Patricia Sheridan's Breakfast With ... Eric McCormack
Eric McCormack, award-winning actor of "Will & Grace" fame, is currently appearing on Broadway in Gore Vidal's "The Best Man." He has appeared in several TV shows and movies since "Will & Grace" ended, including playing con-man impostor Clark Rockefeller in the 2010 Lifetime Channel movie "Who is Clark Rockefeller?" The 49-year-old Canadian-born actor has had dual citizenship since 1999 and is married to Janet Holden. They have a son, Finnigan. Mr. McCormack returns to series television tonight in the crime drama "Perception," airing at 10 on TNT.
Was there ever a time in your career you worried you weren't going to make it?
No, I honestly never let it cross my mind. I really didn't. I certainly had a few times where the money was getting low, but I haven't had a regular job of any kind since 1985. I never had a second option.
Did your family try to talk you out of going into show business, or were they happy about it?
My parents were always very supportive, but I think by ninth, 10th, 11th grade when I started getting serious, they were getting a little wary. They went to my drama teacher, who was very influential on me, and he said to them, "Don't stop him." Hearing that from him made them relax a little bit. When I told them I was going to go to Ryerson, which is a theater school in Toronto, they supported it.
The second year at Ryerson I was at home and looking through the attic for a prop or something, and I found an entire scrapbook dedicated to my father's years at Ryerson in 1952 as an actor, which he never told me about. Even when I said I wanted to go to Ryerson, it never came up. All I knew was that he had gone to the University of Toronto. My mother said, "That was your father before he changed his mind."
Being an actor in Canada in 1952 was not a real viable option, and he took a financial loop and provided for us and was a great dad. I confronted him and he was all, "I wasn't as serious as you are." But I could tell it was dream, but it was just not a practical dream for him. So it drove me all the more. There was no way I was not going to make it.
You play a character named Dr. Daniel Pierce on "Perception" who is very different from Will of "Will & Grace." Does anything extra go into playing a character whose mental stability is so delicate?
I think I always try to approach it from a sense of what are their vulnerabilities, what are they afraid of. When you boil it down, we all have a lot of similar fears. It was actually one of the things on "Will & Grace" we realized. Will didn't have enough flaws. He was a little two-dimensional in the beginning. He needed some quirks, some fears, some neuroses. He became much more interesting once we found them. Someone like Daniel Pierce, you are starting with all that stuff. He's a guy on the one side who is a brilliant neuroscientist and lecturer. Clearly, his brain is the biggest in the room, yet at the same time he is suffering from symptoms of schizophrenia, and his brain is his worst enemy. He covers it up. He tries to hide what he is going through. So he has hubris, but he also has a lot of shame. Trying to find that middle ground and what does keep a guy like that going day to day is just fascinating.
After you have done a character for a time, does he become more and more ingrained in you so that you can easily pull it out when you get on set?
Yes, I think it certainly grows, but also you are creating something new. I mean, shooting a pilot is fascinating because you are creating a character, not like a film script where you know the beginning, middle and end and you plot it out. You are creating something you may be for years to come, and the ticks that you assign him, the emotions, the back story, whatever it is, you've got to live with that.
Your character likes to do puzzles, and the murders he helps solve are sort of like that. In your real life, are you patient enough to do puzzles?
Not remotely. I find the TV Guide crossword puzzle confusing. That is the fun of acting, to play. The first time I fired a gun was by playing a character who was firing a gun. It is the great thrill to have skills and intelligence of the character that you don't actually have.
Do you think being an actor requires you to have a lot of self-confidence?
Yeah, and I think it's why actors drive people nuts. They have to have a real healthy dose of self-confidence and self-loathing and self-doubt and self-involvement, and pretty much all you have is yourself. You have to overcome the natural fears that everybody has about themselves and their looks and their voice and their talent and be absolutely overconfident to walk into a room and bare your soul. I think it's a strange combination.
When you have worked with a group of actors as long as you did on "Will & Grace," is there any sort of race to see who gets the next big thing after the show ends?
It becomes a family, you know? We become like brothers and sisters, and like your brothers and sisters you want the absolute best for them and you want the absolute best for yourself. There is a competitive thing, a little bit, and I think that's healthy.
I think we all had this same hurdle in front of us which is "Wow! Now not just what do we do but what do you want? What do we want to be?" We've had this absolutely remarkable time. None of the four of us would say anything less than it was an absolutely incredible time in our lives, and yet we all knew we had to do something very different.
It can take awhile. It took me awhile. I did some producing just to try to figure out what that next step is when you have been so blessed and so happy. It's a good problem to have.
It is the double-edged sword of an actor's life. If you are successful creating a character, then everyone wants you to play that character over and over.
In the old days, like with English theater, people would revel in how different an actor could be role to role. Nowadays there are so many of us out there that people think, "Well, I don't need you to be anything else. If I need a bad guy, I'll get a bad guy actor. You're Will."
It is up to us. It is our job. We can't sit around and bitch about it. It is up to us to prove to the world, like right now I'm on Broadway doing Gore Vidal's "The Best Man." I am just a sleazy, hateful politician. It's so much fun. It's actually a joy. I come out the stage door and for every person who is excited to see me play that part there is someone else going, "I like you better as Will." But I can't be Will anymore. You have to move on.
What about his side of the business -- doing this kind of interview and the publicity -- how are you with that?
I like talking about what I'm doing. To put it really bluntly, I like selling a product I believe in. I am excited to talk about it. I want to spread the word. When a tree falls in the forest, I want it to make a sound. But if we are going to get into boxers or briefs, that's when I go, "You know I'm actually a pretty private person."
I tweet now, but I only really tweet about what is going on in my professional life. I don't tweet about how I feel about the service in the restaurant I am in.
My only sort of boxers/briefs question is: Did you feel any kind of disloyalty to Canada when you became an American citizen?
Not at all because I'm dual. Canada doesn't require you to give up your citizenship. So America/Canada, you can have both, and many, many people do. So it was a totally logical choice. I pay taxes in the U.S. All my success has been here or most of it. And I wanted to be able to vote for the people who make the decisions.
My son was born here, but he is feeling such a close connection to Canada because my wife and I are both from there. So we slowly but surely are creating a global village, you know? We will have to explain to our kids years from now that it was a big deal when Joe Biden said men should be able to marry men and women should be able to marry women. They will say, "Why? Why was it a big deal?" And when they tell their kids there was a time, it will be like they are discussing slavery, you know?
We are all going to get better and better, and I am hoping that the lines between countries and the lines between people will start to diminish.
First Published July 9, 2012 12:00 am