Michael Weatherly says ‘Bull’ has changed: it’s a ‘lens on society’
Bull is back.
Michael Weatherly’s headstrong character, Jason Bull, has been going through something of a revamp this season. After collapsing on the courthouse steps at the end of Season 2, it was clear things were going to change for him — and in the episodes we’ve seen thus far, there’s been a change in Bull’s demeanour and appearance.
Aside from the slim-down, Bull is also contemplating his life and what he has to show for his years of work. Global News sat down with Weatherly in New York to talk about the changes of Season 3 and what that means for the show.
[NOTE: This interview was conducted before any sexual harassment accusations against Mr. Weatherly were made public.]
Global News: Jason Bull has changed physically — would you say that his physicality is representative of where the character is at?
Michael Weatherly: Absolutely. It’s such a fun part of the job for me. I think back to my first contract thing for a few years, when I played this character Cooper Alden on a soap opera (Loving): I worked out that he had a certain way that he walked, he had round glasses and I really thought those were perfect for him, because I wanted him to be from this certain background. I realize I was totally crazy to be doing that on a soap opera, but in every subsequent job I always worked out who I wanted that character to be.
Like going into NCIS: I didn’t want the character to wear corrective lenses, because I thought he was a college athlete. I always thought Tony DiNozzo was like a dog, like an overzealous golden retriever puppy — he would eat your shoes because they smelled like you. So for Jason Bull (sorry, this is the longest answer ever), it started with the glasses. There’s something elegant and distanced and a barrier … they’re owl-like. That, to me, was a starting point with Bull — which is that he’s a predator. He’s alone like an owl on a branch, sitting in his courtroom.
At the very end of Season 1 of Bull, he met this character, J.P. Nunelly [Eliza Dushku], when we had a new showrunner come in. I took the opportunity to flip him, and that’s when the drinking too much, eating too much, isolating himself too much began. He started compartmentalizing, and that leads to disaster. I think it speaks to that very much.
In Season 2, we see what happens to a guy like Bull, or to a society writ large, when you are too siloed and too compartmentalized. You have a heart attack on the steps of the place that calls for truth and justice. Maybe his truth was served to him on a special plate that day. All the people walking by him in that last shot … he saw that the world can be a cold and non-empathetic place.
Season 3 has been pretty intense thus far.
You know, I think that’s [how] this season [is going]. The thing that you don’t think could ever happen … because why would it? The first scene in Season 3, think about it. It’s almost like a commercial for a happy America. Nothing can ever go wrong on an American highway, right?
I think the show is fun to watch as an almost “sugar” thing along with the mystery. I can really see, in so many of the episodes this year, this uncomfortable idea of presumption: [for example] this white female police officer is in the bathroom and this African-American guy comes in and she shoots him. We shot that episode before the thing happened in Texas. It’s spooky, these things keep coming up, but it’s also not spooky because these are the times that these things are happening. It’s the question of why. Why now?
So Bull itself has grown a lot?
Bull is this great opportunity, a lens on society. We’ve gone away from the screens and technology, the deep dives on Twitter and Facebook. In Season 1, we were very caught up in the information age and technology. Now it’s really about these themes, these social themes. I think this show will keep changing, I don’t think it’ll stay there. It’s reflecting how turbulent everything is. How Bull responds is interesting to me, because I feel like he is this strange prism that everything gets run through. He is the reflection of the best in us, and the worst in us. He wants truth and an answer, the right thing to be done. But he’ll do the wrong thing to get the right thing.
Can you talk about his alcoholism?
I don’t know if I’d even call it alcoholism. I feel like it’s more self-destruction. There’s a scene where there’s a tray of sweets, and he’s staring at it, he touches the tray, and he pushes it away from him. He stares at it, then gets up to move it to the end of the table. I think he uses food or alcohol to feed this hole that he’s got, to try and plug it. The one glaring omission is sex, which I find really amazing for a guy like Bull.
Again, he’s gripping the steering wheel and white-knuckling himself through this maze of streets. The only thing that gets him away from these tendencies is to work 20 hours a day. Last year, it ended in a heart attack, so he went away and figured out, well, how do I make myself better? His getting better was working for the enemy. He’s compensating himself all over the place. The more he does it, the more the world shows him how impossible it is.
Every day, Bull wakes up and tries to do something for someone else. It’s his only salve, it’s his only balm. He is always fighting on behalf of someone else.
[This interview has been edited and condensed.]
‘Bull’ returns to Global on Tuesday, Jan. 15 at 10 p.m. ET/PT.
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