June 24, 2013

It’s all a matter of ‘Perception’

Posted in Between Us column, Entertainment, Health, Television at 5:34 pm by dinaheng

How we see the world depends on our point of view. On TNT’s hit drama “Perception,” Dr. Daniel Pierce is a professor of neuroscience and a paranoid schizophrenic, who sees the world in ways that help the FBI solve crimes.

Pierce, played by Eric McCormack, has a brilliant mind, able to see patterns that most of us don’t. At the same time, he experiences hallucinations that cause him to behave in odd, irrational ways.Dinah Eng

“Initially, the challenge for me was to get it right, to portray the mental disorder with its symptoms correctly, and to get the neuroscience right,” says McCormack, perhaps best known for his roleas Will in NBC’s “Will and Grace.” “I also wanted to make the character someone you want to spend time with. Reading Elyn Sach’s book, ‘The Center Cannot Hold,’ really helped me achieve that.”

The show, which starts its second season at 10 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday, June 25 has been acclaimed for bringing the issue of schizophrenia to light, and putting a human face on a condition that is not easily understood.

Through the character of Pierce, viewers have met an intelligent, unpredictable crime solver who has an underlying vulnerability and warmth that all can relate to. Despite the professor’s fears and need to cling to his Sony walkman, inside, he wants the love and approval we all want.

Eric McCormack plays Dr. Daniel Pierce on TNT's "Perception." Photo courtesy of ABC Studios/Trae Patton.

Eric McCormack plays Dr. Daniel Pierce on TNT’s “Perception.” Photo courtesy of ABC Studios/Trae Patton.

“Mental illness is the great unknown,” McCormack says. “It’s one of the last taboos —  after race, the sexual revolution and sexual orientation — the one thing we’re afraid of. To the guy on the street, muttering to himself; in his mind, someone exists. He could be your father or your brother.

“When someone picks up a gun and kills several people, we say he’s crazy, like the act  couldn’t have been avoided. But it could have been, with more attention. We need more compassion for those who are mentally ill.”

The audience drawn to this show is an intelligent one, he notes, wanting mysteries that have an extra twist and turn. The hero, in this case, is not just a damaged man, but a complex, passionate person whose battles often mirror our own.

McCormack gives some clues to what’s in store for Pierce this season beyond solving more crimes with FBI Special Agent Kate Moretti (Rachel Leigh Cook), who’s also his  former student. At the end of last season, Pierce struggled with whether to take medication for his disorder, and discovered that his imaginary best friend Natalie Vincent (Kelly Rowan) was based on Dr. Caroline Newsome (also played by Rowan), a  woman he’d developed an infatuation with while in college who is now Pierce’s psychiatrist.

“Beyond solving a crime, Pierce is now navigating a love life with his disorder,” McCormack says. “A lot of people have responded to the Pierce/Moretti relationship, but it’s a risk with the teacher-student relationship. Now that he has Caroline, he’s facing that question of ‘What if you could have your fantasy girl? Which would you choose?’ “

Tune in to “Perception” on TNT to find out.

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