ways to have that option of cutting back and forth between somebody else’s point-of-view and the audience’s. That’s what actors have to do when they’re playing in green screen to giant monsters. It’s about the power of your imagination, and I love that challenge too.
Front Row Features: Is part of the mystery in each episode going to be who’s real and who isn’t along with who did it?
McCormack: No that could get old pretty fast. It’s more about why that hallucination? Why now? When he hallucinates someone or something, it is some part of his brain helping him solve the puzzle that Kate’s brought to him. So very often we’ll reveal right off the top, yes, this is a hallucination. The fun will not be who’s real and who’s not, but why that vision now?