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February 04, 2020

Rebooting the Reboot

Henry Ian Cusick joins the cast of MacGyver in its fourth season, changing up the dynamic once again.

Melissa Byers
  • CBS
  • CBS
  • CBS
  • CBS
  • CBS

MacGyver has changed - again.

In its fourth season, the new version of MacGyver made some major cast changes. With George Eads's Jack Dalton character's exit, the show was ripe to be rethought, and that's exactly what the creators of the show did.

One of those changes was the addition of Henry Ian Cusick as new character Russ Taylor. Cusick explains, "We've made quite a bit of changes and a new character, called Russ Taylor. And the remit of him, he's Oxford educated, ex MI-6, a scoundrel, and trying to atone for his past. He joins the Phoenix and Mac's team, trying to do good now in the world.

"We find out what he used to do, and how he came about to be the person he is. And trying to better himself, I suppose."

Cusick's previous work tended to be somewhat heavier fare, so he is thoroughly enjoying the lighter tone of MacGyver. He says, "I have to tell you, I'm actually having a blast. I've not had this much fun in a role for a long time. I usually play, not usually, but I have recently played a lot of characters who have this angst, trying to save mankind, save the world.

"On The 100 and The Passage, even on Lost, to a certain degree, it is all, life or death, and we are in MacGyver, but the thing about MacGyver is it's a family show, so you have a lot of fun. There's a lot of comedy in it. Some of it's big and broad. And yet it has some great moments.

"We have a new writer. A bit of a partner to Peter Lenkov [who] runs the show and the writing team. Terry Matalas joined us middle of season four. So the writing, I believe, is very different. The look of the show is very different.

"But it's just really refreshing, to me as an actor, it's so refreshing to come to work every day, to have fun, to tell jokes. And to have a sort of dramedy. But it's still just very refreshing for me. I'm having a great time."

Moving from heavy drama to a more lighthearted show can be a tough transition, not only in the performance of it, but also to get the chance to move within the industry. Cusick notes, "Once you go down a certain path, you think people see you as something. From going from Lost to, perhaps the Scandal not so much, but certainly The 100, which I was on for five seasons. And then I jumped on to The Passage.

"So they were all very villainous, high stakes, angst ridden scientists. It's just such a new, and breath of fresh air for me. Getting all those cobwebs of all that old stuff that I've done before. Russ Taylor, he's larger than life. For me, it's certainly a bigger character than I've ever played, in terms of performance. And he's got a vitality, and energy, and optimism.

"And, yes, we have those moments of saving the world, and saving people's lives, and being Phoenix, and Mac, MacGyver, doing his Mac moments. But I have to say, it's just so much fun. So do I prefer it? I don't know whether I prefer it, but it's certainly a welcome change for me.

I don't think I've done comedy since I did a movie back in Scotland called Not Another Happy Ending, with Karen Gillan, and that was probably the last comedic thing I'd done. Which was quite awhile ago. So it was a welcome change."

Actors choose the roles they will play for a variety of reasons, and sometimes, it's less a matter of choosing and more a matter of being chosen. Cusick explains, "The opportunity arose. It was The Passage, which was on Fox, wasn't renewed. Which when we found, we got the news, we were pretty stunned, because we felt it was a really good show. We'd only done 10 episodes.

"We'd just grazed the beginning of this epic book. And I thought this is going to be a job that goes for at least five seasons. So when that didn't go, and I found myself with no work. And then out of the blue, they said, "Would you be interested in MacGyver?" And I looked at the show, and I thought, 'That looks like fun.'

And I'm so glad that I said yes to it. It was an offer, and I jumped on it. And I'm so delighted. I find that role kind of chose me in a way. It just was happenstance. I was in the right place at the right time, and it turned up."

As an actor who has performed in theater, film, and television, Cusick is comfortable in all three, but he has developed a preference.

He says, "Yes, of course, there's a difference between theater and television. I started off in theater, most actors in Britain do. That's your bread and butter. So you learn your craft on the stage. You go on stage, you do the whole play. You get that high off the audience. And then it's hard work. You do eight shows, even 10 shows a week.

"So what do you perform in TV? I'm a lot more relaxed, having done a lot of TV now. I'm a lot more relaxed on a TV set. Even having done theater for a long time, I remember at the half hour call I would still feel those butterflies. And it was always, you'd wake up in the morning, and your day revolved around doing the play.

"With film and TV, I'm here in Atlanta shooting. And of course the reason I'm here shooting in Atlanta is because I'm working on MacGyver. So you're always thinking about the show. I'm pretty much working every day. But it's a gentler pace. You can do pick ups. You forget your lines, it's okay, you get another shot at it.

"Voice levels, you don't need to scream to the back of the audience, as you would in theater. So there are obviously techniques that you use in both, differently. But ultimately it's still acting. Of course, you're aware, they'll say to you it's a wide shot, as opposed to a close up, you might alter your performance a little bit.

"But these are things that most actors, they pick up as they go along. I think I've been doing it long enough now, so I understand the difference in things. I haven't done theater for a long, long time. And every time I see it, I think, 'I'd love to do that again.' But really for one night only. I wouldn't really want to do a very long run.

"I think if you start off in theater, the excitement, even just as you're taking your seat, I'm thinking, 'What are we in for?' It could be a great play, or it's just invigorating. And, 'Ah, man. I remember that. I remember the feeling. I remember the buzz those actors would be having off stage. And we did a great show. And the camaraderie, and the togetherness, in the trenches together.' And you yearn for that.

"But then you're reminded. You go, 'Hang on. I remember that being a lot of work. Not very much money. And doing it night and night again.' And there were some nights there was no audience. It's such a hit and miss.

"I much prefer film and TV, certainly television. That's where I spend most of my time now. It's a medium that I'm very comfortable in. It's different from film in the sense that we work very fast. Usually, for example, on MacGyver we'll do two takes, and we move on.

"Our cast is great, because they're all so good. They all know their lines. It's not an easy script. It's very wordy, with a lot of MacGyver babble. And they deliver it fast, two takes and we're moving on, because we've got a lot to shoot.

"So you've really got to come and hit a home run every time you're out there. But I like that energy. I like that pressure."

An added pressure for Cusick is coming into a cast after they've already had three seasons together. And, although it was nerve-racking, Cusick found it to be a much easier transition that he had anticipated. He says, "I hadn't experienced this for awhile, because I did The 100 for five seasons, I joined The Passage right at the beginning, so we were all new cast together.

"But coming into a show for season four, you're coming into somebody else's house. You don't know the rules. And really is like going back to the first day at school.

"And I will tell you, I was very nervous. Of course, you're trying to be as cool as you can. Plus it was a very wordy, very big script, I came into. And I remember going, 'Wow. I don't how it's going to be. I'm going to be nervous. I don't remember being this nervous before.'

"But I have to say that the cast Lucas, Phil, Tris, Meredith, Justin, they were all the most welcoming. And our show runner, executive directing show runner, David [Stratton], they were all very welcoming. Peter Lenkov. They were all super friendly, and just after one scene I was like, 'Okay, great. We're good. I know what I'm doing.'

"I settled in very quickly, I felt. And also because there weren't many, not a huge cast. There's only five other actors besides myself, fixed cast. So it's very easy to [fit in], when it's a smaller cast, and I'm used to a bigger cast. It's been great."

Cusick is hoping that long time fans of the show will embrace the changes and his character, "I can honestly say I'm having a great time, and I'm just hoping people enjoy season four as much as they enjoyed season three. I know there's going to be time with the old character, and the show change.

"I haven't really seen any of it, season four, but they say the lighting, the way it looks, it's a little bit darker. The storylines have maybe gone a little bit darker.

"But I hope the fans stick with it, and enjoy this new reboot."

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