MacGyver interview: David Dastmalchian sets up Murdoc’s return, upcoming finale

David Dastmalchian

Friday night’s new episode of MacGyver will be here in a matter of hours, and with that, so does the return of one of his most-infamous adversaries. Murdoc is back! David Dastmalchian will reprise his role as the famed adversary, and this time in the midst of a very different story.

We were excited to sit down with Dastmalchian for thoroughly enjoyable interview earlier this week. We touched on the story of these final two episodes of the season, peeled back the layers of his character, some of his interactions with various cast members, and the incredibly busy last few months of television that he’s had. Odds are, if you’ve got good taste in TV you’ve probably seen him everywhere as of late.

CarterMatt I think the first thing I’m curious about is what these past few months have been like? In between MacGyver, Gotham, and The Flash you’re on so many shows we cover, and they’re all filmed in different places.

David Dastmalchian – The story is kind of crazy. I got back from doing Blade Runner:2049 and my own film that I made called All Creatures Here Below in September, and we started to move in on a house purchase then and that’s when the MacGyver offer came about. I had to take off, and my wife, who was at that point three months pregnant and with a two-year old full of mad energy, I don’t know how she [took care of it all]. I left to work on MacGyver, and while I went out to do that the Gotham opportunity arose and I went to New York for a month for that. Then, I went back to Atlanta because by some miracle the MacGyver folks liked what I was doing with Murdoc. We got to expand and develop that character, and then over the holidays I found out that I was going to be heading to Vancouver. I went to Vancouver in around February and then went back to Atlanta to film what [viewers are going to see] this week.

I’ve had a great deal of opportunity working in the film world, both with studios and independently, but like any other actor I’ve been on 4 billion auditions. I’ve always wanted the opportunity to play in the TV world, especially with characters that can grow. It’s all happening at once, and it’s very exciting. It’s a lot of work because they’re different characters and I want them to feel very real and different from one another. People who are watching can see different sides of my work.

I would assume so much of playing Murdoc is especially fun because so much of him is a mystery. I mean, we don’t know a lot about him other than that he’s adversarial, and he’s skilled.

The story of who this guy is, is so fascinating. It’s so complex and it’s so dramatic. It’s why there is some great soil and fertile territory to continue exploring.

Speaking about tomorrow night’s episode, there is a major bombshell revealed. For me and the way I approach the character, the shell and the protective barrier between who Murdoc is privately and who Murdoc is professionally is tantamount to his personality and survival. I will say that there is a major bombshell when it comes to somebody getting a chance to crack through my narrative.

I love the writing for Murdoc, and when I read the script for this episode in particular, I remember calling my wife and being like ‘oh f, this is about to get revealed.’ We were both like ‘wow.’ It’s really cool.

I love Meredith [Eaton], the new Director. Obviously Mac is my nemesis, and it’s so fun playing with Lucas [Till], he’s a wonderful actor. It’s so fun getting to dismantle his entire life and everything that matters to him. But now I’m getting this new enemy with Meredith and it’s pretty awesome — she’s a formidable opponent.

One of the other things that I enjoy about Murdoc is that he’s not one of those villains who is singularly attached to one character. Even on his last appearance, we had some of those great scenes with Bozer and Riley.

Bozer has a particularly special place in Murdoc’s heart. Bozer was the first person that I interacted with, and he knows how much he means to Mac. The thought of getting to hurt any of the team is sadistically pleasurable to Murdoc. He’s become so good at his game that it becomes almost like an art form to him.

What’s masterful about the way Friday’s episode is written is that here’s this guy who is literally chained to a table, an 8×10-foot inescapable cell, and is completely running the table on these poor unfortunate souls! It’s awesome.

I know that on this episode Mac is going to try to impersonate Murdoc. Did Lucas have a number of questions for you about the character, and take pointers from your own performance in figuring out his?

Absolutely. He’s really dedicated, so he contacted me before I went down there asking if we could go over it and rehearse. He wanted to have conversations about how Murdoc would say [certain things]. What’s interesting about the bizarre mentor / mentee relationship in this episode is that he’s having to take on personality traits that are not only the opposite of MacGyver’s, but they are also traits that he literally despises. He knows that he has to take them on to be good at his job.

We discussed that stuff a lot, and over the course of doing the scenes, it was like doing a play. It was a small set, the two of us toe-to-toe, all dialogue. All of the fireworks in the scene had nothing to do with any effects or action sequences. It was all about the psychological manipulation and the chess game that we play. Just when you think one of us has the upper hand, don’t cash in yet. You’ll be surprised at how well Murdoc plays the game, because he is the master (laughs).

You’re such an nice and affable guy to talk to, and yet you’ve played some of these characters who are so sadistic. Do you need to find some sort of relatable touchstone with some of these guys that you can identify with, or do you try to go off the rails with them?

I’ve been very blessed to play a lot of roles that are really well-written, and that does a lot of the work for you as an actor. Coming up with justifications and motivations and understanding the way the role functions is the exact same for me, whether I’m playing someone who is trying to save the day or someone who is trying to ruin the day. If there isn’t a completely blatant explanation on the page as to why their behavior is shaped a certain way, there are enough clues and enough opportunities for me to create that. That’s so fun for me.

I do think that there’s a darker shadow in all of us, even in someone like MacGyver. Or, if you want, think about Othello. He’s a good guy with a good heart, but there’s a shadow inside of him that if the wrong person taps into that shadow, the monster can come out. I think all of us have that shadow. I just have this awesome job where I get to indulge that in a totally safe and artistic way. Not to say that I’m acting as some sort expulsion therapy or anything, but I’m always grateful for it and I think my training in acting and theater always comes in very handy playing characters who do things that I, David, find deplorable.

It’s an interesting question you pose. It’s one I think about a lot and one I will probably keep thinking about as I keep learning. My style as an actor keeps evolving, and it keeps being influenced by all of the people that I work with and the experiences that I have. Becoming a father, for example, completely changed the way that I look at acting and storytelling.

The past two times we saw Murdoc, there has been a pretty big wait between the episodes. Now, you’re going to be in two episodes in a row. Talking about Friday’s episode — Is there anything that you can say to set up the finale?

These two episodes feed into each other. The first is going to lead into the next one in really interesting ways. The way that it’s written, yet again I had an ‘oh f’ moment when I read it. It’s pretty mind-blowing. It’s so fun because the audience goes scene to scene and minute to minute, but we always feel comfortable knowing that our hero, our MacGyver, our boy scout, is going to save the day. We always feel comfortable knowing that.

What’s interesting with the season finale is that with the risks the writers and creators are taking, I think they are going to upend audience expectations a great deal, and I don’t think they will see what happens coming. It’s really exciting for me to be a part of it. It has received so much love from the fans and the people who make it, and getting the opportunity to carry the mantle of someone like [original Murdoc] Michael Des Barres, I am honored to get to do what I get to do.

I don’t think anyone’s going to see what happens coming. We’re going to blow some minds, and I think everyone’s going to need some recovery time for season 2.

Let’s say hypothetically Murdoc’s still a player in this world after the finale. Is there still more you’d like to explore for him in season 2?

1000%. One thing we were touching on earlier was the secrecy and mystery of his backstory. We just literally scratched the surface. It’s a deep scratch in the episode coming on tomorrow night, but there is such a depth still as to who this guy is and why this guy is this way. I feel like we’re just getting started.

Just remember — as much as MacGyver thinks that he can and as much as the writers may think they can, they can’t stop me! Murdoc is unstoppable, and I hope I get the opportunity to resurrect playing him in the future.

As we mentioned at the start, you’ve had a hell of a busy year. Is there anything else coming up you want to mention?

As I mentioned I recently finished [All Creatures Here Below], which I wrote and I’m also starring in opposite Karen Gillan, one of the most talented actress that I’ve ever known. That film is done now and we’re all crossing our fingers and burning our candles, hoping for the best. Hoping I have some more news about that soon.

There are several upcoming projects that are either feature or TV projects, but I have a staple gun to my lips for the 20,000-page NDAs that I signed for them. I will say that it’s been an incredible year, I’ve gotten to play a diverse cross-section of roles, and I hope people enjoy what’s coming.

I think by far the thing that I’m most excited about is that I have a little girl coming. That’s the big premiere and the thing I’m the most excited about. She’s due in June, and I’m over the moon about it. I can’t wait.

More coverage

Thanks to David Dastmalchian for all of his time and his candor in this interview! Remember to watch MacGyver on CBS Friday night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, and head over here if you’re interested in reading further news when it comes to the show. (Photo: CBS.)

Love TV? Be sure to like Matt & Jess on Facebook for more updates!