|MacNicol's Spitting Image
by A. Saurine, Daily Telegraph, Australia, April 8, 1999
|As one of the oddball lawyers in Ally McBeal, there isn't much Peter MacNicol won't do -- whether it's
back-flips through the office or producing too much saliva when he kisses. But that doesn't mean he always
has to like it.
"I could have done without the saliva problem," MacNicol says. "People say it was very funny, but they
weren't the guy who had to perform it! But you're being given so much that's wonderful, you don't want to
stare back and pout."
MacNicol has a theatrical background, but he has also appeared in the TV series Chicago Hope and the films
Ghostbuster 2, Bean and Sophie's Choice.
A casting agent picked him to play a lawyer in Chicago Hope after seeing him in a Broadway play.
"After seeing me play a lawyer in Crimes of the Heart he [the agent] made the strange leap to thinking I'd
be suitable to play a very different kind of lawyer," MacNicol says.
"Television is just another stage. You still face an audience, the cameraman, grips, the director. They're
living, reacting beings who laugh when something's funny or look disappointed when something doesn't
work. You bring your energy down for TV but there is another kind of energy that has to burn just as brightly
-- it's an energy of concentration and focus." John Cage is the fifth lawyer MacNicol has portrayed in his
"Sadly, it's been my lot," he sighs. "I don't know why. There's a bit of law in my family, two of my sisters are
lawyers, and a niece."
But MacNicol says he has never known an eccentric like Cage, let alone played one before.
"He's brilliant and complicated and baffling. I guess it's a bit like a portrait artist working with a sketch pad.
You try out any number of little things, putting a line here and a line there, thinking it would be nice if I
added a bit more here and a bit less there. I am drawing on material from behaviours and mannerisms I
have learned in observations of other people over the years."
MacNicol credits the show's writer, David E. Kelley, with much of its success and says most of the time they
are shooting rough drafts.
"Whatever that particular talent is that makes him dish out scripts at lightning speed that is between David
and his maker. It's an astonishing gift. He's writing scripts very quickly and very beautifully right off the pad.
And Dave isn't just writing this he's writing three series and movies as well. There's no comparison to him
this century. You'd have to reach back to somebody like Charles Dickens."
MacNichol says Kelley isn't afraid of offending such powerful groups as the conservative right movement.
The writer also "harasses homos and heteros alike and somewhere in all this he's managing to delight
millions of people."