Although we had yet to speak with Julian McMahon of FBI: Most Wanted until now, we had a hunch that we was something of a pro, which is the term that we use here at Brief Take to describe people that are absolutely capable at handling interviews as well as leads in shows. But we had no idea that he would begin our phone interview by spending a few minutes asking if we were doing alright during this time of social distancing, and ending it by asking what city we were in, and then off the cuff mentioning that he filmed the movie Red in our hometown and that one night he went out to dinner with “about six Oscar winners”.
The core of the interview, which is condensed and edited here, is a really honest and forthcoming discussion of why he feels like FBI: Most Wanted, from Dick Wolf, is really the perfect fit. What a pro, and please do check out Julian McMahon in the season finale of FBI: Most Wanted on CBS tonight.
Brief Take: I’ve had many interviews with actors that have been leads on CBS shows: Walton Goggins, Edie Falco, Sofia Pernas, Missy Peregrym of course, they are strong personalities, what do you think is going on at CBS in terms of series leads?
Julian McMahon: Well, you know CBS is an interesting network because I’ve been here for a long time and I’ve been watching the trajectory of all these networks, particularly the Big three / four and the development of cable television. The one thing particularly with CBS is that they kind of stuck to their guns for a long period of time. They haven’t tried to modify in too many different directions based on outside influences. They believed in a theorem that worked for them and a particular type and style of product that works for them. And I think that’s kind of what projects itself, one, but also maintains itself, two, which is that once you’ve kind of honed in on your product, like any good brand, you stick to that over a period of time, and I think success will come no matter what. And CBS has done that very diligently and they know what they’re good at and they know what they like, they know what their audience likes, they have progressed, not like they’ve stayed back in the 80’s and the 90’s or 2000’s, they have progressed with the type of filmmaking or whatever else, but at the same time, they’ve stuck to what works for them. You go to CBS as a brand and as a namesake of something that you really understand what you’re getting into when you head over there, and I think that this is one of the great successes of CBS.
JM: Then in regards to people that they put on their shows, I think that this leans into a similar type of thing, which is that they look for people…it’s an interesting thing because when I met with the guys over there, they were kind of my first meeting, and this took place about a year or so ago, back in the network kind of world. It was just the relationship that they liked to develop is very significant to them. I think that kind of leans into who they are as well. I think that they’re tapping into the individuals first, and there’s a lot of talent out there, you know what I mean? And you can tap into talent whenever you want, but I think that they’re tapping into particular individuals, and that is on the actor side / actress side as well as showrunners and producers and creators and all that kind of stuff. And I think that what they’re building is a…or ‘have built’, I probably should say, is a, and I’m going to use this word for references to what it is in particular, which is a ‘network’ of people in this business with whom they have a special affiliation, with whom they have a concrete relationship. A desire ultimately to sit down and with whom to spend time. And I think that’s kind of a really cool element of building a business in this genre of businesses, because you do lean on this. And it’s also the last 10, 20 years to really become significant at the faith that you have in different people to get things done. It’s a tough business. It’s a precarious business and you never are guaranteed success. And once you tap into those relationships, no matter what side of the camera they are, they start to fulfill themselves at some point in time, whether they work at the beginning, middle or end of that relationship. It’s like a stable of people with whom you connect and people who you trust, and then we all go to work and we put our best foot forward and we offer up the hopeful goodness, and then it’s up to the audience to see whether or not they react.
BT: What was the moment in which you knew this was the right fit for you?
JM: It wasn’t one particular moment, it was many. And that was firstly, starting with the meeting that I had at CBS and feeling very much a great connection there. And then the process started with scripts coming my way and reading and processing and reading and processing and then a couple kind of hit my radar and I thought: “Oh! I can do something with that.” And then you go: “Okay. Who’s it with? Who am I working with? What is the working space, where are we and what are we doing?” and all that kind of stuff. And I read a few, and they were good, the scripts were and everything, but it wasn’t until January of last year, maybe December, late December, that a couple of scripts came in and I went “Ooh! Hold on a second, that one really kind of clicked”. And then I got this script, and this is one of those “aha” moments, in which you connect with something and you go: “I gotta play that character” and then I go: “Okay, it’s something to which I innately connect and somebody that I think that I can really portray well at this point in time in my life and probably could teach me a few lessons”.
JM: And then from that, it was okay, who are the players? Who are we having it with? So it was (showrunner) René (Balcer), CBS and Dick (Wolf). And so I’ve got to make sure that we all fit together in that kind of mold. It was really in Dick’s office that I thought: “Okay, I’m in here”, because I had…and also earlier meeting (producer) Peter Jankowski. He had kind of fuelled the fire of goodness. I had possessed some reservations about moving to New York for such a lengthy process, let’s call it, because these shows are tough to shoot. They’re great, but you’re doing long hours and whatever else accompanies that kind of genre. I think it was sitting in Dick’s office and we hit it off really well and we conversed diligently about what we all wanted to get out of it. And it was a meeting of the minds and he does a different thing than I do, he wants that business and I’m stepping forward to hopefully lead that production in a way that is successful for his empire [chuckles] or whatever you’d like to call that. And it was a really significant moment of: “Okay, I know what he wants, he knows what I want, and we’re both going to support each other through that process”, and it’s been that way since we started. And I love having that challenge and attempting to conquer that challenge and then being in the midst of it and then getting to the other side of it and having some kind of success hopefully on the other side.
And in terms of René Balcer and your Canadian connection, because that was a significant one and so you know that, René is a really talented writer. And he’s been doing this for a long time. And he knows how to do it and he knows how to do it really, really well. And that was evident in the first scripts and every subsequent script after that. The guy just knows and he’s also got this ability to tap into the emotion and psyche of characters, not just my own. Certainly my own, but characters in regards to me and the team and that’s the five of us. But also the bad guys and all of the subsequent characters that come along with that. And then the family side of things, which is real emotional connection. There was not a script I got in which I wasn’t completely engaged on a multitude of levels, and that was kind of the physicality of it, the emotional stem through the whole thing, the connection, the relationships, the development of relatability between of all these things. But it’s interesting because you have this guy who follows bad guys, but he really starts to relate to them. And when we get to the end scenes with all these characters, he knows who they are, he knows who they are more than they know who they are. And now he has this ability to talk with them [laughs] which sometimes seems like a long time before anything happens that he’s communicating with them, and probably communicating with them in a way that they’ve never been communicated with before. And I just can’t speak enough to how much I get out of those scripts and what a talent that guy is.
BT: Tell me about how your over the course of playing him your character evolves, as I see that you think about the smallest detail such as how to hold your badge?
JM: I think that there are a few great elements there, and one of them for me which I really enjoy is the development of the relationship between him and his daughter, and that is one of my favourite parts of the show even though it’s on either side of the show and it’s only [chuckles] a few minutes long, but I think that inside of that relationship, you are seeing the true growth and development of an individual. And then that said, to me it’s also fascinating to see the growth, and this is an interesting thing, because when you start working on a production on which you haven’t before worked, you develop relationships and you find ways to work together and work each other out and figure each other’s tics and each other’s things and what makes them laugh and what makes them feel something differently and whatever else, and I think that we do that as actors and we also do that as characters. And it’s been such a great evolution of these five characters and I mean the five characters as a team, Jess and the team. We travel together and we spend all our time together and the journey on which we go as an actor is very similar to the journey that the characters are going through on screen. And so what we’ve got at the end of the season, at the season finale, is a real kind of understanding and evolvement of all these characters together and the relationships they’ve built together. And you try to instill that as soon as you get on the show because we wanted to make sure that this whole group felt like a tight family knit, right? And I think that we got that pretty quickly, but what happened is that we developed it even more. And so over the 14, 15 episodes whatever that was, those characters have spent that time together, those actors have spent that time together, and that family tie, that niche that we have together was even stronger than it was 14, 15 episodes ago. And I think that’s a really cool evolution of what happens in this environment.
BT: What a team you’ve got: Australian, Kiwi, Brit, Canadian, American. What is your role as a team leader?
JM: It’s a motley crew, isn’t it? As you’ve said, we’ve got our New Zealanders, we’ve got our Australians, we’ve got our Americans, we’ve got our English and Canadian. And so what it is is from Jess’s point of view, and while they all play Americans, it’s similar in regards to what’s happening in the casting of it. That is, what Jess has attempted to do is to put together the best of the best, he’s put together a team that can ultimately work together to create the best environment with which to catch these bad guys as quickly as possible. And so everybody has their own individual tool, everybody has their individual asset that they’re bringing to the team and they’re all different, they’re all separate. And then at the same time, it’s a conglomerate, it’s a group, it’s almost like a mass that moves forward, all because of all of those different elements. And so I think that it’s really kind of unique and I think that it’s really kind of fascinating that a character like Jess kind of puts this talent together. And from then on, it’s like then we go: “take him down”, then we go: “hunker down”, I mean it’s a fascinating environment because a lot of the time we’re travelling together and this kind of stuff, and as you know, when you get to kind of spend that time together, you get to see the good, the bad and the ugly. That’s what they do, and to me, that’s one of the great elements of the show.
BT: What was something that surprised you? I think that you had said that these are all new people to you?
JM: You never know until you know. You meet somebody, or you read up about them and you know their work or whatever and you do your homework, so to speak. And then you kind of got to buckle down and you’ve got to get to work. And this is a tough working environment, there’s just no way around it. And I love that, by the way, I’m not saying that in any sort of negative form or fashion. What it brings out is that it brings out the true kind of person underneath all of whatever else you predicted or assumed or whatever that may be before you started working together. And what has really been kind of wonderful for me and fascinating and interesting and a bit of a “proud of” let’s say, moment is that under all of those circumstances, you’ve got four, five of us who are all dedicated very much so to what we are doing. We’re very dedicated to our craft, we’re really interested, fascinated and enjoy doing the best work that we can every time that the camera is pointed in our direction or someone else is doing their work. And that’s a really cool thing and you can’t understate that. And then along with that is how great everybody is. [laughs] I know that sounds really boastful but it’s really easy to be darn ugly and grumpy or not good for that day, or whatever that is. And we had some late nights and some you knows and some this’s and that’s, I won’t go into too much detail and we certainly had potential for that kind of thing, but I gotta tell you, these guys and gals were just fantastic. And they worked hard and loved it and we had good fun there too. They always say that the ultimate fun has to be in your work. Your work needs to be it, you need to put that first. And when you’re having fun in your work, everything else will kind of fall around it because you’re spending 16 hours a day on set and if I’m not having fun doing that, then where am I at? And so, we did that and we did that really well. We did that day after day and episode after episode. I can see ’em all right now and how invested they are and how committed they are, and then when I’m waiting with them, we’re waiting and we’re having a laugh. We’re listening to music or Nathaniel (Arcand) plays his guitar or me and Kellen (Lutz) have a workout, or me and Roxy (Sternberg) and Keshia (Castle-Hughes) talk about…it’s just, it’s just a great place.
BT: Was there ever a moment on Nip/Tuck in which you said: “How are we going to be able to film this?”
JM: [Laughs] Every episode! [laughs loudly] You know, there was an interesting thing, because firstly, the initial script, the pilot script was so fantastic that it kind of set the template for the rest of the show. And ultimately, it was eight seasons, basically. But the pilot episode opened up the door, particularly for me, and only because I’m the one talking to you, but particularly for me to be able to say: “This is a show in which we can go as far as we desire”. And that kind of allows for a template of many different things. And on that show we did many different things. And so it created an environment within me that creatively and expressionally-wise, and I don’t even know if that makes sense, but I hope that you know what I’m saying, in which I just wanted to push it all, just to see how far we could go with things. (Creator) Ryan (Murphy) was very much on board with that. And if I got a script, for example, that said that Christian does this, or does that, or says this or says that or whatever, I wanted to take that even a step further and I wanted to do that with Christian with a certain attitude or with a certain look or in a certain environment or in a certain way, so that it pushed the boundaries of it even further. But there wasn’t a script that I got that my jaw didn’t drop on the floor for a second and go: “What? Can we even do that, does that even exist? Or how do we make sense of that, or what does that even mean, or is that too far?”. It was like a consistent challenge of pushing the limits of…and I put it down to essentially those two individuals of my character and Dylan (Walsh’s) character, but pushing those two characters beyond any kind of limitations. And so yes, every week I had some kind of…I don’t know if I would call it fear, but some kind of curiosity, maybe fear-inspired curiosity of how are we going to shoot this, how are we going to get this, how do you go through this? How do you deal with this emotionally? How do you…into what box does this go? Okay, so it doesn’t go into a box, so we’re breaking it out of a box, where does that take it?. And I went through that on an almost day-to-day basis. And the shooting of it was kind of the development and the execution of it.
FBI: Most Wanted airs its season finale tonight at 10pm ET/PT on CBS and Global