Paul McGillion laughs about the first time he told his parents he was going to star in a new TV show called Stargate Atlantis.
Despite correcting them countless times, they thought he said Star Trek.
A few years later, he now has both franchises on the resume.
The rugged Scottish-born actor was seriously considered for the part of Scotty in the new Star Trek film, being directed by Lost creator J.J. Abrams. The part eventually went to British comic actor Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz), but Abrams was so impressed with McGillion’s audition he gave him another small role in the $160-million revamp, which hits theatres in May 2009.
McGillion has been in big productions before – The X-Files, Smallville – but nothing like this.
“It does feel huge,” he said recently from his parents’ home in Niagara-on-the-Lake, before starting work on season five of Stargate Atlantis.
It’s about the only thing McGillion is allowed to say about the secretive production – he had to sign a 10-page confidentiality agreement when he joined the cast.
But he does promise it’ll be an amusing cameo for his fans.
He shares a scene with the new Capt. Kirk (Chris Pine), and his character doesn’t die – meaning he could return for the inevitable sequels.
Even if he doesn’t, McGillion is thrilled to be part of the hallowed sci-fi series.
“It’s something I’ll look back on and say, ‘That was neat to be part of that.’ It’s like being in a ‘Star Wars’ movie or something – even if you’re in a little bit of it, it’s a little part of history.”
While eyeing the part of Scotty, McGillion had the support of Chris Doohan, son of James Doohan who played the original Scotty.
Considering he’s also Scottish, McGillion thought the stars were aligned for the part. But he wasn’t crushed when Pegg got the call (Pegg also had a small role in Abrams’ Mission Impossible 3).
“I can’t say enough good things about what a terrific guy (Abrams) is,” he said. “He came up to me immediately and said, ‘Paul, thank you so much for doing this – I wish I had something bigger, but we just wanted to have you part of this movie.”‘
A former top-ranked wrestler with Brock University, McGillion has rarely found himself out of work since leaving Niagara in the early ’90s for an acting career.
After nabbing bit parts in two fan favourite episodes of The X-Files (Duane Barry and Small Potatoes), he popped up in Twilight Zone, Cold Squad and Da Vinci’s Inquest, along with films like A Guy Thing and Saving Grace.
In 2004, he landed the part of Carson Beckett in the pilot episode of Stargate Atlantis. His character – a medical officer who discovers a way for humans to interact with ancient Atlantis technology – proved so popular, he returned throughout the season and became a regular during seasons 2 and 3.
In an attempt to shake up the storyline near the end of season 3, Beckett was killed in the wrenching episode Sunday, which aired last June.
“I said, ‘Thank you for the opportunity – I had a great time doing it.’ At that time, I had done 50-something episodes of the character. That’s how it works. That’s how show business is.”
But the outcry from fans convinced producers to bring him back for the season 4 episode The Kindred – Part 1.
For the upcoming fifth season, McGillion has been confirmed for five episodes.
Supporters actually held a rally in the rain, complete with a pipe band, outside the production studio last March to save McGillion’s character. It reaffirmed to him how committed sci-fi fans are to their shows.
“It’s a really niche market and they’re super, super loyal. I’ve met some interesting people and it’s a really cool part of the business.”