TORONTO – “That’s where my parents were married,” says Eric McCormack, pointing out the window of his midtown luxury Toronto hotel suite to the 130-year-old stone Church of the Redeemer across the street.
It is a poignant reminder, if one were needed, of why the multifaceted actor has returned to his city of birth from his current home in Los Angeles.
McCormack was here Tuesday to lend his support to the Canadian Cancer Society’s upcoming Relay for Life – and for him the June fundraising event and what it could mean for defeating the disease in all its myriad forms is intensely personal.
“My mom beat breast cancer 25 years ago, but we lost her two years ago to bladder cancer, which is extremely ugly,” related McCormack. “And my father has been battling prostate cancer off and on for years.”
“We were very close,” he said of his mother, describing her as a wonderful and funny woman. “And she was always a fighter, but not in a public way. She was a very private woman and she beat cancer . . . and in the 25 years that followed she had a massive heart attack, she had a quadruple bypass, and she beat that.”
“And when she was diagnosed with bladder cancer, unfortunately it was all too late and there was only so much that they could do.”
“And we all miss her.”
While McCormack’s familiarity with cancer is all too close to home, he knows it is far from unique.
“You realize that everybody has a story … a mother, a father, a sister, a brother. It’s way too common, and I think we’ve become – I wouldn’t say apathetic – but I think it almost feels like it’s bigger than all of us and it’s something that’s always going to be here.”
“And there’s no reason to think that.”
Really? Why is he so optimistic?
“Do you know anybody with polio?” he asked, leaning forward on the suite’s blue-and-white striped sofa. “It’s because we beat it. Why shouldn’t my son at my age be talking about cancer like we talk about polio?”
That’s why, as he prepared to mark his 45th birthday on Friday – when he will “Weep. Quietly in a corner,” he said mock-seriously – McCormack wants to contribute his time to making sure his five-year-old son Finnigan doesn’t one day have to deal with the “scourge of our generation, of the last few generations.”
It is to that end, in part, that he’s helping to promote the Relay for Life, a month-long series of 12-hour team relays in 300 communities across Canada (as well as hundreds of others around the world) that hopes to raise $50 million in this country alone.
McCormack, who would like to take part in a Los Angeles relay if he isn’t tied up in filming his next movie, believes mobilizing the power of many will eventually help science wrestle cancer into submission for good.
As to what the film will be, he doesn’t yet know. “I’m waiting to find out and if I don’t get the role I’ll be free to participate,” either in L.A. or in Vancouver, where he and wife Janet have a condo and are building a house.
The couple, with Finnigan – yes, “named exactly for who you think,” Mr. Dressup’s canine puppet companion – split their time between the two west coast cities.
But his acting career could take him anywhere, and involve film, TV or stage, any of which would be fine with him.
“I love it all,” said McCormack, sporting jeans and a crisp khaki-brown shirt that sets off his California tan.
While perhaps best known for his Emmy-winning title role in television’s “Will & Grace,” which ended its eight-year run in 2006, the 1985 graduate of the theatre arts program at Toronto’s Ryerson University has trod the boards of stages on both sides of the Atlantic, from a five-year stint at Ontario’s Stratford Theatre to runs on Broadway and London’s West End.
His soon-to-be-seen projects include the upcoming A&E miniseries “The Andromeda Strain,” and this fall, he’ll star in a new series for TNT, “Truth In Advertising.”
The triple-threat actor (quadruple-threat actually, he also sings) tries to get back to Canada as often as his schedule will allow, and his father recently visited the family in California for five weeks. “He drove down, 77 years old and he drove by himself from Toronto to Los Angeles … he just wanted to drive.”
Keeping in touch has become even more important since he learned his father’s prostate cancer has “resurfaced and we’re fighting that again.”
And as he looked ahead to his birthday Friday, the day after he attends an L.A. housewarming party for Elton John and his partner David Furnish (a former Toronto high-school chum), McCormack conceded his family history of cancer is giving him some pause.
“Yes, sure. You know I talk about weeping on my birthday, and that’s part of it, not that it only strikes those who are getting older, but you know, with every passing year, it’s totally a worry.”
Still, he chooses to take a positive view.
“Fighting back against this disease, which does not have to continue year after year, I believe we can find a cure for this in our lifetime.”
“This is personal, not just for me, for everybody.”