When it comes to choosing between performing in dramas or comedies, Eric McCormack prefers both.
The Toronto native, 49, is best known to television viewers for his Emmy-winning role as Will Truman in the long-running sitcom “Will & Grace,” which also starred Debra Messing, Oklahoma City native Megan Mullally and Sean Hayes.
He is now starring as Dr. Daniel Pierce in the new drama “Perception,” which debuts at 9 p.m. Monday on TNT.
Daniel is a neuroscience professor with paranoid schizophrenia recruited by former student and current FBI agent Kate Moretti (Rachael Leigh Cook) to consult on certain cases she's working on.
Arjay Smith and Kelly Rowan also star in the series, which McCormack also coproduces.
McCormack took a break from his schedule of performing on Broadway in “Gore Vidal's The Best Man” to discuss “Perception” in a media conference call. He talked about his impartiality to acting in either the comedy or drama genre.
“I love doing both. When I was on “Will & Grace,” nothing made me happier than having a big dramatic scene with Debra in the midst of the crazy comedy, McCormack said.
“And nothing gives me a bigger, better thrill than a dramatic crime scene in this show where he gets to suddenly say something inappropriate that clearly is going to be funny. I love the mix. I think the magic is in the combination, and I'm never happy with just one.”
Being a fan of the '70s series “The Paper Chase” made the lecture scene on the first page of the script appeal to him about the role of Daniel Pierce, as well as the complexity of the character.
“The idea of playing not just a neuroscientist, not just somebody brilliant, but the fact that he is a teacher, that he has that thing, that audience in the palm of his hand, and that he's funny and passionate and finds an interesting way to approach what could be a very dry topic,” McCormack said.
“And, then, to find out outside of the classroom he is often crippled by symptoms of schizophrenia, I thought that's a wild combination of the arrogant hubris that comes with an intellectual and the absolutely, might I say, crippling conditions that the disease can present.”
Due to the intricacy of this character, research played an important part in the actor's preparation for the show.
McCormack worked with UCLA neuroscience professor Michael Green whose expertise is schizophrenia. And, then, he spent time with Elyn Saks, who had written the book “The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness.” A law professor at USC, Saks wrote the book about her own schizophrenia.
“She was writing brilliant papers one day and in the hospital strapped down to a bed the next, and has such tremendous memory of it that she was able to describe it, and some of the passages in her book, about what it feels like to break psychotically, were absolutely crucial to what I do in the show.”
Although the schizophrenia aspect of “Perception” is serious, the show also features lighter moments, particularly in the relationship between Daniel and Kate as they solve crimes together.
The actor thinks the series will appeal to summer television viewers.
“I think this will be a breath of fresh air. So much of summer programming is sort of fun and silly and escapist ... I think people love a good mystery-solving show, but I love the point of view of this,” McCormack said.
As far as being remembered by audiences as Will Truman, that isn't something that bothers McCormack.
“You'll never hear me complain about being Will Truman. It was a gift, and it'll probably be on my tombstone,” McCormack said. “But in the meantime, between now and my tombstone, I have to play different parts, and just as I have to push and stretch myself, I need to ask my fans to do the same.
“It's important to push that without ever losing the perspective that I'm only starring on this show because ‘Will & Grace' was such a hit. It's always just about challenging me and challenging the viewers.”