Inspired by the early career of American TV personality Dr. Phil McGraw and his trial-consulting firm, Bull stars Michael Weatherly as the brash but charming Dr. Jason Bull. During its first two seasons, the drama followed the intriguing work of Bull and his team of experts as they used psychology, intuition and high-tech data to evaluate jurors, attorneys, witnesses and the accused to come up with winning strategies.
As Season 3 of Bull arrives on UK TV screens this Friday 11th January on Fox, James Kleinmann spoke to leading actor Michael Weatherly in New York for HeyUGuys about the evolution of his character and the series itself.
“At the very end of Season 1 I took the opportunity to flip the character,” Weatherly begins. “The new showrunner Glenn Gordon Caron really wanted to flip Bull and that’s when the drinking too much, eating too much and isolating himself came in. He started compartmentalising which leads to disaster. When we look at the world we live in today, everyone is in these silos of information and political beliefs. The show speaks to that very much and I think that one of the things about Season 2 is we saw what happens to a guy like Bull or to a society writ large when you are too siloed, too compartmentalised and self-referential and just speaking to your own voice.
“It’s easier to just stay with people who look like you and in your own tribe and it’s even easier to just stay by yourself. We all saw what happens, 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 which was a heart attack. All the people walking by him in that last shot, all the people that he helps, he saw that the world can be an incredibly cold and unsympathetic place. Was that a reflection of how he had treated the world, even though he spends all this time trying to save everybody?
“I found it interesting and I think Glenn Caron is an extraordinary writer and I think Bull is a vastly under-appreciated show in terms of the critical appraisal of it, which is great because there’s nothing better than an underdog!”
Weatherly brought along Bull’s signature thick black rimmed glasses to the interview, which led to the question of how important they are to him in creating his character?
“The glasses were inspired by Marcello Mastroianni and Michael Caine in the Harry Palmer films, The Ipcress File and Funeral in Berlin, as well as Colin Firth in A Single Man. There was something sort of elegant and distanced about them, and a barrier. But I also loved Gary Oldman in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Alec Guinness. That George Smiley character is watchful and he’s a predator, you know. It’s owl-like and you think owls are these wise birds who just sit up on a branch, but no man, they are looking to kill something on the ground! That to me was the starting point with Bull, that he’s a predator and he’s alone like an owl on a branch sitting in his little courtroom and he has that physicality.”
Season 3 opens with a sudden and shocking car accident which Weatherly believes gives a good indication of the direction of this new season; “It’s the thing you don’t think could ever happen because why would it. It’s a family driving along a highway in a car. And what kind of family are they? They’re a happy, American family, it’s almost like a commercial, and they’re driving along an American highway and nothing can ever go wrong on an American highway, right? Because our infrastructure is…oh! Well, maybe it’s subject to certain threats and maybe there are people who want to do terrible things and then all of a sudden we get the treat of being able to blame foreigners and bad guys, but then it turns out that our banking system is actually responsible. I think the show is fun to watch as a sugar thing, where you can just go along with the mystery, but I think you can also dial back. Maybe I’m just somebody who always looks for the dolphins in the dots, but I can really see in so many of the episodes this year this uncomfortable idea of presumption.”
“In one episode,” Weatherly continues, “there’s this white female police officer who’s in the bathroom and this African American guy comes in and she pulls a weapon and shoots him. We shot that episode before the incident had happened in Texas where the female police officer walked into the wrong apartment and shot the guy. We shot our episode about the bridge before the Italian bridge collapse. So all these things you start feeling like they’re spooky because these things are coming up. But really it’s not spooky because these are the times when these things are happening. They’re happening on one level that’s really flat, that’s just infrastructure, but it also leads to the question of why are these things particularly happening now?
“On a show on at 10pm people are suddenly seeing this, like we have a story about an African American physician who is at home with his wife and kids and the police come and say you’re under arrest we’ve got footage of you, DNA evidence, eye witnesses that put this guy at the crime. Turns out, like science fiction twins, that he was adopted and what he didn’t know was that there was another twin who had also been adopted by a family in much different circumstances. He went to college and medical school and grew up in this upper middle class family and the other kid had a very difficult time, so you have this nature vs. nurture argument, but you also have the duality of the DNA being a 100% match, so I’m him and he’s me, so why am I different? How many ‘mes’ are there? How many versions of me?”
“Bull is this great lens on society and we’ve gone away from the screens and all the technology and the deep dives of Twitter and Facebook and social media aspect of the season 1 of the show, which was very caught up in the information age and the technology, and now it’s much more about these social themes. I think the show will keep changing, I don’t think it’ll stay there, I think as we go through it is 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 a reflection of the best and the worst in us. The best because he wants truth and he wants an answer and he wants the right thing to be done, but he’ll do the wrong thing to get to the right. And then all of a sudden, he’ll flip. He’ll represent one side of a case and he will adamantly and fervently say this is the only way, and then the next case he’ll represent the opposite voice, and that to me is a really fun show to work on.”
What about his alcoholism, what’s that aspect like to portray?
“I don’t necessarily think it’s alcoholism as much as it’s an appetite for destruction,” Weatherly explains. “There’s a scene in an episode this year where there’s a tray of sweets and he’s staring at the tray and he touches the tray and then he pushes it away from himself and he stares at it again and then he gets up to actually move it to the end of the table. I think he uses food or alcohol or any of these things to try to plug this hole he’s got. The one glaring omission in that appetite is sex, which I find really amazing for a guy like Bull. I mean he has a very attractive attorney ask him to go on a date and she puts her hand on his shoulder and he says ‘oh you wouldn’t want to be with me when I don’t have a drink’. So he’s using this other quasi-addiction to remove himself from any kind of human connection. He’s gripping the steering wheel and white knuckling himself through this maze of streets and the only thing that gets him away from these tendencies is to work twenty hours a day. Last year it ended in a heart attack, so he went away and figured out how to make himself better. He became best friends with a guy who convinced him to represent an insurance company, like his getting better was working for the enemy.”
“Every day Bull wakes up and tries to do something for someone else and it’s the only salve, it’s the only balm that he has on this otherwise boiling, infected wound that is whatever his heart is doing. He is always fighting on behalf of someone else. He can’t have a personal relationship with anyone, he has no girlfriend, he has no best friend except his employees and that’s not really a very functional way to do things. I’d love to see him maybe get arrested for wearing that earpiece and being banned from court and see what happens when Bull is on the outside, can’t get in to his addiction, you know? You can see I have way too much fun doing this!”
To what extent can Weatherly personally relate to the character?
“I can relate to him in the way everyone can, which is we all know what it feels like when we know we’re right and it feels so good and it feels so pure and strong and you have this righteous like ‘I know I’m right’. That’s the exact moment you have to be the most suspicious of how you are thinking and feeling. I think everyone can plug into Bull. For me the most I’ve experienced in terms of a kinship with him is being away from my family during season 1. They were in Los Angeles and I was in New York and I was alone, flying back and forth to try and vampire enough affection from my family to carry me through two or three more weeks. It can be very alienating and then all of a sudden you start to become cynical about your own emotions because it’s hurt you to be away from it. So part of your psychology is well ‘if it hurt me because I fell in love, then I just won’t feel love, that will save me the pain’ and let’s hope that’s not where we’re all headed!”
Michael Weatherly returns in Bull Season 3 on Fox this Friday 11th January. For UK series broadcast details visit the official Bull page on the Fox website here: https://www.foxtv.co.uk/shows/fox/bull
BULL SEASON 3 – OFFICIAL SYNOPSIS
Michael Weatherly is back and he’s cutting out the Bull. Taking on a new case every week, we follow Bull and his team of fellow experts as they use a combination of data, technology and good old fashioned human intuition to produce a terrifyingly accurate assumption of a jury’s verdict. Over the course of the series the team come together to devise defence strategies to get juries to side with a misguided teen with an attitude problem, a female pilot accused of negligence and an egomaniacal surgeon. One thing’s for sure: he knows a jury better than they know themselves.