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Cheesy Sitcoms Taught Dylan McDermott How To Be a Dad

The star of 'The Practice' didn't have a role model growing up. So he created one.

Dylan McDermott, the chiseled dude who played brooding, moody lawyer Bobby Donnell on ABC’s The Practice, earned his first Emmy nomination exactly 21 years ago. In that time, he raised two daughters, Colette Rose, 24, and Charlotte Rose, 14. He turned his rescue terrier, Otis, into an instafamous pet. And he landed his second Emmy nom, for playing, of all things, a disillusioned pimp in Ryan Murphy’s Hollywood, a revisionist look back at Tinseltown in the ‘40s.

It’s at best a weird time to be an Emmy nominee because none of the things that make the experience either gratifying or stultifying (the brunches, the red carpets, the endless glad-handing) are in play at the moment. Films aren’t filming (with few exceptions). Premieres aren’t premiering. So McDermott, 58, is using the downtime to his advantage, by hanging out with his daughters and getting his house in order. “I’m so grateful that I’ve been able to really be there and be in the present tense and talk about stuff with them. To really just show up,” he says.

McDermott, accompanied by his very vocal dog, talked to Fatherly about the pivotal role TV played in teaching him to be a dad, and why he’s in no hurry to leave home just yet.

So, Dylan, how’s the whole quarantine thing working out for you?

What else can I do? I have fixed everything in the house. I mean everything. Every screw is going in the right direction. I’m running out of things to do. I don’t know how much more I have in me. But I’m keeping busy.

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That’s better than reading the depressing headlines. 

It was the rush to get back that hurt us.

Well, amidst all the bad news, at least there’s some good stuff, like your Emmy nomination. For playing a pimp, no less. Bobby Donnell would not be impressed. 

(Laughs). Thank you, thank you, oh my god. It’s unbelievable. Everything is solitary or with your close group of friends or family. It’s tight. It’s also hard to celebrate in today’s world because so much is going on but I am anyway because it’s been 21 years.

Twenty-one years! Jesus! 

Yes. Twenty-one years since my last nomination. We don’t even want to do the math on the next one. They always say youth is wasted on the young. When you’re young you think that’s going to keep happening. That I’ll get nomination after nomination. They forgot to tell me that in fact, it’s very rare.

I’m more excited this time because now I know the reality of how hard it is. I was shocked. I wasn’t on anyone’s list. I just figured it would go somewhere else. I was puttering around the yard and my agent called me. I was like, ‘What?’ I was so blown away. Ryan Murphy wrote me this role and I sank my heart and soul into it. The fact that I can represent him is even sweeter.

I assume Charlotte is your date to your virtual Emmys? 

Yes. I hope so. She’s always busy, so it might be my dog, Otis.

What’s your approach to fatherhood? 

It was difficult because my dad wasn’t around when I was a kid. I would see him sparingly over time. And then really by the time I got to be a teenager I moved in with him for a while. With our kids, we want to give them a better life than we had. That’s where I was coming from. It’s all about feeling loved and knowing you’re loved. I’m trying to imbue my daughters with that ability to walk into a room and believe they belong there. That’s the best parenting you can do: To let your kids know they were loved.

Before, there’s always a level of distraction, having to escape to the gym or the store. Now there’s no escape. There’s a level of intimacy that’s built into this quarantine. You can really go deep. That’s what I’ve done with my daughters. We’ve arrived at a place that’s much better, much deeper, in terms of our relationship.

How did you learn to be a dad and how to raise kids? 

I kind of made it up as I went along. My mom passed away when I was really young. My dad was gone. My grandmother raised me and she worked two jobs. A lot of what I learned about parenting was from watching television. It’s amazing to me that I would end up on television. I watched My Three Sons or I Dream of Jeannie, those shows were forming me, teaching me how to behave. A lot of what I learned was mirroring what I saw. There’s a lot of lonely children out there who are misguided or neglected, who are a lot like I was. Watching television was my saving grace.

Do your girls think you’re cool? After all, you’re in a show with Darren Criss and Jim Parsons.

I may have to win to be cool. It’s a lot of pressure. I don’t know. I don’t know if I have the brass ring yet. I’m almost afraid to ask them.

So what’s next for you? 

I was in the middle of a movie with Will Smith, King Richard, about the Williams sisters, about how they grew up. I guess I’ll go back to that as soon as they give us the green light. We don’t know anything. Everybody is sitting on the runway.