Private Time with Private Practice’s Tim Daly

Tim Daly has done it all, TV-wise. He made his name in the sitcom world, starring in the hit ’90s series Wings, and moved on to some well-received TV movies before earning an Emmy nomination for his guest appearances as J.T. Dolan on The Sopranos. He’s also done his share of voice work, most notably as the man of steel in Superman: The Animated Series; and now, despite some forays into producing and directing, he’s best known as Peter Wilder on ABC’s Private Practice. A consummate professional who brings a focused approach to all his roles, Daly took a few minutes to speak to me as the show heads toward the conclusion of its third season. Were your expectations different at all going into a show that’s a spinoff of another popular series? Did you feel any pressure to make your mark with the character right away?

Tim Daly: Not at all. My expectations were exactly the same. My character does not know that Grey’s Anatomy exists. When the show started, he didn’t know anything about Addison’s history, so that’s all really for outside speculation. I’m an actor on this show—I’m not a producer, and I’m not someone who sells it. My approach is just to tell the story of my character in the most truthful way I can. It’s really beyond my purview to even think about it.

Do you have any input into the direction of the character, or is it entirely script-driven?

It’s mostly script-driven. Certainly every actor, especially on a TV series, is the custodian of their character—they’ve got to ensure that the way they’re behaving is consistent with the way they’re set up. That being said, the writers can get the character to pretty much anyplace. A good example is Violet—she had this unbelievable trauma on the show at the end of last season, where she was attacked and her baby was ripped from her. And that was based on a true story. So I think that justifies a lot of her future behavior that some people would categorize as bad behavior. She’s obviously been through this trauma that might make her behave differently than she would have before. So if the writers can get me there, I’ll do anything; it’s just a matter of being vigilant about making sure it makes sense.

You’ve talked about how you’d like to develop the relationships between Peter and some of the other male characters on the show, like Taye Diggs' Sam Bennett. Do you try to bring that desire into the way you play scenes, or do you just hope that the writers eventually bring it out?

I think it’s both. I know that Taye and Paul Adelstein and I try very hard—and the women do too, of course—to make it clear that whatever our histories are, our relationships are specific. I think that it’s safe to acknowledge that this is a woman-driven show, so it behooves us even more to find the ‘man parts’ of it, to make it true to actual male behavior as we know it on this planet.

You’ve done some production and directing work in the past. Is that something you’d like to do again?

Absolutely. I just recently produced a documentary that aired on Showtime called PolliWood, and I have a lot of different interests—I’d certainly like to direct again. The problem of the moment is that the things that really inspire and interest me, the stories that I love the most, aren’t things that get financed very easily. [laughs] It’s very expensive to get films done, so you kind of have to live and die by what you can get made. But you’ll see something that’s directed by me again.

You’ve done a little bit of everything in television—hour-long network drama, sitcoms, voiceovers for animation, TV movies, prestige cable shows. Is there any format you like working in more than others?

No. Every step, every character, every medium has its own particular challenges, but essentially, I consider my job finding a way to tell the truth, to deliver the truth to people in a way that effects them, that makes them say, “Wow, that moved me or enlightened me or made me laugh.” I think that’s the job of pretty much any artist. We listen to music and it makes us weep—why? Because it speaks truth to us. I think TV should be the same way. It should strike a chord in us where we say, “That struck a human chord in me and it moved me.”

So it’s not all just a let-down after playing Superman?

[laughs] Well, a little bit. I mean, come on, it’s Superman, after all. Superman was a great role, and I loved doing it, and I would welcome doing it more, especially with Andrea Romano, who’s such a great director. I hope that opportunity presents itself again.

Private Practice inspires a pretty intense level of devotion in its fans. Does that inspire anything in your performance?

No—I mean, it works for me, but it doesn’t inspire me. What inspires my performance is my passion to tell stories. I mean, I’m really glad that people like it, but what they like about it is not really my business to judge or comment on. But the fact that they do is wonderful, and one of the things that I do acknowledge and think is great is the devotion that you talk about. And that’s something that Shonda [Rhimes] is very attuned to. It makes me happy that she recognizes that when fans get pissed off at her, when they’re yelling at her about the behavior of characters and how much they hate it—it does not mean that they hate the show. It means that they love it so much that they’re willing to get fired up about it. She knows that when people are angry, it doesn’t mean they’re not gonna watch.

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