By Kate O’Hare
In the feature film A Beautiful Mind, schizophrenic mathematician John Nash (Russell Crowe) goes against a doctor‚Äôs advice and decides to forgo his medication and use his intellect to deal with his symptoms, including vivid hallucinations.
In the TNT drama Perception, Eric McCormack plays neuroscience professor Dr. Daniel Pierce, who is also off his medication, instead using his hallucinations and paranoid delusions to help a former student, FBI agent Kate Moretti (Rachael Leigh Cook), solve crimes.
But Pierce‚Äôs symptoms and the behavior they cause also put him at risk ‚ÄĒ and the disruption caused by his crime-solving efforts just makes his symptoms worse.
‚ÄúHe‚Äôs not like anyone I‚Äôve ever played,‚ÄĚ says McCormack, talking in his trailer between scenes on the show‚Äôs set in a smaller city north of Los Angeles. ‚ÄúI‚Äôve been referring to it as A Beautiful Mind meets Columbo.‚ÄĚ
Pierce fears that the side effects of his medications erode his mental faculties.
‚ÄúThat‚Äôs actually one of the things that comes up in the pilot and in several episodes,‚ÄĚ McCormack says. ‚ÄúMaybe my disorder makes me who I am. Maybe this is part of me. So, that‚Äôll be a very big part of the season, when people start to ask, ‚ÄėHow can someone who knows so much ‚Ä¶ why can‚Äôt a physician heal himself? How can he not be on meds when he, as much as anyone, knows the value?‚Äô
‚ÄúI don‚Äôt want to become who I become [on meds]. I don‚Äôt want my senses dulled, even though I know it‚Äôs helping.‚ÄĚ
But, McCormack emphasizes, the show doesn‚Äôt advocate people not taking their prescribed medications.
‚ÄúA, he‚Äôs very high-functioning,‚ÄĚ he says of Pierce, ‚Äúand B, he‚Äôs the first one to tell ‚Ä¶ there‚Äôs an episode with a young schizophrenic whom he tells, ‚ÄėYou should be on meds.‚Äô It‚Äôs ‚ÄėDo what I say, don‚Äôt do as I do.‚Äô We don‚Äôt paint it as a brilliant choice on his part but rather as a personal choice that may or may not be the right one.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs a fine line that you walk. There‚Äôs no question that most schizophrenics should be on their meds, because it helps them. There‚Äôs no question that meds do take away something. In his case, he is high-functioning. He has found a way ‚ÄĒ not on his own, but with help from others ‚ÄĒ to stay on the straight and narrow. But when he‚Äôs too straight and narrow, he loses that thing that makes him special.‚ÄĚ
Among the ‚Äúothers‚ÄĚ is Max Lewicki (Arjay Smith), Pierce‚Äôs teaching assistant, who also functions as a kind of minder and valet, trying to keep Pierce on a routine that aids his stability. Max also has to cope with the disruption the cases cause, which McCormack says ultimately do more good than harm.
‚ÄúHis main job is to keep me on an even keel,‚ÄĚ says McCormack. ‚ÄúHe gets really upset when I go on these cases with [agent Moretti], but he realizes in a few episodes that these Rubik‚Äôs Cubes of mystery, of crimes, help.‚ÄĚ
Pierce uses his hallucinations as a tool in his crime-solving efforts. On this day, he‚Äôs watching an interrogation while having an illuminating chat with France‚Äôs St. Joan of Arc.
‚ÄúIn this particular episode,‚ÄĚ says McCormack, ‚Äúit‚Äôs a kid who is 16 who hears the voice of God. A cult has built around him. My character, he couldn‚Äôt be more atheist if he tried.
‚ÄúSo, the scientist comes face-to-face with this kid who truly believes God speaks to him. He‚Äôs such a sweet and Messiah-like kid that it rocks my character‚Äôs bedrock belief in nothing, or in science alone. They have this really interesting relationship.
‚ÄúAnd then I diagnose that he basically has what Joan of Arc had, which is temporal lobe epilepsy, which does cause you to feel that you‚Äôre hearing voices. But if you fix the temporal lobe epilepsy by removing the tumor, are you then taking God away? Not unlike, ‚ÄėIf I take my meds, am I taking my hallucinations away?‚Äô That‚Äôs the theme of the show: How much reality is too much?‚ÄĚ
Perception airs Mondays at 10pm ET on TNT starting July 9.
Credit: TNT/Jeremy Freeman