BEVERLY HILLS—Actor Eric McCormack figures he inherited his comic timing from his dad. The actor who played Will on “Will & Grace” recalls when he was 10 he fell off his bicycle and gashed his chin on the curb.
“I remember it being a moment of comic timing,” he says, in a sun-filled room in a hotel here. “My mom said, ‘We’ve got to get him to a hospital.’ My dad did this, ‘We don’t have to take him to a HOSPITAL—all right, we’re going to the hospital.’ And I remember thinking, ‘That was funny.’ I’ve used that exact timing a thousand times.”
It would be six years before McCormack actually knew what to do with that comic timing. “I was in the eleventh grade and my drama teacher, Mort Paul, did ‘Godspell.’ That’s when all of my feelings solidified,” he says, tucking his feet under him Yoga style.
“And I remember after the first performance of that – every actor has the same story—‘I was the geek, I didn’t know where to fit it.’ But at that moment, I knew where to fit in.
“That was the beginning of my life as an actor. It changed me in that the concept of any other options disappeared ... From that moment there was no question. I knew exactly what I was going to do. I’m lucky that way.”
McCormack’s parents thought he’d get over his passion for acting. They went to Eric’s teacher and said they were worried that he was taking it so seriously. “And he said, ‘Don’t stop him.’ That was enough for them to back off and not worry so much.”
It wasn’t until the Canadian-born McCormack was in his second year at theater school that he learned that his father, who was in finance in the oil business, had been studying radio-television at the same school in 1952. “I didn’t know he was an actor. He never told me.”
His father dropped out figuring there was no money in it. And for McCormack there pretty much was no money in it until he hit pay dirt with “Will & Grace.”
It’s been two years since that screen went black, but McCormack has hit the brass ring again with TNT’s new series, “Trust Me,” premiering on Jan. 26. He and Tom Cavanagh (“Ed”) play partners in the advertising business. Cavanagh is the always-late, goof-off of the team while McCormack is the circumspect, Type A guy who’s always trying to make it work.
The advertising expert is not too far from the actor, thinks McCormack, who’s dressed in a gray dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up and denims. “When an actor plays a cop or a doctor he’s playing something so different from them. This is not so different. These guys are creative, but they also have to sell their souls a bit. How many times do we call ourselves ‘artists’ and then do some movie that we just think is a piece of—-? But we do it anyway because we have to feed our family or further our career.”
The last “civilian” job McCormack had was in a men’s store. That was 23 years ago. Even so, his climb was slow. “I always dreamed locally when I was in Toronto. I just wanted to have a theater career. A lot of people stay there and manage to have a perfectly nice life,” he says.
“I dreamed as big as I dared to dream, achieved it, and then dreamed a little bit bigger.”
He tried out for several pilots, but nothing came of them. Then he auditioned for David Schwimmer’s role in “Friends,” and didn’t get that either. Finally he landed a role on “Lonesome Dove” and fell in love with the assistant director, Janet Holden.
Meeting Janet changed his life, he says. “(It was) the moment I decided to propose to my wife. It wasn’t the wedding, it was walking out of the store with the ring in my pocket. That’s when the gypsy realized that he didn’t want to just be a gypsy forever. He wanted to have his cake and eat it too. I want her and a life together, but I didn’t want that to ever stop me from going where I needed to go to pursue my dream. And luckily we got married in August ‘97 and eight months later I was shooting the pilot for ‘Will & Grace.’”
They have a son, Finnegan, who is 6. Becoming a father was a whole new role for McCormack. “As an actor you are a kid, that’s where you’re the most creative, it’s why we drive people crazy because we’re immature and completely self-focused and self-centered, the way kids are. The minute you have someone else you’re responsible for, that changes. And luckily that came at a (perfect) time. We were financially good, my hours were short. I truly could be part of his life for the first five years,” he says.
“Now I’m working long hours but he’s in kindergarten. He comes to the set now and sat and watched the same scene for eight takes. There’s a scene where I have to kiss this woman. I warned him and he said, ‘That’s gross.’”
One of the characters set to costar on BET’s “Harlem Heights,” premiering March 2, is Pierre Downing, an African American who works with a non-profit organization in community development. When asked what he thought of Obama’s election, the 27-year-old said, “President-elect Barack Obama changes that excuse where ‘OK, well, I didn’t get this job because I’m black,’ ‘I didn’t get into college because I’m black,’ ‘I didn’t do this because I’m black,’ ‘Why is everybody always coming down on me because I’m black?’
“It’s ‘Well, he was persistent, and he had a drive instilled in him very early in his life where he just said, “I’m going to make it,” and he did.’ And that dream that began back in the Civil Rights movement that came to fruition on Nov. 4 just changed everything. And it’s like I can’t ever blame it on my race.
“And I have made an effort my entire life never to blame anything on me being black. And now it validates that ... It validates my grandmother and everything she went through and my Aunt Helen and everything she went through and my mother and everything she went through. And I actually got to hear him speak in September, and he said, ‘I’m not doing this for you,’ basically. ‘I’m doing this for the people whose shoulders you’re standing on.’ I’m standing on my mother’s shoulders, who stood on my grandma’s shoulders and my grandma, who stood on my great-grandfather’s shoulders, who came over from Trinidad, and his father, who was a slave ... And he said that ‘This is America, and I’m an American. I’m not an African American. I am an American.’ And that’s who I am.”
A surprise hit of the last two seasons was HBO’s “Big Love,” a series about a man and his three wives in Utah. Many people think it’s about polygamy. But it’s not. And co-creators Will Scheffer and Mark V. Olsen say they thought of it while trekking half-way across the U.S.
“The context was it was a speeding car heading away from a disastrous family Christmas in Nebraska, back to New York City where things were safe and we like our lives. On day two of the drive, just crossing out of West Virginia and the Pennsylvania turnpike, Will and I were just pitching ideas around, and I literally said - I mean, you phrased it, ‘Hey, what about a story about polygamy?’” says Olsen.
“And this was our archetypal story because I said, ‘That’s the most disgusting thing I’ve ever heard in my life. No one’s going to want to watch that,’” says Scheffer.
But they started to research the subject and found it more complex than what they call “the ick” factor.
Olsen says, “From the very get-go, from that very moment, crossing out of West Virginia into Pennsylvania, what Will didn’t appreciate was it’s not about polygamy, it’s not about the salacious aspect of it, it’s not about the notoriety of it or the rip from the headlines. Although, the rip from the headlines does give us some story fire from time to time. But it’s always about family. It’s always about family. It’s always about marriage.”
The third season began this week, airing Sunday nights.
Michael Scheurer is one of the CIA analysts interviewed on “The Spy Factory,” premiering on PBS Feb. 3. According to Scheurer, the U.S. is still vulnerable to terrorism. “I don’t think we’re any safer than we were,” he says. “I think our borders remain open. Al-Qaida, according to Gen. Hayden, who I think has done a very good job at CIA, is more powerful, or at least as powerful as it was on 9-11. We still behave as if it’s not a serious threat. We appoint people who have been proven failures. John Brennan, for example, is now going to be the adviser of the president of the United States on terrorism. So I still don’t think we take this problem as seriously as we should.”