Eric McCormack isn’t exactly sure where he lives. For a few years now, the four-time Emmy nominee (and one-time winner) has lived a double life: Half the year, he’s producing, directing, and acting in Netflix series “Travelers,” playing a badass time traveler who’s trying to save the world. The other half, of course, he’s gay lawyer Will of “Will & Grace,” a character whose appearance on broadcast television was groundbreaking in 1998, and continues on today thanks to the recent NBC revival.
Speaking by phone from his “Will & Grace” dressing room, McCormack credits his parallel lives to “the generosity of Netflix.” The launch of “Travelers,” which is produced in his native Canada, came before the 2016 “Will & Grace” short film that led to the eventual relaunch of the series in 2017.
“That Netflix said yes” to McCormack doing both series, he said, “is a great tribute to them. That NBC worked within those parameters is a tribute to them, too. So far, for two solid years now, I’ve done one ’til July 8 and then I start the other one about July 15. It’s been a very Jekyll-and-Hyde kind of process.”
Politically, he can’t help but notice the difference: “To see so much insanity happening down here and to get to spend some more time in my native country, it’s just been interesting. It’s a real dichotomy,” he said.
One thing that changed in the third season of “Travelers” is it no longer airs on Canadian broadcaster Showcase; it’s now strictly a Netflix original. “The first two seasons, we produced essentially for Canadian television and then they were broadcast on Netflix worldwide. This season, that broadcaster is no longer involved, so it’s strictly a Netflix show and we don’t have to do a separate, safe edit. We can just go right for the ‘fuck,’” he said.
McCormack said the Showcase partnership stemmed from the need for tax credits, which demanded Canadian broadcaster. So for seasons 1 and 2, “Travelers” episodes were 42 minutes long with no swearing allowed.
However, he added, “within a year of us starting, those rules changed, and essentially Peacock Alley, who’s the production company behind the show out of Toronto — that was enough, they could become their own broadcaster by the new rules.”
As director of the Season 2 finale and the Season 3 premiere, McCormack experienced the difference first-hand. “It’s not a giant thing, it’s a few words here and there. The hardest thing is, what do you cut out to get it down to network time? Which was ultimately out of my hands, but at the same time, [creator Brad Wright] would come and say, ‘I’ve basically written something that’s 45 minutes, so we’ll have to end up losing three for Canadian television.’ Whereas now to be able to write something that is going to be 49, 50, 52 minutes, it doesn’t really matter, that was different. To take my rough cut of the season premiere to Brad and know that any cuts or changes he would make would not be about time or rules as much as just what works, that was a really different thing.”
As a director, McCormack credited pilot director Nick Hurran for establishing a template that he could emulate. “The weirder the shot, the better. Tight on someone’s single eye, tight on their foot as it shakes. It frees you to tell the story in a lot less uniform and conformed kind of way. You suddenly realize that if you don’t take advantage of that as a director, you’re foolish because you may never get that kind of creative freedom again, at least in television.”
At for the long-term sustainability of this work schedule, McCormack laughed. “I think my wife’s asked me that question. I don’t know, I know I need a Christmas break, that’s for sure. But at the same time, I’m not great with vacations. I think this is when I’m happiest, and if I could do another year or two of both shows, that would be great. It is a crazy pace, but I’m really happy when I’m focused on something, and even happier if I’m focused on two things.”
While both of his shows are successful, they’re very different: While “Will & Grace” is a mainstream hit, the “Travelers” fanbase is dedicated and under the radar.
“It was very much a word-of-mouth show,” he said. “I think the best thing about television is when people can feel like their show is their show. I think that kind of ownership that people feel about television shows matters, and ‘Travelers’ particularly has that because they did discover it, nobody told them. They didn’t see a billboard and they didn’t read a whole lot about it. They might’ve seen my face and gone, ‘But that’s the guy from the gay show, I don’t understand.’”
McCormack said he’s not exactly a genre fan, but “I love the human side of the story, and I think that’s why we’ve attracted the fans we have. We’ve certainly got our share of sci-fi geeks and love them all, but we’ve also attracted a lot of other people that perhaps weren’t big sci-fi fans that are fans of the relationships, that are fans of the kind of espionage side of the show.”
“Travelers” has not yet been renewed for a fourth season, but “Will & Grace” will return for a third. “The gay lawyer, he is my dear pal,” he said. “Universal Studios is around the corner from my house. When I tell people how easy this job is, they say, “Come on, it’s gotta be … ” I say, no, ‘Will & Grace’ is like this beautiful little ‘Morning, Sam, morning, Ralph’ kind of job where you just punch in and we make each other laugh for a while, and I’m about a minute and a half from home. It’s crazy.“
”Will & Grace” is currently airing on NBC. “Travelers” is streaming now on Netflix.