Rachael Leigh Cook happy to play FBI agent in Perception
NOT too long ago, actress Rachael Leigh Cook – best known for She’s All That (1999), a recurring role on Psych (2008-2010) and a slew of indie films – informed her agents and managers that she’d be open to starring in a television series. However, the actress added a few caveats.
“I said, ‘I don’t want to say “Freeze!” I don’t want to say “Stat!” I don’t want to say “Your Honour,”’ Cook recalls. “I said, ‘I don’t want to say any of that stuff. Those shows, have a whole lot of dialogue. They’re not really character pieces. That’s not really what I want to do. That’s not my thing.’ “To be honest, I was really looking at things wrong,” she admits. “I was completely wrong. Everything is about character as much as you make it about character. That’s the truth. So, if I was going to do a show that had any of that, it had to be one where the characters were the focus.
“I read several television scripts,” Cook continues, “and they had that. Also television became, page-for-page, better than all of the movie scripts I was reading, and I mean all. I don’t know what that says about the film scripts I was getting. I got the script for Perception, and it was not a difficult decision for me to want to pursue this show with everything I had.” Her pursuit paid off: Cook landed the female lead in Perception, which will premiered on Monday on TNT. Eric McCormack stars as Dr Daniel Pierce, a neuroscience professor whom the FBI calls in to help solve particularly complex cases. Cook plays Kate Moretti, a capable FBI agent who believes in Pierce despite the fact that he’s a paranoid schizophrenic prone to hallucinations.
Pierce prefers not to take his medications, because they dull his ability to see patterns in the actions and emotions of others. As a result, most of Kate’s colleagues barely tolerate his quirks, which include talking to himself and standing on chairs to sing. Adding to the intrigue, Kate once was one of Pierce’s top students and, as Kate’s father (Dan Lauria) inadvertently lets slip, had a major crush on the professor.
“Kate is a blast to play,” Cook says, speaking by telephone from the Los Angeles home she shares with her husband, actor Daniel Gillies, and several cats and dogs. “Let me just say that I’m from Minnesota, so I’m not an in-your-face person.
I’m not pushy. Those are pretty much the two worst things you can be where I’m from, and, not to pat myself on the back, but it’s just not who I am. Playing Kate, who’s a bit fearless, has made me feel more powerful as a person.
“What I like on the show is the balance we’re striking between case of the week and character development,” the actress says. “I am constantly trying to turn Perception into a comedy, because I’m a big fan of levity within shows that involve really serious, heavy crime stuff. That’s what we do, as people, with any serious situation. I think it’s realistic. Plus, if someone’s folding their laundry while watching the show, we’ve got to keep it light.” Cook praises McCormack’s quickness and subtlety, and promises that the Kate-Pierce relationship will play out naturally. Of course, she also invokes that cautionary tale called Moonlighting (1985-1989), which famously became a hit by playing off of the will-they-or-won’t-they chemistry of leads Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd... and then, after pairing them off in the show’s third season, went into a nose dive that led to its early demise. Pierce and Kate have plenty to sort through, the actress says, and it won’t be rushed.
“He’s older, she’s younger,” Cook says.
“He’s wrestling with his symptoms and trying to live as sanely as possible, and I’m trying to be as good an FBI agent as I can and impress him and trying not to develop feelings for him again. So there’s a lot going on in every scene.
“Do I want to see them together?,” she says. “I think that really would depend on his character’s condition. It’d be quite a conflict of interest. Moonlighting is famous because it happened too soon and the show ended.
Hopefully it’s a problem we’ll have the chance to worry about.” That’s Cook’s way of saying that she’d like to see Perception run a long time. Two seasons, three seasons or more? Bring ‘em on.
“Oh, man, in my heart I am so ready and hopeful,” Cook says. “At the risk of sounding pathetic, I’m going to grovel and try to get everyone I know – and don’t know – to watch this show. It was so gratifying for me and I really, truly do think that people will enjoy this hour of television that we’ve put together.” Cook first gained fame at 19, when she played a frying-pan-swinging teen in an installment of This Is Your Brain on Drugs, arguably the most effective anti-drug publicservice announcement ever produced. Then came She’s All That, a trio of guest shots on Dawson’s Creek (1999) and Josie and the Pussycats (2001), in which she played Josie to Pussycats Rosario Dawson and Tara Reid.
And then Cook, touted as Hollywood’s next big thing, practically dropped out of sight. She kept working – at 32 she has 70 film and television credits – but her indie films didn’t find audiences and her commercial films tanked at the box office.
Which was OK with her. Even while on the roller coaster, she says, she knew better than to entirely swallow the hype.
“When it’s happening, it’s completely surreal,” Cook says. “Then it’s so fleeting that you don’t really understand what you just survived, as it were, until much later. So in a way it was just a very small blip for me.
“I was always focused on ‘Where’s my next job?,”’ she continues. “I’m someone who loves to be busy. I’m glad that I didn’t feel the pressure to have a hit movie every year or anything like that. The beginning just felt like such an accident that I didn’t really try to recreate that. I was really lucky early on, and I feel like I’ve been busy earning my luck ever since then.” Even if many of her projects aren’t widely seen, Cook says, she has appreciated the experiences and the opportunities that have led her to Perception.
“I’ve wanted to do the most interesting roles I could get,” she says, “and the ones I got were always in independent films. So that’s where I’ve been making my home for the last 10 years, and very happily so, but when the bottom dropped out of the economy and the financial crisis hit, the independent-film market went with it.
That’s when I really started actively pursuing going into television.
“And, as I said, television had gotten radically better,” Cook concludes. “So it was a no-brainer to try to move in that direction, and here I am.”