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Actor of Will & Grace fame Eric McCormack paid a visit to School of Performance students to share his career advice and insights. Ryerson’s Peggy Shannon, chair of the school, led the discussion.
It wasn’t until his second year at Ryerson University that actor Eric McCormack, Theatre ’85, realized that he had inadvertently followed in his father’s footsteps.
Keith McCormack was a student of Radio and Television arts in the 1950s, much to the surprise of his son, who was never told of his dad’s acting aspirations. He found clippings from the student newspaper, The Ryersonian, in a family scrapbook tucked away in the attic, showing his dad on stage, as an acting student. The discovery that his father’s dreams had never been realized sat heavily with the younger McCormack — so much so that he never had a back up plan. “It was never an option for me to not do something in this business. I was never not going to make a living; [I would] act for two,” he said.
“Remember why you are here in this room today,” he told Ryerson’s School of Performance students on Monday, November 26, during a brief campus visit. “This is not a lark.”
This solemn anecdote aside, his talk was animated and punctuated with laughter as he recalled his early days at Ryerson when all School of Performance students were made to wear black tights in their first year. “We looked like Freddy Mercury crossing the street,” he said.
The “Will” to Debra Messing’s “Grace” in the hit sitcom Will & Grace, McCormack gained success as a television actor in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The show, now airing in a revival, was recognized as ground-breaking for LGTBQ characters on television. McCormack is simultaneously working on his newest series Travelers, where he says his fellow castmates are largely Canadian.
His success did not come without leaner years and time spent sleeping on a friend’s couch when auditioning in Vancouver, waiting for his first big television break. Some of his peers stayed behind to pursue theatre. Notable fellow alumni from McCormack’s class who went on to have illustrious theatre careers include former roommate Michael Healy (playwright of The Drawer Boy — winner of a Governor-General’s Award for drama — and television actor in This is Wonderland) and Guillermo Verdecchia (recipient of the Governor-General’s Award for Drama and four-time recipient of Chalmers Canadian Play Award).
McCormack remembered aspiring to work at the Tarragon Theatre and reminded students to “dream locally.” “Don’t just grab your degree and run,” he said. “This city is so amazing. You can make a difference.” He encouraged the students to be proud of their roots. “The world is looking to Canada now,” he said. “You don’t have to be afraid to tell Canadian stories.”
Hear McCormack talk about his experiences at Ryerson on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert.