Dylan McDermott patiently stirs his decaf latte macchiato in the hopes of introducing warmth to a mid-day Manhattan chill. He’s filled with a sense of harmony where as recently as a few months ago, the actor admits, this current level of confidence had all but escaped him.
A phone call nearly 10 years ago — it’s taken the entire decade to reconcile emotions that have at times threatened to overwhelm his grasp.
Across town, Dermot Mulroney is about to be recognized by a cab driver. That all-too familiar vague glint in a person’s eyes and he knows exactly what’s about to happen. Usually, he says he’s only about 60% confident his IMDB page will be cited and not McDermott’s.
And so it is, the life of this pair. The confusion that’s dogged their respective careers will hopefully be put to rest now that both actors have agreed to become the same person, for the sake of each other’s sanity as well as the convenience to film and television audiences worldwide. The unprecedented move was quickly approved by SAG, AFTRA and the office of the California Secretary of State made it official Monday.
“It used to bother me, I admit it,” McDermott recalls. “You work hard to establish yourself as an actor, an individual. You blaze your own trail and then constantly get mistaken for someone else again and again and again. It’s discouraging. I don’t want to take credit for someone else’s work just as I’m sure Dylan — I mean Dermot, aw dammit!! I’m sure he doesn’t, well, it goes both ways. You know what I mean.”
By nature of the agreement, the two will maintain their present names. There will be no merging or clever combining — such as Dermot McDermott, Dylan McMulroney or Dermot McDylan MulDermott. Both Mulroney and McDermott will continue to answer for themselves but now will also do so for one another, with the other’s full and unconditional consent. The two plan to sign autographs accordingly and be interchangeable on the set, replacing the other in mid-scene, if applicable, with no public understanding of what happened. It is not known if the agreement is only professionally binding or if it also relates to engagements at home.
“It just started to make sense to do this,” Mulroney said. “For years, my mom would warn me to stay away from Lara Flynn Boyle and I thought that was just good common-sense, motherly advice. I’d do the same for my kids,” he said. “I didn’t connect that she was talking about her character on the show until she mentioned she’d been watching The Practice for two seasons thinking that her son was the star of the series. It hit me like a rock.”
Publicists have warned against an arrangement such as this for fear that an announcement may gather little notice seeing as so few can actually differentiate one actor from the other as it stands. Additional notoriety might only increase the confusion. A recent Opinion Dynamics poll showed 48% of film audiences and 62% of television audiences did not understand McDermott and Mulroney were two distinct people. Another 36% thought dermatology was the study of this topic.
Both dark-haired actors in their late 40’s, the two would seem almost nothing alike beneath the surface. Dylan McDermott — raised by his bar-owner father in Greenwich Village and inspired by his adoptive mother Eve Ensler (author of The Vagina Monologues) — learned to assume the demeanor of his favorite movie stars as a teenager and thus was drawn to acting. While feature film leading man status has largely eluded him, success on television has included an Emmy nomination and a Golden Globe award.
The son of a law professor, Dermot Mulroney was born in Virginia and is one of four children with a predominant Irish ancestry just a few generations removed from the Great Potato Famine. An accomplished cellist, acting came naturally for Mulroney, starting with made-for-TV movies and making his film debut in 1988’s Young Guns. While feature film leading man status has largely eluded him, he’s found the majority of his success in romantic comedies.
So why the merger? The men defended the maneuver at what would have been termed a joint press conference if the two were still deemed to be separate individuals.
“I’ve been told how good I was in movies I’ve never heard of,” Mulroney said. “Things like The Last Outlaw or Silent Tongue. Turns out those are both mine. It’s confusing.”
“Completely agree, it’s time to come to grips with it,” McDermott said. “I wouldn’t trade careers but often it’s like we have. I’d definitely trade something for the chance to have worked with Richard Harris and River Phoenix.”
McDermott for the first time opened up about a phone call from his agent in 2001 where he was pitched several ideas, including one feature script that would put him back on the career path he had following the success of Copycat and How to Make an American Quilt. “Those aren’t my films, I told him. He didn’t know my work — my own agent, he doesn’t know which of us is which?”
“I think I was in both of those,” Mulroney joked. “Now there’s less to worry about. They ask if I am or if I was and the answer is yes. It’s a nice combination and so much easier than having to explain.”
Reminded of a story from early in his career, McDermott recalled: “It must have been 20+ years ago, we were both starting to land some better roles — this is back when you were dating Julia Roberts –.”
“I only worked with her,” Mulroney interrupts. “You dated her.”
“I nailed that part,” Mulroney says.
“I was in Steel Magnolias,” McDermott clarifies.
“I’m kidding,” says Mulroney. “But you dated her. And which one are you again?”
“Dylan,” he says, “but that’s all in the past. Whatever it was, everyone will know it was definitely either of us.”
Alone at the coffee shop, McDermott is upbeat about what lies ahead. “We’ve never worked together so when we first discussed doing this, it became a way to make that happen. It’s not like I see my reflection when I look at him and I don’t get what the problem is with the names but I’m tired of fighting it.”
Back in the taxi, Mulroney nods to the driver, assuring him that he might indeed be who he thinks he is. “You’re the guy from My Best Friend’s Wedding,” the cabbie says. “You were great in that.” The correct mention reassures him, even if momentarily. “The gay guy, her friend.”
“No, that was Rupert Everett,” Mulroney mutters. “That’s a new one.”
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