Previewing the return of PERCEPTION with Eric McCormack

23263_011_0253_RTonight on TNT, PERCEPTION returns to finish out season 2 with four all new episodes.  In the first one back, while Daniel and Kate investigate the death of a gifted baseball player, Daniel connects with the suspect, and Haley and Lewicki do their best to impress a promising new student. To celebrate the return, I spent time chatting with series star Eric McCormack about what to expect in these four, and why his portrayal of Daniel feels so authentic.

I know you’re shooting season 3 already, but welcome back for the end of Season 2!
Yes, I hope it’s enough to keep people entertained for a month and a half [laughs].

Let’s talk about where we left Daniel at the end of the last chunk of episodes, and where he is when we rejoin the team tonight.
The big thing is that he basically finished [the last chunk] with a girlfriend.  She’s not going to be around for these four episodes, but the fact that they are together, that she’s over in Europe playing cello, and he nkows she’s there, I think is a very interesting quality to him.  That’s my favorite thing to explore with a guy like this – relationships for someone with paranoid schizophrenia is very tough, particularly something romantic.  So the idea that it’s there, that he’s nervous about it and excited about it at the same time, it changes him, I think.

23263_011_0495_RI like that the show doesn’t shy away from really exploring these difficult stories.  We’ll see these relationships while he deals with the disease – it has to be exciting to explore new facets.
For sure – the position he has, the job that he has, the personality that he has, opens up the show to a whole lot of things.  I was just talking about how surprised I get.  I pick up a new script, and I get surprised, that the writers found yet another avenue to go down that is going to be unique to the show.  That point in particular, not in the next four, but when we start Season 3, that relationship is going to be challenged by the very fact that he’s a challenging guy to be with.

Look specifically at these next four – what kind of things will we see Daniel and the cast go through?
There’s a really nice one coming up, the second one in, called “Brotherhood.”  It’s the RJ Smith episode – Lewicki, we get to explore who Lewicki is and was as a kid.  There’s a quiet, noble quality what RJ does on the show that is unexplored as yet, and I think people will be really excited about seeing that.  The final episode of the four, we do something that I wondered when the writers would get t othis, which is that the one area that Pierce is comfortable, the one area that he shines, he has an episode. he has a psychotic episode, and the students get to see the patient behind the teacher.  It endangers his livelihood and it endangers his perception of himself, as someone who at least has that safety zone.

23263_011_0130_RWhen you’re talking to audiences about this show – what are you saying about why this is a show they can relate to, and should find?
The sort of crime solving genre has over the years taken dips, it roller coasters like all genres do, but it’s been so strong for the last 10 years, but always in a way that it became very forensic, it became very procedural, and the characters were secondary.  And now, people can still have all the thrill that comes with solving the puzzle, solving the crime, but the person at the heart of it is someone they can get very emotionally attached to. And not because he’s a crusader, in the way, say, on SVU, we feel about Mariska.  He’s more of a reluctant crusader.  He’s an intellectual crusader that is dragged into social situations.  A lot of people who watch television are mystified by people that have bravado, that people are in the world that aren’t afraid.  They relate more to someone that has tremendous fear. Someone for whom going out in the world and trying to make something happen is hard. It’s very hard for Pierce.  As brilliant as he is, I have to remind myself, every scene that he’s in, he’s not comfortable. He might look like he’s a bit brusque, in your face, but he’d really rather be back at University.

Have you changed the way you approach the character since when you started until now?
You know what, the honest truth is that I was intent on making sure that that pilot was right.  I thought, I can’t ease into it, I can’t discover his ticks in episode 9. At lot of shows, you can.  Like with WILL & GRACE, I don’t feel like I found Will until later on. With this guy, I thought, no, I gotta come out of the box, and I gotta be him, in all ways.  I worked really hard on that.  The jacket and scarf that I wear now are in the pilot.  The sneakers I wear now are in the pilot.  The ticks, the symptoms haven’t changed much.  I like to think it’s deepened but what happens week to week, I’m bolstered by the fact that I did something right off the top, because it would be very hard to fix that.  Particularly, in terms of the mental health community, when they see the show, I don’t want them to see the show and say “well, he eventually got there, but it was bullshit.”

23263_011_0472_RHave you gotten feedback from the mental health community?
I’ve had a lot of tremendous response on Twitter, and letters – from people saying their spouse, their sister, lives with schizophrenia and they’re very happy with how the show has dealt with it.  I always said that I can’t play a condition.  I have to play one guy that has this condition.  He’s not going to be representative of everyone, but I think that we’ve managed to show, I don’t want to say a sub genre.  There’s a tremendous percentage of people living with paranoid schizophrenia that manage and live a life that actually hold positions of influence.  One of whom was the woman that I based a lot of my choices on, Elyn Saks, who wrote a book called “The Center Cannot Hold.”  Elyn is a tenured professor at USC that lives with paranoid schizophrenia and she last year presented me with an award at UCLA for the work done on the show.  I needed that moment just to go, this is not an Emmy or a Golden Globe.  This is someone living with the condition, in the business of not just mental health, but of teaching, and saying “you did it right.”

I was not aware of much when I started watching the show, but it’s caused me and a lot of readers that I’ve heard, who are really trying to understand the condition a bit more, which I think is important.
I think it’s great, yes!  We have writers, particularly Ken who created the show, they don’t take casual stabs.  They don’t go, well this is sort of similar to something that might/maybe happen.  They find documented cases, they base a lot of our plots directly on that.  It sounds bizarre, it sounds like we made it up.  But this is a real condition.  It’s rare, but it’s real, and the circumstances are real.  i think audiences are savvy enough that they want that and they need that.

PERCEPTION airs on Tuesday nights at 10/9c on TNT, following all new episodes of RIZZOLI & ISLES.