The unique TNT crime-solving drama Perception follows the life of Dr. Daniel Pierce (Eric McCormack), an eccentric neuroscience professor with paranoid schizophrenia who is recruited by the FBI to help solve complex cases. Although he struggles with hallucinations and paranoid delusions, FBI agent and Pierce’s former student, Kate Moretti (Rachael Leigh Cook), is willing to look past Daniel’s peculiarities and utilize his uncanny ability to see patterns and look past people’s conscious emotions to see what lies beneath. The show also stars Arjay Smith and Kelly Rowan.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Eric McCormack talked about how this show came about, how intimidating it is to play someone so brilliant, that he loves all of the guest stars that his characters gets to interact with and get insight from, what it’s been like to work with this ensemble of actors, and how much he’d love to continue to play this role for possible future seasons of the show. Check out what he has to say after the jump.
ERIC McCORMACK: It was a happy accident, really. I have a great relationship with Michael Wright, who runs TNT, and he was on the look-out for something. When Ken Biller, who created the show, went to TNT, he said, “We’re thinking a little out of the box here. We’re thinking somebody like Eric McCormack.” So, there was that. And then, when I read it, I was aware that it was vaguely a crime-solving show, but with the first page, when I’m lecturing in the university about neuroscience, I was like, “Oh boy, I love this! Who else is doing that? We have some high school shows, but we don’t have a university show out there, where the hero is an academic and an intellectual and, in addition, a schizophrenic who is someone that can educate us a bit about the disease, at the same time, because he’s the biggest brain in the room.
Did you respond to the fact that this is not your typical procedural?
McCORMACK: Yes. In this case, procedure is the last thing that Daniel Pierce is going to follow. He’s probably going to screw procedure up, more than anything. He’s not there to look at forensics or have anything to do with guns, and he doesn’t bust anybody. He’s simply looking at it from the point of view of a puzzle and, inevitably, because of his expertise, that creates some great twists and turns in this show.
Having just done another show for TNT prior to this, that ended up not going as well as one hopes when you sign on for a TV show, did you have any hesitation about doing another show, or does that type of thing just roll off of you because you know that happens more often than not, in this business?
McCORMACK: I love everybody at TNT, and they were totally behind Trust Me. I totally loved that show. I feel like it should have had more life. I just don’t think it was the right show for them, at the time, and lots of good shows don’t make it past the second season, for various reasons. I know where TNT’s sweet spot is, and when I read Perception, I thought, “This is a chance to play a fascinating, fun, challenging character, but still within the realm of something that will sit very well with The Closer and Major Crimes, and the other shows there.”
Is it intimidating, at all, to play someone who is so brilliant?
McCORMACK: Yes, but I love that part. I love playing anyone that does stuff that I don’t do. The fun of playing an assassin is that I’ve never killed anybody. The fun of playing a brilliant musician is that I don’t actually play any instruments. In this case, it’s a blast. It would take me five hours to do the TV Guide crossword puzzle, but he zips through them. I love how smart he is. I love learning language and ideas that I didn’t know before, and making them sound like my own. When I used to watch E.R., I would think, “God, I don’t want that job, where I have to memorize a whole bunch of terms I don’t know.” But, those lecture scenes where I get to do that are actually quite fun.
Do you enjoy constantly having different guest stars in to play the characters that guide Daniel through these crimes? After getting to interact with Joan of Arc this season, is there anyone else from history that you’d love to see him be able to interact with?
McCORMACK: I love that aspect of it. It doesn’t always have to be a mystery about who’s real and who isn’t. He knows. He knows that he’s not on his meds and that, at any moment, the person he’s talking to might actually be a hallucination. So, to have fun with that and say, “You’re not real there, you’re not real,” it takes the onus off that kind of, “Oh, my god, I’m hallucinating here,” and gives the show another quality. But, I love the Joan of Arc episode. I would like to see him interact with Shakespeare or Einstein. I’m sure that Einstein was a major influence on his thinking.
What do you think it is that Daniel sees in Kate Moretti (Rachael Leigh Cook) that allows them to have the relationship that they do, when so many other people just write him off?
McCORMACK: There is a scene with Dan Lauria, who plays her father, where he says, “I remember you. You were the teacher she had the crush on.” I think that there was always something there that was an unspoken, un-acted on, teacher-student thing. I think she probably was the pretty girl, who was quiet with the glasses and who was a wonderful student. She probably wasn’t cut out for the lab, and you don’t look at her and go, “Oh, you should be in the FBI.” She’s clearly someone that is just trying to find her way, and I think he relates to her, in that way. She’s clearly going through something in her life, and she relates to him, in ways that we’ll discover, as the show goes on. I like that we don’t answer all those questions too early. I hope the audience likes their relationship and would love to see them together. I don’t know if you feel that in the first few episodes, but by the end of the season, you’ll know how much he cares about her and how inadequate he feels, because of his condition, to act on it.
How has it been to work with this cast and develop the great relationships that your character has with each of them?
McCORMACK: A lot of that was in the writing, from the beginning, which really informed the casting. Obviously, when you write a character named Max Lewicki, you’re probably not thinking of a black guy. Arjay Smith was the only African American guy we saw, and he just had something. You believed that he was a student. A lot of the guys were good, but they were coming in and playing dopey stoner guys. He had a tremendous brain on him, but he also had an empathy. By the end of the season, we’ll understand who Max is and how he came into Daniel’s life. But, the fact that Daniel relies so much on him, and yet treats him so badly, I just find so interesting. The fact that Natalie (Kelly Rowan) is this beautiful woman that Daniel clearly has feelings for, but won’t give him the time of day romantically, makes her someone that he wants to have in his life, all the time. With Kate, Daniel feels comfortable being funny or light, and yet not comfortable being romantic.
McCORMACK: I totally am! I’m glad you asked that. I’d been doing a whole other character on Broadway and I thought, “I miss being that guy! I miss the unpredictability of him, and the ticks and the quirks and how he thinks and how he approaches people.” It was a surprise, every day. When we get to the end of the season, in the last three episodes, we really deal with the mental illness, head-on, in a very dramatic way and a very responsible way. I’m looking forward to figuring out now, how we go from there, and I hope we get a chance to do it.
Perception airs on Monday nights on TNT.