'MacGYVER': An Adventure For Richard Dean Anderson
He's solitary, introspective, athletic,
sensitive, socially conscious and apolitical. At times, he's a
maverick. And most of the time he's just a big kid. "He's between 2½
and 8 years old most of the time," makeup artist Jan Newman says,
chuckling. "He stood on the edge of that gravel pit the other day,
and pushed his bike off just to see how far it would go." Is he
MacGyver or Richard Dean Anderson? Right now, it's hard to tell.
Dressed in MacGyver's uniform of dungarees and green bomber
jacket, Anderson rubs sleep from his eyes as he steps out of his
motor home. He's been napping while the crew breaks for lunch. The
cold air seems to help him focus. Behind him, snow-covered mountains
rise abruptly from the valley floor where "MacGyver" is shooting
exteriors for an upcoming episode entitled, "The Treasure of Manco."
Normally, the surrounding pristine wilderness serves as a watershed
for the city of Vancouver. But this week, it will double for the
wilds of Peru.
"I just had to rest for a couple of minutes. My vacation
exhausted me," Anderson says while settling into a chair inside the
location mess tent. He is just back from Christmas hiatus, where he
took 11 plane rides shuttling between Vancouver, Hawaii and his
family's home in Minnesota. "I love pleasure, but I seem to go in
the other direction sometimes," Anderson says, smiling.
After five years of appearing in virtually every scene of the
series' 100 episodes, it's a wonder Anderson can smile at all. But
everything about the show seems a tailor-made fit for him. "The
nature of this show feeds right into my need to work," Anderson
explains. "I'm not a workaholic, mind you. I love to play and relax.
But 'MacGyver' affords me the opportunity of having a very strong
work and creative outlet."
Anderson came to the "MacGyver" series in the roundabout way most
actors make it to the big leagues. After breaking both arms as a
teenage hockey fanatic, Anderson's dream of becoming a professional
hockey player melted. A 6,000-mile bike trek across Canada and a
brief stint studying theater in college convinced Anderson that Los
Angeles might hold more promise than his native Minnesota. There, he
climbed the ladder of success one rung at a time, first working as
street mime and juggler and later directing and starring opposite
killer whales at Marineland. In 1976, Anderson landed the role of
Dr. Jeff Webber on ABC-TV's "General Hospital." He stood on that
rung for five years. Two short-lived primetime series for CBS
followed: "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" and "Emerald Point,
"I was kind of a vagabond, maverick, misbehavin' fool back then,"
Anderson recalls. "It was fun at the time but I fell out of favor
with the idea of being part of a big ensemble because I had too much
creative energy." He was on the verge of signing a two-feature
production deal when Henry Winkler called and offered him
"MacGyver." The unique nature of the series' title character
intrigued Anderson. "The typical TV hero is wielding a .357 Magnum
and shooting bad guys as a solution to problems," he explains. "
'MacGyver' presented an alternative approach. He never appeared to
be a superhero. He was always a kind of human guy who happens to
have a certain attitude about life and about solving problems. It
was different: This guy used his head instead of a gun."
When the producers made the decision to change the show's
backdrop from Los Angeles to Vancouver, they also knew that MacGyver
had to move beyond the bang and bash typical of other
action-adventure series. Given the character's established
sensitivity, the obvious tack was to take on socially relevant
topics within the show's framework.
"There's just so much that you can do of what we call
'run-and-jump' episodes," Anderson says. "We realized about a year
and a half ago that we're in a position – not to preach – but to
raise awareness by how this character would deal with such matters."
The resulting shows have addressed such issues as the plight of
the black rhino, the massacre at Tiananmen Square and the
clear-cutting of forests in the Pacific Northwest. Angry letters
from special-interest groups have proved that the episodes have had
an impact. "What they were asking was for us to entertain the kids
and not get so uppity about these topics, which of course, riled us
even more," Anderson says with obvious pleasure. "This caused us to
realize that what we were doing was very good and very important."
Though Anderson is clearly proud of the contemporary subjects
"MacGyver" has tackled, his favorite episode to date took the show
to another place in time. Anderson's character falls asleep while
watching a western and dreams of living in a snowy town in the Old
West. "Occasionally, the writers and producers will throw me a bone
like a hockey episode," Anderson says wryly. "But when this came
out, it was a little boy's dream come true: to be a cowboy in the
1860s and ride horses – without a gun, mind you. I told the
producers immediately that I wanted that to be a recurring dream. I
was in heaven."
When trying to explain why the show has reached the magical
number of 100 episodes, Anderson points to everybody but himself for
the answer. "After five years, what I'm beset with here is the
finest, most talented group of people I've ever come in contact
with," he says. "The fact that we're approaching 100 episodes alone
is a tribute to the tenacity and perseverance of this crew. We've
weathered some hard times, not the least of which has been a time
slot that hasn't been real kind to the ratings. But ABC has been
patient, especially in the last year. I don't want to harp on our
past relationship with the network, but now it's phenomenal."
Anderson turns 40 this year and has had little time for a
personal life. Though he keeps an apartment in Los Angeles, he
prefers to live in a hotel during the show's nine-month production
period. In the off-season, he travels extensively. Anderson still
plays hockey whenever he can with L.A.'s Celebrity All Star Team, a
group he helped found that has raised more than $1 million for
charity. But in the past three season hiatuses, Anderson has had to
curtail his playing due to back and foot surgeries.
His Gekko Prods. banner (in partnership with his best friend and
supervising producer Michael Greenburg) has two projects in
development. One involving G. Gordon Liddy has gotten nibbles from
the networks, but there's been little time to pursue them. So how
long can he go on?
I'm real tired, but I'm not tired of doing the show," Anderson
says convincingly. "If you're around for a while, you'll realize how
exhausting it is: the locations, the schedule we're under, the kind
of production quality we demand from ourselves. You get a little run
down, but I can't think of a better thing to be doing than this
show, especially in a television motif. It affords me every
opportunity to act, to be as physical as I like to be, and it's
creative. I love it." -K.M.
By Kevin McKelvey, The Hollywood Reporter. March 5, 1990: p.S-1 to S-24.