Michael Weatherly (NCIS) features as the brilliant Dr. Jason Bull in FOX’s slick new legal drama. An expert in human psychology, he utilizes human intuition and high tech data to learn what makes jurors, attorneys, witnesses and the accused tick, making him the best trial consultant in the business. Inspired by the early career of Dr. Phil McGraw, the founder of one of the most prolific trial consulting firms of all time, Bull tackles the US judicial system from a fresh new perspective, while providing entertaining characters and inventive narrative. We spoke to the star of Bull to get a closer insight.
How did you like the ad campaign with the slogan “He’ll Get You Off”?
Yes, well that was a lot of fun. I was pleasantly surprised that CBS was taking a somewhat provocative approach, because it could have been much more conservative. I thought it was fun. I thought it was a little bit of a wink to the character from “NCIS,” from DiNozzo. And there I was with my Michael Caine glasses giving a little bit of a smirk. I thought it was a lot of fun.
Your character basically plays the jury. Doesn’t the fact that this is even possible say that the judicial system in the U.S. doesn’t quite work?
Well, I think that the show is looking at something larger than the American legal system. And what Bull, Dr. Bull, is up to in his analysis of the jury, is really an analysis of human behavior. It’s my intention with this show to try and understand people. So especially in an election year like this, when you have a very divided population politically, I think it’s important to understand how people get to a certain way of thinking, whether it’s based on real or imagined things. And what’s the difference? I think it’s really complicated but I think that it’s worth examining.
Whether it’s politics or advertising or a jury system, it really is fundamentally the most important thing you can do, which is understand the world around you and remain open and curious and not closed-minded.
Dr. Jason Bull can read people. What would he say about you?
Oh, I wonder. I think Bull would probably spot me pretty quickly as an actor. And I think he’s, it’s why it’s kind of fun to play him. When I was doing DiNozzo, everyone would say “You’re just playing yourself.” That was always interesting to me because it didn’t seem to me that I was playing myself. But there were certain enthusiasms and idiosyncrasies that I have brought alive in DiNozzo that seemed very much like me.
I think I’m much more like Jason Bull in real life, than I am a DiNozzo. So a very comfortable role for me. Maybe my answer to your question is I think Dr. Bull would find himself looking at himself a lot more than he might be comfortable with, if he had to look at Michael Weatherly.
So obviously, Dr. Bull is inspired on Dr. Phil’s earlier career. Other than that, where did you draw inspiration from to create such a charismatic man?
Well, I really looked at Marcello Mastroianni in Fellini’s ‘8½,’ because I really strangely identified with that character as we were getting prepared to make the pilot and I started drawing a great deal of inspiration from that film and from a few other areas.
I feel like Dr. Bull is a man covering up a very chaotic sort of deep-seated confusion. I think that he’s trying to analyze everybody else because there’s something about himself that he fundamentally doesn’t understand, and it drives him. That, it’s not an insecurity, but there’s a bit of irrational addiction to trying to figure everybody out. I don’t know if Dr. Phil is like that, because I’m not really basing this character on Dr. Phil. But what Dr. Phil is well-versed in is the world of jury selection.
I want to focus on your transition from Anthony DiNozzo to Jason Bull, because you’ve been playing him for about 13 years. Has it been really hard for you to let go?
No, it hasn’t been hard at all, because I spent the last two years really understanding that I was drawing that part of my life to a close. Professionally, DiNozzo took up a huge amount of time and creatively and personally it really controlled my life. I didn’t expect to jump right in to something else that would be so all-consuming. But it has been not a difficult transition. I think it’s harder for other people than it is for me.
You said in an interview how great it was to meet Steven Spielberg for this project. What kind of input does he have on the show?
Well I had to go over – once the show was picked up after the pilot – I had to go over to Amblin to Mr. Spielberg’s company. I got to sit for about two and a half hours with him and discuss the character, the world of the show, what the episodes were going to be like and what they should feel like and what to look for. And then we also talked about Steve McQueen and Close Encounters of the Third Kind and lots of other stuff that just made me happy as a movie buff.
He has input to this day. You know he’s a busy guy making movies and other things, but I’m looking forward to, every time his name comes up I feel very proud that he is involved and making his notes and having his input. As we try to make the show, the first year of a series is always sort of a trial and error and I think we’re getting closer and closer to something that he and I talked about.
Bull premieres in the U.K. on Friday 13th January at 10pm on FOX.