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Michael Weatherly talks ‘Bull’ and moving on from ‘NCIS’

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Michael Weatherly returns to TV after NCIS with new series, 'Bull' – Sep 20, 2016

After a 13-year run on one of the most popular TV shows in the world, NCIS, series star Michael Weatherly decided to try something new.

That “something new” is Bull, a legal comedy-drama in which Weatherly is the lead. His character, Dr. Jason Bull (that’s right, doctor), has a special ability to read people, most specifically members of the court. Bull can tell if someone is biased, bigoted or outright desensitized to the proceedings, and help out his employers as necessary.

Bull is known for using his remarkable insight, three PhDs, and a top-notch team of experts to create winning strategies that tip the scales of justice in his clients’ favour. It’s kind of like the House of the courtroom.

READ MORE: Michael Weatherly leaving NCIS after 13 seasons

The series is inspired by the early career of Dr. Phil McGraw (yes, that Dr. Phil) during his days as head of a trial-consulting law firm.  Weatherly is ecstatic to finally lead a show. Global News spoke to an excited, talkative Weatherly about the big transition, and the gigantic life lesson he’s learned playing Bull.

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Global News: So, Jason Bull. Tell us more about this guy.
Michael Weatherly: As we were shooting the pilot … I was really into Marcello Mastroianni as Guido in Fellini’s 8 1/2 at the time. That’s what was in my head when I was reading the script for Bull. The incredible thing about Guido is it’s a guy who’s the centre of this circus, but he’s very passive in his interactions. He’s waiting for everything to crystallize and is haunted by nightmares. Fellini creates a really rich inner life, which is what I started to dream about for Bull.

My version of Bull in my head is very different. Other people might think he’s manipulative or some kind of Machiavelli, but I saw him more like a film director, waiting for the movie to come together.

Another journalist asked if Bull is an a**hole, but you’re saying no, he’s more of an orchestrator.
Yes. What I didn’t say to that journalist is we project ourselves onto Bull [laughs]. I didn’t want to let the journalist know that he’s the a**hole.

Does his physical look have anything to do with his ability to read people?
What Bull is doing with the glasses and the cardigan and everything else … he has a light scruff. He’s more aware than anyone about how he’s presenting himself. If he needs to be adversarial, he’ll be adversarial. If he needs to be vulnerable and open, if he needs to crack open his rib cage so you can see his beating heart, he’ll do that. But it’s all to an end. There’s always a reason.

At the end of the first episode, he gets challenged by someone, who says to him, “Stop trying to figure people out.” He responds, “I wish I could.” He’s a junkie for human behaviour, and can’t stop trying to figure out why we do the things we do.

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WATCH BELOW: ET Canada visits the set of Bull

I feel like you have endless stories for this show.
Oh, they’re putting together really great stories for Bull. In the world we live in today, there are so many ambiguities and challenges: Date rape on a college campus, pilot error vs. mechanical malfunction, the rhetoric of Donald Trump and fear-mongering. All times are interesting, but these are acutely interesting times, and Bull is a show about human behaviour in a time when understanding human behaviour is critical.

In every episode, do we meet a brand-new jury?
It’s brand new. It’s a new group of people every episode, but sometimes it’s not as focused on the jury. It might be focused on the witness or defendant prep, or finding the story. What’s the narrative people want to hear? I got to sit with Steven Spielberg for a couple hours last week, what an amazing guy. He’s so excited about this pilot, which is why he put his name on it.

What’s the Dr. Phil tie-in here? At first, I thought you were playing Dr. Phil.
That’s where you turn the obstacle into the opportunity. In fact, Dr. Phil McGraw has 2,500 episodes of weird human behaviour. [Laughs] Like, the girls who are identical twins, one’s a Democrat, one’s a Republican, one’s a lesbian, the other is straight … they marry identical twin brothers who have the same scenario, but flipped. Whatever f**ked up thing, you couldn’t write it because it’s so unimaginable.
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Then, as you hear more about it, you start to understand the story, what drives it. The great thing about having Spielberg involved is he’s connected to human behaviour and psychology. He has an understanding of the triggers and mechanisms inside human beings.

READ MORE: Global TV 2016-2017: New TV shows include Bull, MacGyver, The Blacklist: Redemption

That’ll help bring in the audience even more, right?
Humans have, embedded in our unconscious minds, a need for archetypes. We will slavishly and unconsciously fall into these roles. Bull is about illuminating that; it’s not just a law show. At the end of every episode, you should be like, “Huh!”

What have you learned playing this character? Can you walk down the street and figure people out?
More than anything, I’ve learned that I’m not very good at that. [Laughs] I think the most important thing I’ve learned on my Bull adventure was that moment, the first day on set. I wasn’t seeking validation or approval. The character didn’t need that, I realized that I didn’t need that.
When I started on NCIS, I was 34 years old, coming out of a relationship that was coming apart at the seams, and I was a little insecure about my place in the world. I didn’t feel whole. That [NCIS] insecure character came out of that place, so the revelation to me has been: Bull is going to teach me a lot, but the first lesson is you don’t need anybody’s approval. Know what you know, and own that.
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‘Bull’ premieres on Tues., Sept. 20 at 9 p.m. on Global TV.

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