ERIC MCCORMACK: On Laughter, Food, Singing, Acting, and Why He Doesn’t Look His Age
By Carol Crenna
Canadian Eric McCormack has starred in several films and TV series over the past 20 years including The Andromeda Strain and Lonesome Dove, and was in Broadway theatre. But his nine seasons as Will Truman on NBC’s Will & Grace made him a household name and earned a Screen Actor’s Guild Award, five Golden Globe nominations and an Emmy. Eric has also hosted Saturday Night Live and the Music Awards.
Eric now stars in and co-produces Perception, an ABC series broadcast in the US on TNT and on Bravo in Canada. Eric plays Dr. Daniel Pierce, a talented, eccentric neuropsychiatrist who happens to be schizophrenic. Perception’s second season, 13 new episodes, premiers in Summer 2013.
I spoke to Eric about his home life, health, and having it all at a very youthful age 50.
CAROL: Where do you live now?
ERIC MCCORMACK: Janet and I live in Los Angeles and in Vancouver with our son, Finnigan.
CAROL: You’re turning 50, but you don’t look nearly your age!
ERIC MCCORMACK: Well, I played a father to the Olson Twins in a movie 20 years ago, and now I have to play fathers.
CAROL: How do you keep your energy high for traveling back and forth from LA to Vancouver, or other various acting projects, particularly to be able to put so much energy and soul into each performance?
ERIC MCCORMACK: I love what I do, so the adrenalin’s pretty reliable. I always eat lightly before a performance, usually fish and a green vegetable. And the occasional Red Bull doesn’t hurt… I hope.
CAROL: You eat a fairly healthy diet then?
ERIC MCCORMACK: Key word: fairly. I’m not a tofu and sprouts kind of guy, but I also hate the way fast food makes me feel. I love barbequing chicken and salmon… and steak — who am I kidding? My mother always served two vegetables with every meal, so that’s ingrained. I also love to eat out, particularly sushi or Italian. Luckily I’m not a huge dessert guy, but don’t get me near a vanilla milkshake. I’m not that strong.
CAROL: How do you stay in shape?
ERIC MCCORMACK: I’ve worked out (in LA) with the same trainer for over 10 years. He’s great at mixing it up between weights and pilates and sit ups. Oy… Sit ups. I see him three times a week. For cardio, I run for half an hour almost every day, and during the summers in Vancouver, I bike everywhere.
CAROL: Has having a child changed your lifestyle?
ERIC MCCORMACK: If it doesn’t, you have too many nannies. For me, what changed was the reasons I did what I did: rather than exercising and eating right just to look good on camera, I was suddenly doing it so I’ll still be around to see my grandkids.
CAROL: You sang the American and Canadian national anthems at NHL All-Star Games, and a song for Will & Grace. How often do you sing now, even if it’s for no one else to hear? What does it bring to you?
ERIC MCCORMACK: I sing constantly, much to my son’s chagrin. It both calms and energizes me. I’ve sung on Broadway; I’ve sung in front of 18,000 people with Elton John’s band. I’ll karaoke at the drop of a hat. I might even knock that hat out of your hand. Singing is a huge part of me.
CAROL: You may agree that humour, and being able to laugh at yourself, is vital to keep life in perspective. When have you used humour to keep balance in your life?
ERIC MCCORMACK: Again, I use it constantly — even to a fault. For example, it’s hard to answer questions like these without joking. I love funny people, and I love to make people laugh. It’s how I courted my wife, and it’s pretty much how I get through life.
CAROL: You came from a typical Ontario family background, other than your father being an aspiring actor and a financial analyst. What made you choose acting as a career; how did it get you through high school; and why do you think that you succeeded in “making a go of it” when so many others don’t?
ERIC MCCORMACK: At the risk of sounding pretentious, acting chooses you. This is who I am, and it always has been. High school? Forget it. Without the plays and musicals I did, I never would have lasted. Talking about success, who knows? All I know is that I scored the part on Will & Grace after working for 15 years in theatre and television in both countries. Nothing fell into my lap.
CAROL: Actors are right up there with politicians in having to endure direct criticism from media and sometimes the masses. How do you deal with that emotionally, especially when you know that you tried your best?
ERIC MCCORMACK: Well, of course, alcohol is a key. Aside from that, it just takes time to build a thick skin. I’ve spent years reading crappy reviews; you have to keep reminding yourself that it’s just one person and that person didn’t hire you. And for every blogger who hates you, there is someone else who doesn’t have a blog who loves what you do.
CAROL: Charity work is important to you. Why did you decide to support Project Angel Food?
ERIC MCCORMACK: Angel Food feeds people living with AIDS/HIV and other diseases in the LA area. We were introduced to the organization in the first season of Will & Grace and my wife Janet began delivering meals for them. Now she’s on the Board. I have hosted a lot of events for Angel Food, and we try to give to them as best as we can. They’re a terrific organization.
CAROL: Cancer research has also been a focus: you support Multiple Myeloma research. But other types of cancer became more closely linked to your family?
ERIC MCCORMACK: My mom and dad are both gone now, Mom from bladder cancer in 2006, and Dad from prostate cancer two years later. They were an awful, awful couple of years. My mom, Doris also fought and beat breast cancer in the 1980s.
A few years before her death, she was honoured by the Lifetime Network in LA at a luncheon. She was so nervous, but amazingly funny and poised. We went for a drink at the Polo Lounge afterward, and there was only one other person on the patio: Oprah. She came over and said, “Hi,” then gave my mom a big hug! It was an incredible day.
Months after she passed away, I was honoured by the Multiple Myeloma Foundation in Connecticut, and I took my dad to the event. It was a way for both of us to honour my mom’s memory.
Cancer is cancer. It’s horrible no matter what part of you it’s attacking.
CAROL: Discussing your most famous role, you said that other than the gay aspect, your character was very much like you in real life. Did the gay aspect ever get in the way?
ERIC MCCORMACK: Honestly? No. Will was a joy to play. And while there are a few producers with a limited imagination out there, Will being gay has rarely got in the way of me playing other parts.
CAROL: We all know that stage performances offer an audience that film and TV don’t. Is there anything that TV work offers that isn’t in live theatre?
ERIC MCCORMACK: Besides the huge discrepancy in salaries? For me, it’s a smorgasbord, and I love it all. I need variety. I need the size of live performance and the sound of a crowd, and I need the intimacy and detail that comes with drama on film. They are opposite mediums, but if you’re doing it right, they both feel real.
CAROL: You received a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2010. Do you still feel Canadian, since you work in the US so much?
ERIC MCCORMACK: That was very exciting. It was in my hometown, Toronto. My wife is Canadian, and my closest friends are Canadian; no matter how much the U.S. has given me, my heart will always be in Canada.
CAROL: You spent the 1980s in theatres, including the Stratford Festival reciting Shakespeare, and made your Broadway debut in the title role of The Music Man. What was it like doing theatre again in Glengarry Glen Ross in 2010?
ERIC MCCORMACK: It was a hugely successful production in Vancouver, and I loved it. But theatre’s off the table for a little while.
CAROL: What’s in store for the future, after Perception?
ERIC MCCORMACK: My director pal, Shawn Alex Thompson, and I are shopping around our adaptation of Linwood Barclay’s No Time For Goodbye as a feature. If that doesn’t work, there’s always tarot card reading.