Paul McGillion goes to Bollywood
There’s eclectic, and then there’s Paul McGillion’s recent filmography, which pushes the meaning of eclectic to the max and twists it upside down and sideways.
McGillion – who built a globe-spanning fan base playing Dr. Carson Beckett on Stargate Atlantis – has had a busy couple of years. In early 2016, he spent two months in India filming Heartbeats, a Bollywood-flavoured teen dance film from the creator of Step Up and Save the Last Dance that hit iTunes this week.
He pulled out his Scottish accent for the first time since Stargate Atlantis to play Earl Cox (a friend of Ralph Dibny’s) on The Flash – a recurring role that also required him to don a prosthetic belly. Earl is scheduled to return to The Flash next week.
McGillion played a cancer patient facing an uncertain future in Before the Day, a short film he also directed that premiered last month at the 2018 Canadian Film Festival in Toronto. Before that, he spent a few weeks in Newfoundland filming a multi-episode guest role in Discovery Channel’s Frontier. The epic period drama reunited McGillion with Stargate Atlantis alumnus Jason Mamoa, who stars as a part-Irish, part-Native American outlaw campaigning to breach the Hudson's Bay Company's monopoly on the Canadian fur trade; McGillion will appear as a (possibly dastardly) character named Major Vinnicombe (he was mum on specifics, but did note that “it was minus 27 with wind chill factor on the ocean. It was crazy. Yes, b’y”).
Oh, and McGillion will soon be seen playing a cop in Tom and Grant, a comedic short written and directed by Tom Cavanagh, his best friend of 25 years (for an anecdote from their long-time friendship, scroll to the end of this article) – and on the day of his interview with YVR Screen Scene, he’d just confirmed a two-episode arc on Bletchley Circle: San Francisco, the highly anticipated spin-off of the fan favourite British series about female code-breakers during World War Two.
“I’ve been very fortunate,” muses McGillion over smoothies in a Kitsilano coffee shop. “It’s an eclectic time with a variety of roles. It would be nice to be on a series on a regular basis again, but there’s something about getting an opportunity to play all of these different characters that’s fun. You never know what you’re going to get.”
Although the characters in McGillion’s recent filmography are wildly different from one another – prosthetic bellies and cop uniforms; Scottish accents and Bollywood; shaved heads and 17th century garb – what binds them together is the fact that each one contains the possibility of a singular moment. “It doesn’t matter the size of the role, as long as there’s a moment in there, and acting is all about moments,” says McGillion.
Speaking of memorable moments, McGillion had plenty of those filming Heartbeats in Mumbai in 2016. McGillion admits he needed a few days to adjust to the acute cultural differences between Vancouver and India’s largest city.
“I remember getting off the plane in Mumbai, and there were hundreds of stray dogs, the sound of the tuk-tuks driving around with the horns honking, people walking around with live chickens in their hands, and I was like, ‘What is going on?!’” He chuckles. “It’s like organized chaos. There are 26 million people in Mumbai. It was very much a culture shock.”
“You can’t explain it,” he adds. “You have to see it and smell it and experience it to get a feel for what India’s all about. It was an amazing opportunity. I’ve never been ingratiated by a culture so much. The people were so kind, so giving and warm.”
Heartbeats stars Krystal Ellsworth as Kelli Andrews, a young woman with dreams of becoming a professional dancer who travels to India with her parents (played by McGillion and Daphne Zuniga) and sister (Maeve O’Brien) to attend a wedding. There, Kelli falls in love with a dashing young man (Amitash Pradhan) as well as a new style of dance – and also helps to heal her family (which had been fractured by the death of her brother) in the process.
That “organized chaos” that McGillion mentioned extended to filming.
“It’s very different, shooting in Vancouver and shooting over there. Their thing is strength in numbers,” marvels McGillion. “You go to the sets there and there are 300 people on the crew. A lot of it’s done by hand. There was an incredible set that was being built, and there were hundreds of men in there all hammering on wood, and I came back later that same day and the structure is beginning to form, and I came back the day after that and it’s completely done. You can’t judge. You just go, ‘This is how they do it there.’ It’s different, but it works, and they produce more films there than anywhere else in the world. People lived on the sets some times, and chickens and dogs were running around, and I thought it was all amazing.”
Although McGillion is constantly moving forward in search of new characters to play and moments to explore, he is forever grateful for the role that kicked his career into high gear: Dr. Carson Beckett on Stargate Atlantis.
Which is why McGillion didn’t think twice when Joseph Mallozzi asked him to participate in the March 9th and 10th #StargateRising social media campaign, the aim of which was to encourage MGM to bring an in-canon version of the series back to television.
“Stargate is a landmark event in my career, and I will never forget it and I always appreciate it, and any time there’s an opportunity to support anything Stargate, I’m in,” says McGillion.
MORE FROM PAUL MCGILLION
On pranking, and getting pranked by, BFF Tom Cavanagh: “Tom and I, we met in Toronto 25 years ago. Tom came out to Vancouver in 1992. I came out in ’93, and we were roommates. We had these masks that we’d scare each other with all of the time. He had a Letterman mask. We’d hide from each other and pop out of closets. It was hilarious.
“Cut to 15 years later. Tom’s career had blown up and he was on a show called Ed, playing Ed, and during one of my first times heading down to New York to visit him – he was dating his now wife, Maureen – he said, ‘What do you want to do while you’re here? Pick three things.’ And I said, ‘I want to go to a Yankees game, I want to go see a play, and I want to go see Letterman.’ Tom was shooting the day of Letterman, so I was going to go with Maureen. Tom said we’d see him there, and we got there, and I said, ‘Where’s Tom?’ And Maureen said, ‘You’ll see!’ Tom is on the show. He’s a guest on Letterman. It’s Jack Hanna and Tom. We go backstage afterwards, and I walk into Tom’s dressing room, and he turns around and he’s got the Letterman mask on. The same mask. He’s like that. He kept it. I just love him like a brother.”
On his ride-or-die love for sci-fi fans: “Some people watch football. Some people watch baseball. Some people watch sci-fi. That’s the beauty of it. I didn’t know that world until I was doing sci-fi. I’ve watched families grow up. I’ve been invited to weddings. I was in a Stargate wedding in Hawaii. They wanted to get married and they wanted it to be at a sci-fi convention, they had their Stargate uniforms on and they said, ‘Would you like to be a guest of honour?’ And I’m like, ‘Yes!’ It was beautiful. That’s how they met. You go to these fan conventions all over the world, and let’s face it: nerds are smart. They love their sci-fi. They love to have a good time, and they’re always in a good mood, so when you go there it’s a happy place to go. They’re always having fun. They’re always happy to see you. I always try to bring something to the table when I go to these events. I always try to bring a little piece of Pauly.”
Heartbeats is now available on iTunes. Follow @PaulyMcGillion