Will & Grace made Eric McCormack a star. In Alien Trespass, an homage to classically cheesy science-fiction flicks, he plays an astronomer named Ted Lewis who gets possessed by an alien marshal, Urp, after he crash-lands on Earth. McCormack spoke with Vulture recently about acting possessed, his son: the alien, and why Trust Me might be done for.
What are the keys to playing someone physically possessed?
I think my first instinct was to make him more alien, sounding like Mr. Spock, and [writer-director R.W. Goodwin] wanted more innocence — like a lilting, childlike inflection. So the image I used was that Urp is on another planet and has to steal a vehicle. And that vehicle happens to be my body. So the walk, the hands, the voice, and of course the erection that keeps happening, those were all just somebody trying to understand a machine that it needs to get around.
How do modern science-fiction movies differ from their forerunners?
I think nowadays when we make science fiction we delve deeper, and the allegories are so much more dense. Back then, the allegory was pretty simple — it was terror from [the outside], whether it was McCarthyism, or the Cold War. Aliens represented everything we didn’t understand and were afraid of. I tried to approach Alien Trespass the way an actor in 1957 would have, because, in my mind, this movie was Midnight Run and Urp was the Robert De Niro character, carrying the bad guy from one galaxy to another.
Movie aliens often express childlike naïveté or innocence, and you have a son who’s almost 7. Is he at all like a little alien?
For sure, absolutely. When they’re little, you can’t believe they came out of your wife’s body, or your sperm. But when they get a little older, it becomes, “How did that sentence just come out of your mouth?” Was it society, was it television, something in class? The other day I was being sentimental with my son, and said, “I’m just glad you were born.” And he said (dispassionately), “Yeah.” And I said, “What, weren’t you glad you were born?” And he said, “Well, yeah, because otherwise I’d just be sitting with God, doing nothing!” And I thought, “What a concept! Sitting there, just waiting to go to Earth.” But I knew that specific image was his own — nothing I or my wife had ever said.
A couple years removed from Will & Grace, have people stopped assuming that you’re actually gay?
Well, early on, the publicity department at NBC made a big thing of it: “Isn’t this cool, he’s not really gay, he’s acting!” So that hasn’t so much been a big deal. With folks that think that, it’s actually more about how television shapes people’s minds. They’re so keen to believe what’s on the small screen, and that that’s who you are.
Is Trust Me officially done, and will you be returning to network TV?
They haven’t officially made a decision on a second season for Trust Me, but it’s not looking too good. I was very proud of it, but I don’t think enough people showed up. And I did just shoot a pilot for ABC [with Scrubs’ Tad Quill]. It’s as yet untitled and I can’t really talk about it, but it’s done, and funny, and we’ll see what happens with that.