Near the end of shooting the first season of ‘Travelers,’ his century-hopping sci-fi series, Eric McCormack was recruited for another bit of time-travel: the revival of ‘Will & Grace.’ It started as a stealthy reunion in 2016 for a get-out-the-vote video a decade after the sitcom’s finale. And suddenly, what he’d long vowed he would never do was actually happening.
In Netflix’s ‘Travelers,’ now in its third season, McCormack plays Traveler 3468, part of an army of humans from a post-apocalyptic Earth whose consciousnesses have been beamed into current-day bodies — the better to save humanity while savouring 21st-century fast food.
And in ‘Will & Grace,’ now in its second season (and renewed for a third), he’s back as gay lawyer Will Truman, once again sharing his Manhattan apartment with his best sparring partner, interior designer Grace Adler (Debra Messing). And though Will has taken on a Columbia teaching gig and the occasional naughty suitor, he’s grappling with the meaning of middle-age singledom.
McCormack, 55, divides his working year between Vancouver, British Columbia, where ‘Travelers’ is shot, and Universal City, California, for ‘Will & Grace.’ In a call from his home in Los Angeles, gazing at the Christmas tree he’d just decorated with his wife, Janet, and their 16-year-old son, Finnigan, McCormack spoke about reconnecting with his dramatic side in ‘Travelers,’ and the pleasures of playing two very different leading men. Here are edited excerpts from the conversation.
Q: What’s it like bouncing between such different characters?
A: I went into this wanting to be a dramatic actor. My first eight years in the business were mostly Shakespeare and dramas. ‘Will & Grace’ came out of a whole other instinct that kicked in in my early 30s, where suddenly I’m watching ‘Cheers’ and ‘Seinfeld’ and ‘Friends.’ And I’m like, ‘Where’s this for me?’
But when it was over 12 years ago, I thought, I’ve got to go back to this other thing, not just because I miss it, but because it’s going to take a while to convince people that I still have that side of me, too. I’m seesawing back and forth and loving it. One side of it is just me using all of my energy [as Will Truman] and the other side is me suppressing all of that energy into a kind of Michael Douglas leading man that took me a while to get to.
Q: I’ve read that you and your wife were so wary of a Trump presidency that you considered moving to Canada full time. And yet you didn’t. Are you less nervous now?
A: No, I don’t feel less nervous. I’m a very hopeful person. I believe in a one-term president, but I don’t know. We are dual citizens. We’ve been living in this country for a long time, and we’ve contributed a lot, and so what happens in 2020 matters. But we can still at the same time say we’re proud Canadians.
Q: ‘Will & Grace’ has its political moments. But Max Mutchnick, one of its creators, said the show is never going to be motivated by what’s on the cover of The Times. How do you keep things current?
A: The news changes so much that trying to do jokes about that seems almost futile now. However, we just did a #MeToo episode for Grace, which turned out to be an incredibly moving thing, and I’m doing one in which I’m trying to give my blood to someone that needs my type, and when he hears I’m gay he doesn’t want it. So it’s looking at the fact that for all the changes in the world and all the Will and Graces, it doesn’t matter. The stigma still exists. And Will has a couple of great scenes about how this fight is tiring. How long do we have to educate people? How long do we have to stand up for ourselves before we don’t have to convince somebody to bake our freakin’ cake?
Q: And yet the show is also rather revolutionary, isn’t it, in that it looks at four New York singles in midlife? Usually that’s a young person’s game.
A: We can tell all the dating stories, except it’s not the second season of ‘Friends.’ When somebody who’s 50 decides not to pursue something or gets their heart broken, there’s not lot of fish left in the sea, so it has more meaning.
Q: Do you ever feel the urge to just let it rip?
A: In the early days, we were actually too careful: the decision in 2001 not to do a 9/11 episode, the decision to say, ‘We’re not the right show for that, in our little ‘Will & Grace’ New York.’ And now it feels disingenuous not to include either a serious episode or just really smart jokes about some of the awful (expletive) that’s going on. We’re older people now. We can be cranky and we can say what we’re feeling and we don’t have to tiptoe around.
Don’t miss it!
Travelers is streaming on Netflix.