Bruce McGill Looks Back

In June, 2012 Bruce McGill gave a very interesting interview to reflecting on his career to date. You can follow the link to read the full interview , but below is his response about his Jack Dalton character in MacGyver.


Jack Dalton:

Well, that’s interesting, because they wanted me to sign up for the TV series. They had seen me in a Miami Vice episode where I played a pretty flamboyant character. [Laughs.] It was a case where they had halfway written it, and I just said, “Well, this is halfway there; I need to help this out,” so I threw a lot of stuff in that they hadn’t put in, and that energized the character. And what they were looking for on MacGyver was something to energize the sometimes-laconic Richard Dean Anderson as MacGyver, ’cause if you weren’t careful, most of the guest stars would come in and pick up his rhythm; he was very laid back. And if the actors that are guests come in and pick that rhythm up, you’ve got a scene that just sort of sits there, and that’s not what they wanted in that show. They saw that I had a chance to stir him up a little, so they asked me to do it. And I wasn’t doing any TV at the time, but one of the guys on MacGyver was the guy that was the director of photography on Animal House – Charlie Correll, a great guy, God rest his soul – and he said, “I know that guy! I’ll call that guy, he’ll do it. I’ll talk him into it.” [Laughs.] So I think it was February or something, and I was in New York City, where I lived, and Charlie called me and said, “What are you doing?” And I said, “I’m freezin’, man!” He said, “Get out here and do this show! We’ll do this; we’ll play some golf. How cold is it there? ‘Cause it’s great here in L.A.! Besides, what are you worried about? This character dies at the end of the episode, so you don’t have to worry about being attached to a TV show!” So I said, “What the heck. Okay.”

So I came out and I did it, and, I enjoyed myself, but I never thought it would go any further. My guy didn’t die on camera, but he had this brain tumor, and he sacrificed himself to save MacGyver. But all you saw was Jack Dalton’s plane going over the horizon, assuming that he would crash and die. So three or four months later… [Laughs.] I’m back in New York, and my agent calls and says, “They’d like you do to a MacGyver.” I said, “Oh, yeah? What’s the character?” “Same character.” “But that character died!” And my agent said, “If Bobby Ewing can come back in the shower…” And I said, “I get it: Anything’s possible.” Now I know that television does whatever it wants to do, and audiences, if they like the characters, they’ll ignore it and watch it.

So I went back and did another episode, and in the middle of the episode, they explained to me they were looking to pump in a little energy and get a little rise out of Ricky, make MacGyver mad. In fact, I think I even had a line when we were in some scrape that I’d gotten us in, and I said, “Well, that’s okay, Mac, it’s still 50/50: I get us into trouble, then you get us out. That’s fair!” [Laughs.] So that was sort of the attitude, and once I recognized that – when they told me that, I went on and did it, not necessarily over the top, but I did a scene that was kind of full of broad choices. Scene-stealing, basically. And I apologized to Ricky and said, “Hey, listen, man, I’m sorry, they want me to… ” And he says, “Are you kidding? You are so welcome. I am so grateful. Take it and run!” So I realized that he wasn’t comfortable doing the energizing himself, but he was very comfortable with reacting to things that my guy did that drove him nuts. And it made for a really good relationship. I wasn’t in his way. Quite the opposite. He felt that it was helpful. And I really liked the guy. We got along extremely well. And that character – my mother loved that character, because he never cussed and he never died and he never killed anybody. So it was a great time. They wanted me to sign up full-time, but I was maintaining my feature career, and MacGyver was a nine-months-of-the-year show. I was also quite sure they would not write for my character if they owned him every week. So what we developed was, I agreed to do a couple of shows at a time, and then they would have to send me the script, and I would see whether they had written for my guy or not. I’m not even sure that you could make that deal nowadays if you were as nobody as I was. [Laughs.]

Will Harris.  June 5, 2012


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