"The [episode] we're shooting right now, Bull has a very Cary Grant-Rosalind Russell relationship going on with this prosecutor, a little His Girl Friday," Weatherly told TVGuide.com. "And it is so much fun, because of course that's one of my favorite things to do. I did it a lot as DiNozzo. But watching Bull do it is... It's been sort of surprising. He's a little naughty, is what I'm finding."
Weatherly said he views his new character, Dr. Jason Bull, as sort of an older, wiser version of DiNozzo — and therefore a role that he's more comfortable inhabiting.
"He's much more cryptic. He's much more watchful and reactive," Weatherly says. "More measured, a little bit more mature. And I guess that's one of the beautiful things about being 48 years old, and it's why DiNozzo really couldn't make that turn for me. Because DiNozzo is all about that irrepressible teenage energy, the overgrown teenager. I'm now much more satisfied playing the guy who's got some grey going on in the hair... And [who's] hopefully a little more mysterious."
TVGuide.com chatted with Weatherly shortly before the show's holiday break about driverless cars, what it's like for him to be back working in New York, and whether we'll see more of Dr. Bull's ex-wife.
The Jan. 3 episode features a case about driverless cars. What can you tell us about it?
Michael Weatherly: What I really connected with in this episode is that Bull saw a lot of himself in this woman [who owns a driverless car company]. I think one of the driving parts of the TV series and the character of Bull is, he needs to understand people, and he has this deep drive. It's like an obsession. And it comes from a very personal place. He's not just trying to understand people because it's interesting. It's something that he can't let go of. And I think that very similarly, [the case] is more than just a driverless car and a wonder in technological terms. It's more about this woman's obsession and passion.
What are your personal thoughts on driverless cars?
Weatherly: I'm sort of on the side of the driverless vehicle, because I feel that, in terms of safety and the human cost, it would be extraordinary to have all that technology implemented. But there are people who are saying, "Well, this is my individual right and my freedom, to get in a car and go wherever I want." And what I think is, "No, that's what your legs are for." [Laughs] But it's interesting, and it will reveal so many things about these biases that we have one way or the other towards technology.
I remember 20 years ago in New York City, nobody had a cell phone. And you'd go out to LA and everyone's on their cell phones, and as a New Yorker, you'd say, like, "Ugh, these people and their cell phones, ugh." And now, we live in an episode of Black Mirrorall the time, where it's just — well, especially with Trump as president. It's absolutely a Black Mirror episode. Just think about it. This is the Twitter president. Technology. It's like, wow. I don't get as judgmental about it as I get fascinated by it. What's it mean?
In the recent episode where we met Bull's ex-wife, there was also the reveal that she had a miscarriage when they were together. What did that episode tell us about Bull?
Weatherly: I think it was a really important window into Bull and his admission that he didn't know how to handle [the miscarriage] correctly. He's the conductor who can conduct everyone else's orchestra but his own. His own is just a shambles. You learn that his friendship with Benny (Freddy Rodriguez) is in part just because he wants to hold on a part of his marriage. I think that's true. I think he respects Benny and loves Benny, but I think that Benny is also, his sister. And I think that's a real weakness on Bull's part. It's very human, but I think that if he were to ... take [himself] apart as a witness or a juror the way that he picks everybody else apart, he'd see a total mess of a human being.
Is it fair to say they both still carry a torch for each other?
Weatherly: I loved the arc of the episode, that they didn't have ill will towards each other. They just had this gulf, this distance. He was more interested in getting Benny to bridge their problem and that gap between them. But in the end, being able to finally talk about the miscarriage gave him resolution with her. Because, finally, the only thing she wanted was to just talk about it.
It's the thing I was told when I first got married — er, the second time I got married. The first time I got married, nobody bothered to tell me anything. I subsequently didn't do very well. [Laughs] But my second marriage, I'd come home and [my wife] Bojana would tell me something and I would try to solve the problem. And I heard from a few people that, you don't solve the problem. You listen to the problem.
That is something that Bull would even tell somebody else, but he couldn't apply it to his own life. Because he had to f---ing solve the g--damn problem. And she was like, "The miscarriage is not a problem. I just need to talk about it." And he couldn't do it! It's a fascinating thing. So I was very proud of the show for taking a step in a direction that I think is going to be really resonant for the audience. ... They're like, oh, [Bull] is damaged and weird and he doesn't know what to do.
It definitely showed us a different side of him.
Weatherly: The Callisto episode, where he woke up next to a cow in a field with no pants on — while that was comedic, there was a level of self-destruction going on. I mean, he put himself out as the mark and took himself down and made himself very vulnerable, just to what end? It can't just be for the case. So, he has some complicated and sort of screwed up things going on. I look forward to seeing more of that.I say that I used Fellini's 8 1/2, Marcello Mastroianni's Guido character as a baseline [for Bull]. But it's kind of like that and a little bit of Dr. House. Not always making the best decisions.
Will be we seeing more of Isabella?
Weatherly: I don't know. And I don't know if she's the only wife he has. Bull's pretty close to the vest, and I think there might be some other stuff going on.
As the show has gone on, has your approach to playing Bull changed?
Weatherly: I've tried a few different things, and I'll continue to explore. But so much of it really comes from the idea that he is filled with a kind of lava flow of passion and confusion. And so, this mask, the guy with the glasses and the hairdo and the sweater vest, is just trying to hold on and project this calm and cool. In every episode I apply something along those lines. But so much of it also is determined by script, and I try to be instructed by the scripts to see where he goes next.
Are you saying we might see Bull have a full-on breakdown at some point? Maybe something not quite that serious, but ...
Weatherly: No, I think it might be. I think he's somebody that has these demons. I think he could be rattled by something, especially something outside of his control, because he's so controlled. I think that's a really good point and a really good thing for us to anticipate, his undoing. But I think on the flip side of that, I'd love to see him connect with someone and to see him strive to be more connected and more plugged in to his current emotion, rather than deflecting and putting things in a very, very cold, analytical place.
How are you enjoying filming in New York?
Weatherly: It's been a joy to shoot in New York City, because I was born here and I started as an actor here for seven years and worked here a lot. So coming back is a lot of fun. It was a little surreal when we were shooting in September and they started putting the posters up on the bus stops and bus signs. There were two things that were kind of interesting about it. One is, moving back to New York and having that kind of reminder, it would make me laugh every time I saw it.
I just thought, 25 years ago, when I became an actor, I didn't really anticipate ever really being on a bus. And then, it's also been nice because my kids, when they see a poster in LA, they say "Daddy!" So for them, even if I'm not around, I'm strangely on a giant billboard. Which, they love it. But we live in an age with iPhones and everything that I talk to them on FaceTime several times a day. So I don't feel that far away. It's nice to be in New York.
Bull returns Tuesday, Jan. 3 at 9/8c on CBS.
(Full disclosure: TVGuide.com is owned by CBS.)