(A version of this story was published June 21, 2013 in the Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman.)
Crime solving is a substantial element of the TNT drama “Perception,” but addressing the issues surrounding paranoid schizophrenia is also essential.
Eric McCormack discussed this topic, as well as details about his starring role and a new recurring guest star for the upcoming season, during a phone interview with The Oklahoman. The second season of “Perception” debuts at 9 p.m. Tuesday, June 25, on TNT.
The Emmy Award-winning actor, 50, plays Dr. Daniel Pierce, an eccentric neuroscience professor with paranoid schizophrenia recruited by former student and current FBI agent Kate Moretti (Rachael Leigh Cook) to consult on complex cases.
“The show exists because he’s not on his meds, because he is hallucinating,” McCormack said. “It gives the show the interesting characters that come in, the ones that are real, the ones that aren’t real. But, we can’t be cavalier about that, and we’re not. By the end of Season Two, which we’re about to shoot, the fact that he’s not on his meds and yet teaching in front of students becomes an issue for the first time.”
An event that happens in the first episode of this season also makes Pierce’s mental illness known in a public way that hadn’t happened before.
“Now his students have no reason to just believe he’s wacky. He’s not just wacky. He has a mental illness and he’s in a position of influence, and how does the college deal with that? How does LeVar Burton’s character deal with that as his boss, and it’s how we handle those situations, I think, (that) is just as important as coming up with great crimes to solve.”
McCormack appreciates the dichotomy of the role.
“What I love about the character is that he’s always wrestling with this concept of ‘do I want to be on medication, do I want to be following the doctor’s orders that I would give anybody else, or am I this maverick that thinks I can do it myself and thinks that I’m better off as me as damaged as I am.’ And I think that’s the through-line of the series,” the actor said.
And just because Pierce doesn’t take his medication doesn’t mean he’d recommend that to others.
“It’s a dangerous thing, because, like I say, we certainly don’t want to be a show that tells the world that people living with this condition shouldn’t be on their meds and, in fact, Pierce would never say that,” McCormack said. “It’s more just a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ situation. He, himself, takes a different approach to it, so it’s a bit risky, but it is interesting to explore. They’re not a cure-all. Not every med works for every person, and so it’s interesting to try to get into those details as well.”
Pierce will also have a new situation to deal with in the second season as Moretti’s soon-to-be ex-husband (and assistant U.S. attorney) Donnie, played by Scott Wolf, enters the scene. Although McCormack, who coproduces the series, was apprehensive about the new role, he said Wolf has worked out well.
“It was a great idea. I was worried. It’s like ‘OK, so now who’s coming on the show?’ Well, Scott Wolf, … I’m his biggest fan, I think he’s so great. And what he brings to the show is twofold. One, he’s a great combination with Kate. You believe they were married. You believe that he hurt her and, yet, there’s still some feelings there.
“So, he’s going to definitely be a wrench in the works between Kate and Daniel. Not just romantically, because they’re not romantically involved, but in terms of their working relationship, in terms of the trust that he puts virtually only in Kate. Now, he’s got to share that a bit, and it’s also a nice foil for me.”
But the actor says the pair does get the chance to work together in an amusing way.
“There’s a really nice episode that comes I think about five, or six or seven in, where he and I are forced to kind of team up in a ‘Simon & Simon’ kind of way that is so much fun.”
– Melissa Hayer
Follow me on Twitter: @MelissaHayer