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McDermott brings star power to 'The Grid'

Ex-'Practice' actor plays FBI agent in miniseries about terrorism
/ Source: The Associated Press

“I hesitate to call it entertainment,” Dylan McDermott says about “The Grid,” a new TNT miniseries about the worldwide threat of terrorism.

“It’s intriguing. It’s a deep and thoughtful piece and you really have to sit there and deal with a lot of different things, and you are instilled with some fear.”

Best known as crusading lawyer Bobby Donnell on ABC’s “The Practice,” McDermott plays FBI agent Max Canary in this six-episode drama premiering 9 p.m. EDT July 19.

It also stars Julianna Margulies, an Emmy winner as nurse Carol Hathaway on NBC’s “ER,” in the role of National Security Council Deputy Director Maren Jackson, who heads up a counterterrorism mission following a sarin gas incident in London.

Playing British agents in the series, which TNT produced with the BBC, are Jemma Redgrave and Bernard Hill. Another British actor, Alki David, portrays Muhammad, the terrorist ring leader.

McDermott admired the script for depicting villains, who, just like the good guys, have “lives.” He also was intrigued by the relationship Canary has with the wife of his best friend, who was killed in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center.

A look at how the world has changedExecutive producer Tracey Alexander says that ever since 9/11 she was interested in creating a drama about how the world has changed since then. She also was inspired by the format of “Traffic,” the movie and TV series that depicted the international drug trade from various viewpoints.

Alexander believes McDermott brings emotional power to his everyman role. “He personifies the anguish, fear and sadness a lot of people feel. Yet he has to continue to battle on,” she said.

Looking far from an everyman, despite casual clothes and facial stubble, McDermott talked about the series and his career choices in a recent interview.

The 42-year-old actor, who lives in Los Angeles with his wife and 8-year-old daughter, was looking forward to the next day: “Where I don’t have to be anywhere, show up, be responsible. That’s a rare thing.”

He starred on “The Practice” from 1997 to 2003 before being axed with some other original cast members in a cost-cutting move. He says it’s probably too soon to say if he’d be willing to jump into another full series if one was offered.

Although he returned to guest star on “The Practice” finale in May, he has no plans to appear on the offshoot “Boston Legal,” which premieres in the fall.

“I kind of like the idea of working, and stopping, and starting another project,” he says. “I am always attracted to real stuff. I don’t really go so much for the fantasy. I like everyday struggle ... How a guy gets through his day is always fascinating to me, because that’s how most people live, and that’s great drama.”

The value of on-screen escapeBut he recognizes the need for on-screen escapism, because “we all live in our bubbles of denial.”

Before becoming a TV star, McDermott had supporting roles in several major films, including Julia Roberts’ husband in “Steel Magnolias” and Clint Eastwood’s “In the Line of Fire” sidekick.

Since then, as a clear counterpoint to his honorable “Practice” image, McDermott played a shady character in the film “Wonderland,” and he does so again as a drugged-out undercover cop in the upcoming feature “Edison.”

Next year he has plans for a theater piece that was created for him by his stepmother, playwright Eve Ensler, who conceived “The Vagina Monologues” and has been an important mentor in his life and career.

McDermott is rarely comfortable watching himself on screen.

“I can sort of enjoy watching my bad-guy roles, because, maybe, I’m removed from it a little bit. But this guy (Canary) is maybe a bit closer to me, so it’s more difficult,” he says.

“I’ve learned I’m going to get the joy out of doing the work. I kind of wait for more joy to happen watching it, but it doesn’t work out that way. The pleasure is in doing it. That’s ultimately the whole thing.”