How would you describe your character in Perception?
Donnie Ryan is the estranged husband of Kate Moretti, played by the lovely Rachael Leigh Cook. He is a lawyer who returns to Chicago for work, although it soon becomes clear there are other motivations behind his return to the city. The split between Kate and Donnie was down to some mistakes made by Donnie; it was his fault. And when he turns up in Chicago, Kate isn't pleased to see him.
How does the audience first meet Donnie Ryan?
In the first introductory episode to the character, you see Donnie at work as a district attorney. When you first meet him, you'll see the lengths he's willing to go to in order to win; even at the expense of good people. In this case, it's at the expense of Daniel Pierce [played by Eric McCormack]. There are distinct challenges to a character like this because he immediately does things that the audience will struggle with. In the beginning, it's hard for them to root for Donnie. It's hard for them to like him ? and thus begins this tale of attempted redemption for the character. Whether he makes it to the end of his journey of redemption is yet to be seen.
How much do you enjoy playing this character?
It's been very fun to play a deeply flawed person, who ? on the surface ? is attempting to be a better person. It's a very interesting story to tell. One of the first shows I ever did for any length of time was Party Of Five. On that show, my character, Bailey, was so earnest. He would strip himself bare for everyone to see. Ever since then, I've always gravitated towards characters that were murkier. I like characters where you don't really know who they are, you don't know what they are capable of and you don't really know what they want. That's definitely the case here because you don't know Donnie's history. The fact that he hurt Kate and has caused their marriage to be broken says something about who he is.
How does it feel to join such a successful crime drama in its second season?
Coming on to a very successful show with actors who give great performances week in and week out, I felt like I wanted to sing along with the song that's already being sung. But at the same time, I wanted to bring something new and I wanted to add a great dynamic to the show. Hopefully the audience will let that happen.
How do you think UK audiences will react to your character?
The writers have given the characters of Kate and Donnie great material that allow everyone to see, know and feel what these two meant to each other, so I hope the audience will eventually see this in the two of them. It's difficult to root for people to be together when you join a relationship after it's broken; especially when all you see is the antagonistic side of who they are to each other. In this case, on the surface there's that antagonism and Donnie willfully accepts his role as a punching bag because he hopes Kate will punch herself out at some point. But underneath it all, there's a common sense of humour and they share a passion for justice. Even though they banter, I think you're able to see that they have a real understanding of each other. In a way, they are jousting ? but underneath, there's something worth fighting for.
How much of Kate's verbal beatings can Donnie handle?
When Donnie takes a verbal beating from Kate, I think there's a deep connection and an understanding of what these characters mean to each other. It becomes a really cool tale of this imperfect life and how there's no such thing as black and white, or good and bad, or open and closed. When you see these two characters together for the first time in the show, you really don't expect them to have any chance of being together again ? but that winds up being a possibility as we move forward.
What else can you tell us about Season Two of Perception?
As always, there will be some pretty intricate and incredible cases. There will be psychological and emotional conditions that Daniel Pierce has to storm his way through. I'm the type of person who is really interested in psychology and criminal science, so I love working on this show. As an actor, I love the human stuff; I love working on the character and relationships ? but there's even more with Perception. Reading about the incredible cases on the show in the script every week ? and they are all real conditions; none of them are made up ? there's a really great psychological maze that the audience walks through with Daniel Pierce and these other characters. And now, on top of that, there's a disturbance in the form of Donnie Ryan who causes all kinds of interpersonal chaos. I think it brings a new side to Pierce and Moretti that audiences didn't see in the first season. The stakes have been raised for everybody, which has been a lot of great fun to work on.
How much of a fan of crime dramas are you?
I'm a big fan of crime dramas. I'm a huge fan of true crime and I read material about it all the time. It's always great fun to watch a well-written suspenseful crime drama like this ? but the thing that sets Perception apart is the fact that the stories become so deeply personal. Part of this is because Eric McCormack is so sensitive as a performer and as a character that his cases take on a really personal feeling. It's not just a case of who killed whom; there are often huge personal ramifications for the central characters and for the characters that come in and out of the story. There's so much at stake psychologically and emotionally for people throughout the story that it feels like it hits emotional feelings that similar shows don't hit. I think that's what appealed to me the most about the show. That's one of the things that makes the show so much fun to watch. There's suspense and there's mystery, but it's also very easy to become emotionally attached to the story.
What's it like to work with Eric McCormack on the show?
It's ridiculously great. Eric is one of the loveliest guys I've ever been around ? both at work and not at work. As the leader of the cast, and also as a producer on the show, he has a lot of influence and he's the most generous and passionate captain that you could hope for. He's deeply talented, so playing scenes with him is a joy. I couldn't be happier on the show.
Interview by Adam Tanswell