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Finally free of the suit and tie

Dylan McDermott hopes `The Messengers' makes fans forget about his role on `The Practice.'

February 09, 2007|Ellen McCarthy | Washington Post

"The Messengers" is Dylan McDermott's first movie to hit theaters since he was canned from his gig playing a goodly lawyer on ABC's "The Practice."

Gosh, how many years has it been? "I don't know. I think I blocked it out," McDermott says with an exasperated laugh. "I think it's three or four."

Not that he hasn't been working on other projects in those intervening three or four years. McDermott actually made four films during that stretch.

"Yeah, but they haven't come out," he concedes. "So do they count? I don't know."

"The Messengers," an American gothic horror flick, hasn't exactly gotten glowing reviews, but it opened No. 1 at the box office last weekend, generating $14.7 million in ticket sales. Which for the moment is maybe enough for McDermott, because he knows that if nothing else, "it's a good thing for people to see me again."

They're seeing him playing a father who moves his family to a sunflower farm in North Dakota to prevent his teenage daughter from getting into wrong-crowd trouble in Chicago. The farm turns out to be haunted.

Talk of McDermott's career since "The Practice" is punctuated by breathy sighs. He was on the show for seven years. He made about 150 episodes. His blue eyes and square jaw showed up in family rooms week after week before his salary got so high he was written off the series. And now, when he walks down the street, people sometimes still call him Bobby.

Which wouldn't be bad news, except: "They make up their minds; they say, 'Oh, that's who he is -- that's it -- the guy in the suit running around.' So it's kind of my job to break down those doors and re-create."

A feat that has turned out to be more difficult than initially expected. McDermott, 45, had a respectable film career before "The Practice" (playing Julia Roberts' fiance in 1989's "Steel Magnolias" and Clint Eastwood's partner in 1993's "In the Line of Fire"). But it wasn't a particularly exhaustive one that might have pushed him into the American consciousness as an all-purpose actor. So although William Shatner can surely stop being Denny Crane anytime he wants, McDermott's Bobby Donnell has been harder to shake.

Busing tables as a kid in New York, McDermott remembers waiting on actors such as John Belushi, seeing the way the world treated them differently, the attention they were given.

"I was like, 'Oh, my God, how do I get that?' And I linked up pleasure with that moment -- 'OK, it's really pleasurable to be an actor,' " he recalls thinking. "And I'll tell you something -- that was really important, because I never paid attention to all the negatives, the odds."

But, of course, the special attention at restaurants didn't turn out to be fulfilling. Neither are the reruns of "The Practice," which he can't stand to watch.

"I always thought it was about the result of looking at the complete picture when it was all done," he says. "Then I realized the only pleasure I get now is in the doing of it, in the moment -- and that's it."

And what he's going to be doing next isn't yet clear.

"I'm just kind of waiting, you know. I don't want to do the wrong thing. I'd rather do nothing than do the wrong thing," he says. "If it takes me two years, five years, I don't care. I'm gonna hold out."

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