Julian McMahon has played his share of bad guys, but on the phone from New York, promoting his first truly big Hollywood film, the Australian actor has a philosophical approach about playing villains, such as Victor von Doom in Fantastic Four.
“You know everyone always says the villains are the fun ones to play, and there is definitely a part of me that agrees with that,” McMahon explains, while also conceding he had been a comic book fan and a fan of this particular comic since childhood. “To me it was just taking on a great character, having been a comic book and cartoon fan of The Fantastic Four, knowing about Victor Von Doom since I was a 5 or 6 year old kid, so it was kind of more about taking on that kind of responsibility then it was taking on a villain. That said, getting there, being the villain and playing the bad guy is always fun.”
McMahon says that he approaches playing the villain both as a bad guy and as characters with certain, redemptive qualities, “because I do look at them as a villain, because you have a mission that you need to accomplish by the end of the movie. I also look at them as people and calculate very thoroughly how I can manipulate the audience in a way that they will attach themselves to the character. I feel like it is important to me to show the audience different sides of the personality, so it is not just a bad guy, but this guy who is multi layered. At the end of the movie I’d like to have the audience a little conflicted as to whether they want him to die.”
In this perpetual age of big-screen comic book movies that hit our theatres, McMahon has no doubt as to why comic book films have become so popular. “First I think we have this extraordinary wealth of character and these different worlds from these comic books and I also feel that it is one of those no brainers that once you saw X Men or something, you kind of go okay we should have been in this years ago. But I also think that they are fascinating characters, and worlds. I mean some of my favourite movies over time have been things like Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Mad Max, which kind of allow you to go into a different world, and follow a different existence.” McMahon agrees that shooting a comic book film reminds him of why he was drawn to acting to begin with. “I think it is part of the fantasy, growing up as a kid, watching cartoons and reading comic books that you develop that kind of mind set of: okay now I will be able to fly or when will I be able to do this? Then you kind of forget about it, or at least I did and then it was the introduction of this movie coming back into my life that I kind of started to get back to that kind of stuff of like, this is what I dreamed about when I was a kid and this is like I spent many, many, many afternoons trying to jump off the deck at my parents’ house, hoping I would fly. Finally, you just realise the place and kind of relevance it has in your life.”
Julian Dana William McMahon was born on 27 July, 1968 in Sydney, Australia to Sir William and Lady Sonia McMahon, the second of their three children. Since his father was the prime minister of Australia in the 1970s, Julian was no stranger to the public eye in his early years. He briefly attended the University of Sydney to study law, but quickly grew bored with it and began modelling and appearing in commercials. He said he had an initially shallow reason for drifting into first modelling, then acting. “Initially acting was just another vehicle for me to stay away from going to college and studying and to maybe be able to travel around the world and do different things,” McMahon concedes.
“It was almost an escapist kind of attitude that I had of getting away from stuff that I didn’t feel like I wanted to do, then after doing it for a number of years I developed such a passion for it that it actually became something I realised I wanted to continue doing and hopefully do for as long as I could.” At first, his parents were not exactly thrilled that he embarked on such a risky profession, he recalls. “I don’t think that it was in anybody’s eyes the wisest choice, and nor was it kind of a choice that was then kind of groomed towards. But for me, it was such a long time ago and my mother has been very supportive of this career choice and 100% behind me. Not just that but she has actually become an avid fan of the stuff that I do, which has been really cool.”
McMahon admits that it remains a challenge for him to make the comfortable transition from television to movies. “It is consistently a challenge and I think that it remains so throughout your career. I mean people are always saying: that guy’s just on daytime TV so there is no way he is going to do night time, or he is on night time, so there is no way he would be in movies It is just the way the psyche works and so you just have to work and fight against that and prove them wrong I guess.”
It wasn’t long before McMahon won the lead in the primetime drama, ‘The Power, The Passion’, and by the time he moved on to his second series, ‘Home and Away’, he quit university to pursue an acting career. He also performed on stage in “Love Letters” in Melbourne and Sydney, as well as a musical version of “Home and Away” in England. After moving to the United States, the young actor found it difficult to break into Hollywood because of his Australian accent, but quickly overcame the problem and won the role of Ian Rain on the daytime drama “Another World . During the two years he spent on that soap, he also guest-starred on the sitcom “Will & Grace” and appeared in the feature film “Wet and Wild Summer”
Leaving “Another World”, Julian took on another television role in “Profiler as John Grant, a detective with the Atlanta Police Department who joined the FBI’s Violent Crimes Task Force. During the four year run of “Profiler”, Julian also starred in the movies “In Quiet Night” and “Magenta”. When Profiler” was abruptly cancelled, he quickly moved on to the WB’s primetime drama “Charmed” as Cole Turner.
While filming “Charmed”, Julian also took on roles in the Jeff Daniels movie “Chasing Sleep” and the USA cable movie “Another Day”. During his two and a half-season stay on “Charmed”, Julian gained legions of fans due to his wide-ranging portrayal of Cole. When he left “Charmed” in December of 2003 to pursue other acting opportunities, he took on a pilot for a new FX drama about two plastic surgeons. “Nip/Tuck” was picked up by FX for a twelve episode first season run, where Julian would play Dr. Christian Troy. McMahon says that following his departure from Charmed, he was initially reticent to return to series television -until he read the pilot. “Going back into prime time television was not my first choice, but the script that came along was so good and also it was the fact that it was on a cable network where we got the opportunity to do things that you can’t do on network TV. Also it was great that I would only work for six months of the year and then have at least six months off, so it gave me the opportunity to do different things.”
Christian Troy may be misogynistic at times, but McMahon says there remain facets of nip/tuck character that he can relate to “I can relate to him because I can identify with the kind of journeys that he went through. I always felt like Christian made many mistakes in life and had to kind of figure out how to get the best out of them and I feel like I’ve had a similar kind of past. I think that we all make mistakes in life and I am definitely one who kind of figures out who you are and different aspects of who you are and what life means to you. I’ve always kind of felt like Christian was that kind of guy, but more than anything else, he is also fun guy to play.”
McMahon refutes the perception of Christian as being a bad boy, and feels that the character has grown in leaps and bounds since the series debut. “If you actually go back and look at it and it continues through the third season, Christian is the only character who continually evaluates his situation, what he has done, what he has done wrong, everybody else’s position in it, tries to do something about it and tries to make it better by maybe making himself better, maybe by trying to help other people. But his choices are not always the right ones, which is what I like about him. He is a flawed guy who calculates his choices which are not always great.” The actor has just started shooting the third season of the show and promises a great ride ahead for its loyal fans. “The scripts are pretty out of control,” he says, laughingly. “I didn’t think we could get anymore deeper, darker and more horrific then we did in the first and second seasons but the third season has proved me wrong.”
Julian is currently single, but has been married twice, first to actress Dannii Minogue, and second to actress Brooke Burns, with whom he shares a daughter. The actor admits that while fatherhood has settled him down, it’s a struggling balancing some semblance of a private life with his long hours on the set. “I think definitely, without a doubt fatherhood is accompanied with the amount of hours I have to put in with my work. for instance on Nip Tuck I usually shoot anywhere from 14 to 20 hour days while on The Fantastic Four I would go in from anywhere to 3 to 10 hour makeup and then shoot a 12 to 14 hour day. So when the weekend comes and this ain’t going on you go I am going home and going to bed, or I am going home and spending the weekend with my kid because I didn’t get to see her as much as I wanted to throughout the week. So it is part and parcel of both of those things that kind of just make you realise that you have to make certain priorities in your life and kind of work out the schedule that works best for you.”
As for his future, it may or may not include stepping into the shoes of one James Bond 007. “I think there is a bunch of people who are in consideration with the Broccolis and Sony. I think that they have to define exactly what they want to do with the character, as there were talks of it going younger and talks of it staying the same age or going slightly younger, so I think it just depends on what they want to do. James Bond is this wonderfully iconic kind of character that we have all been watching for forty years and they are big shoes to fill and an extraordinary one.” Even if he were offered the role, McMahon isn’t positive he would want the gig. “I would really have to kind of evaluate the way that I would look at the character and see what they want to do with it, wanting to make sure that we kind met at some place were we all felt comfortable doing the same thing.”
The actor has also completed work on an independent film, Prisoner, “that I shot down in Nashville. I play a guy called Derek Plato whose is this film maker who has put out a couple of films which have had extraordinary influence throughout the United States and the rest of the world. He has gotten great accolades, been nominated for Oscars but he is kind of an arrogant kind of guy. Then he gets imprisoned by this character who basically forces him to look inside of himself and examine why he is the person that he is. It was an absolutely fascinating script to read and hopefully I did a decent enough job to do it justice and hopefully it will be a great movie because it really was beautifully written. On the whole if you are person who likes Nip Tuck you will like this movie it has all of that. It is just weird, a little edgy, dark, deep and heavy.”
McMahon is reaching the top in a career that has been consistent for over a decade. Having grown up in the public eye, has prepared the actor for impending public fame. “I think there certainly has to be something along that with some kind of comfortability for me, but at the same time it is nothing like I had ever done in Australia or in my youth you know what I mean. So it is kind of a skill that I’ve realised, you know selling the movies, selling the TV show and doing all that stuff is to me as important as it is to make the movie. Because you know if you don’t sell the damn thing there is no point in making it, so for me it was something that I had to learn, just like I have to learn to be an actor, just like I had to study to do what I am doing.”
He says that he tries to keep grounded, “by the way you live your life. I have a 5 year old daughter, and I spend a lot of time at home, it is sad probably the way that people look at me not being out and about raising hell and all that kind of stuff. I lead a pretty conservative life and nice and relaxed when I am not doing what I am doing.” And the actor, who has given up his Aussie accent, does hope to eventually work in the country that started it all for him. “I would love to work in Australia, and in fact I was going to a couple of years ago but there were scheduling problems. Obviously I have been working in America for a long time so getting the Aussie accent I would have to have a couple of cans of Aussie beer.