PASADENA, Calif. -- You can take the boy out of Canada, but you can't take Canada out of the boy. At least that little bromide has proven right for Eric McCormack. The star of "Will & Grace" knows what it is to be a household name, but he never let it go to his head.
The difference, he guesses, may be his Canadian roots.
"It's bred in us. 'Don't get too big for your britches. Anybody can do what you do. Don't think you're all that!' It's just in our culture," he shrugs.
"And I married a very Canadian girl. She wouldn't let me get away with stuff. You realize you want to be a positive example for your child. You can't expect them not to get spoiled if you're acting spoiled. If you expect the world to be at your feet, that's what they're going to see."
Not only does he maintain his equilibrium at home, he does it at work, too. In fact, McCormack is one actor who sometimes disqualifies himself for a role. 'When you're a theater actor you think you can play anything," he says, easing into a blue chenille sofa in a hotel room here.
"But when you go to some television or film auditions and you realize there's somebody better for that than me: 'He's a football player, it's better that they get a bigger guy.' So you start to almost typecast yourself; trying to figure out where can I do the best work? How can I walk into a room and knock 'em dead? I don't limit myself. But I try to keep a real sober view of reality," he says.
"I read a part and go, 'I wouldn't want to see me in this part -- I'd rather see so-and-so.' That's not to say I wouldn't do it if I was offered it, but I try not to get an unrealistic view of myself in the business. Part of you has to be a business man and understand where you fit in."
Fitting in is a heady challenge for McCormack as he approaches his latest role. He plays a schizophrenic neuroscientist who aids the police on some of their more complex crimes on TNT's new "Perception," premiering Monday. Even there, McCormack had his doubts.
"My only hesitation about this part was: I don't want the press to go, 'Here we go -- (sigh) another crime drama.' I wanted to make sure that the characters were at the forefront, that the writers had a long-term plan for how the character was going to remain interesting. I don't think I'm cut out for a 'CSI' or 'Law & Order' every week. I need something else. And that's definitely what you're going to see. This is not a procedural because this character breaks procedure every time he walks into a room," says McCormack.
"This is a character who's always trying to figure out what makes someone tick. Literally tick, up here (pointing to his head). Which is why he can sometimes diagnose things that others might've missed. And that's what we're supposed to do as actors. We're supposed to be looking objectively. 'And what is it about this guy? Why did I get this part? What am I going to bring to this that the other guy didn't walk into the room with?' "
In spite of his familiar face, McCormack still does his own grocery shopping and has been married to the same woman for 15 years. He's the father of an almost-10-year-old son who loves basketball.
He thinks many Hollywood marriages fail "because there's an unnaturalness to it. If I went home and argued with my wife tonight, I might say to her, 'Today, hundreds of people loved me. And tonight you're pissed at me. People gave me the impression they loved me and all these people for the network ...' It's not fair. It's not fair to the spouse because of the adoration that comes from the public or the attention that comes from where you work. It's unnatural. And actors often lose themselves in that and then they go home and forget that they have another job to do."
McCormack is on yet another job. He's currently on Broadway playing the villain in "The Best Man." To do that was a sacrifice for his family, he acknowledges.
"It always comes down to the family. It's just not convenient at all for the family so it's gotta be something that absolutely I cannot say 'no' to. And a short run. And I said no to a lot of things, and this one I went to my wife and said, 'Look at that cast, are you kidding me?' She said, 'Go.' She read the play and said, 'You gotta do it.' "
Coping with the separation is not as hard as it used to be, he says. "Technology is on our side. We can Facebook, Tweet and Skype and we'll get together during spring break. My son's old enough to understand now that his dad pursued his passion and made it his life. He's an example of someone doing what they love. I hope, even though we're apart, that he can say, 'You didn't give up your dreams so you could be at home.'
"You have to find a balance," he sighs.