The TNT drama series Perception, now in its third season, follows Dr. Daniel Pierce (Eric McCormack), a unique and eccentric neuroscience professor whose paranoid schizophrenia helps him solve crimes with FBI agent and former student Kate Moretti (Rachael Leigh Cook). To kick off Season 3, the show is set in Paris, France, where Pierce is embarking on an exciting new personal journey. But shortly after his arrival, he is asked to help with a dangerous international case that turns into something of a spy thriller.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Eric McCormack talked about how awesome it was to go on location in Paris, why he thought they’d just be shooting on green screen when he was first told about the idea, shooting in some of the most famous location in the country, what the location adds to the romance of the story, how Pierce thrives on chaos, what it was like to direct an episode, and the experience of working with Peter Coyote, who plays Pierce’s ailing father throughout the season. Check out what he had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
ERIC McCORMACK: It was awesome, yeah. It takes us back to the days when our favorite shows would travel. The Brady Bunch would go to Hawaii or England. You’re so invested in the characters that you believe it. And with Pierce, he’s always a fish out of water, but we take him out of everything that makes him comfortable and plop him in a place where he has no support system. He thinks he’s happy. He thinks that this is the best move he ever made, but it’s going to turn out to be not so good. Probably one of the most surreal moments of my career was acting in front of Notre Dame with a mime.
When you started doing this show, could you ever have imagined it would take you to Paris?
McCORMACK: No. For lots of practical reasons – budgetary, etc. – but also just because you wonder what storyline would take the character there. It’s a character who is barely comfortable outside of his classroom, let alone outside of the country. (Co-creator) Ken [Biller] last year when he said, “He’s going to quit his job at the end of the season,” and I said, “What?!” And he said, “And he’s going to Paris.” I said, “That’s crazy! Then, what will we do?” We thought about it and, as we were approaching the third season, Ken said, “We’re gonna stay in Paris for an episode.” I said, “That’s a lot of green screen,” and he said, “No, we’re really gonna go to Paris.” It was exciting.
And the episode also becomes a spy thriller. How cool was that?
McCORMACK: It was totally The Bourne Identity. When you think of those movies, particularly the second one, they just show Europe and so many cities in Europe. To run around, afraid of spies, was a bit of a fantasy, for sure, and not just for Pierce, but for me. It was just a fun experience, in general. We had a French crew, and we were in some of the most famous locations in the country. It just can’t help but enrich the show. To walk along the river and walk past the Louvre was awesome.
McCORMACK: Absolutely. He wasn’t just running away from something. He was running to something else. He was running to love, which is a very, very big deal. For someone living with paranoid schizophrenia, that’s an area they often shut down. It’s too overwhelming for them, and it’s too overwhelming for other people to try to live with their symptoms. It’s a very big leap of faith for both of them, and it ends up being too much. It’s a move that definitely affects the rest of the season. He comes back home a bit changed, having opened up his heart and conquered some of his biggest fears, like flying, being away from Lewicki and away from home and away from his job. I think he comes back a little bit more fortified.
After everything Daniel Pierce has been through, is it more challenging for him to have a healthy, stable relationship? Do you think he thrives off of the chaos, to a certain extent?
McCORMACK: Yeah. The one thing I’ve always identified with Pierce on is when I first got to L.A., I was trying to be an actor and would have to run around everywhere. It’s an insane city, and I always needed my little apartment to go back to. Even between auditions, I would go back to it. And that’s what Pierce has. He goes back to his office, to his classroom and to his home, where things are okay. He can go out to a crime scene, but he’s gotta have a safe place. He didn’t have that in Paris. That’s definitely a reason that his symptoms get amped up.
The teaming up of Lewicki and Dean Haley, to help Pierce get his job back, is just so fun to watch.
McCORMACK: Totally. And to see Arjay [Smith] and LeVar [Burton] together is fun. LeVar is such an awesome guy and such a fun character. We learn even more, in Season 3, about how far Dean Haley and Pierce go back with their friendship.
McCORMACK: I found myself quite charming, as a director. It was hard. It’s great because I had a crew where we already have a shorthand. That part was good. But I’m in almost every scene, so that was tough. It’s a long day without a break, but it’s exhilarating. But, it was great because I’ve always had a very collaborative relationship with Ken and with any of the directors we’ve had on the show. It was a natural step. Rachael [Leigh Cook] and Scott [Wolf] were hungry for whatever I had. It was a tremendously positive experience. I tend to boss them around, anyway.
What’s it like to have Peter Coyote play your father, this season?
McCORMACK: I’ve gotta say, that’s just been awesome. It’s an ongoing storyline through the whole season. The idea is that Pierce has a father that he hasn’t spoken to in 20 years, who has just as much hubris and is just as arrogant as Pierce is, but who also now has a mental condition. He has Alzheimer’s. So, to have this man with paranoid schizophrenia trying to be a father to his father, who’s living with a serious condition, has been very touching and also very funny. Peter is acerbic and so intelligent. It was a real battle of minds and battle of wits. It’s a story that I think the audience will love.
Perception returns for Season 3 on TNT on June 17th.