Earlier this year, Michael Weatherly announced that he was leaving his role as the beloved Tony DiNozzo on NCIS after 13 seasons. It wasn’t long before a new project was unveiled: Weatherly was the lead in CBS drama Bull, inspired by Dr. Phil’s early days as part of a highly successful trial consulting firm.
Michael Weatherly chatted with some international journalists last month to debrief us on his leading role as Dr. Jason Bull. Here’s what you need to know about Bull before tonight’s premiere on Global in Canada, and CBS in the US.
There is a fine balance between playing the smugness of a character like Dr. Jason Bull and still being likeable to the viewers. Weatherly mused, “Bull, from the outset, is a totally fascinating conceit. When you have a master of behavioral analysis or psychology, that means that that person knows what you will be thinking as you see them. So being smug for instance may just be what Bull presents to create the perception of how you will react to a smug person. We just did a scene where I got to play Bull as a kind of ‘Hey, sorry to bother you. I just had to – I came in to do this thing.’ It was a studied underplay, almost a Columbo-like thing of getting somebody to underestimate your strength, to pull them out a little bit, and get them to reveal themselves.”
Weatherly also commented on Executive Producer Steven Spielberg’s role in making sure they got Bull right. “After doing the pilot, I got to sit down with Spielberg which was a huge bucket list moment. I got to talk to him about the scene work in Bull and the emotional resonance of the character. It was of primary importance to Steven that Bull be vulnerable, compassionate, empathetic and emotionally connected to the people that he is trying to help.”
It’s no coincidence that this show is called Bull, since Dr. Jason Bull’s main job is to get the truth out of people, and that dynamic is established from the series premiere. “[In the first episode], a young man is covering and coming to terms with his sexual orientation, and is afraid of his father’s judgment of that. It’s interesting the lies we’ll tell even when it’s going to hurt us to protect something that we think is a bigger secret. When I was doing that scene, I didn’t realize that I was proxy dad to this boy. The therapist part of Bull is somebody who says, ‘You are in a safe place. You can say anything you want, and I am here to help you. But I can’t help you if you don’t tell me everything.’ That’s the show. Every week we have different people that are lying for different reasons, or obfuscating, or being shady, and might even be presumed guilty by some of the audience, and our job is to say, ‘Here are our biases.'”
Weatherly shared that it was an easy transition from playing DiNozzo to the lead on Bull. “It has been very comfortable to step into Bull, and it is a dream to play a titular character. I’d be totally disingenuous if I didn’t say that that was fantastic. DiNozzo had a deep-seated insecurity about him. His tomfoolery and his sense of humor — which was a delight — came from his need to perform and get validation and approval. Bull has none of that, but he has a sense of humor, and his sense of humor comes from a deep understanding of why something is funny. As I have gotten older my sense of humor has shifted somewhat, so it was a very natural transition for me.”
Since Weatherly is playing a character based on Dr. Phil McGraw early on in his career, of course he was going to sit down and chat with the man himself. And Weatherly admits that Dr. Phil got into his head a bit. “You become very self-conscious around somebody who is an expert in human behavior, self-proclaimed or not. It doesn’t matter. Some of the intimidation of Phil is that he is a physically imposing guy. He locks eyes on you like a barracuda, and he listens in a funny way. You start to hear what you are saying, and then you start to question what you are saying, and then you start to think you shouldn’t have said that. In those moments, he’s learned everything he needs to know about the degree of confidence you have and certainty you have about this, that or the other. He is fascinating.”
Photo Courtesy of CBS