Beware of SPOILERS for Stargate Atlantis‘s five seasons in this interview!
Paul McGillion’s character Dr. Carson Beckett has been called the “Heart of Atlantis.” That is certainly well-deserved: Carson brought levity, courage, and charm to every episode he was in.
We caught up with Paul at the Gatecon fan event in Vancouver, where we talked about Beckett’s first season on the show, the character’s shocking death in Season Three’s “Sunday,” and a very sci-fi resurrection. Paul talks at some length about the importance of the episode “Poisoning the Well,” and the work he’s been doing since the show came to an end.Look for Paul’s recurring role on The Flash to continue this season. He will also appear in the Robert Cooper-produced mini-series Unspeakable (which stars Michael Shanks), and he’ll play a key role in the upcoming third series of Frontier, the Netflix period drama starring his former Atlantis co-star Jason Momoa.
GateWorld’s 12-minute interview with Paul McGillion is available to watch in full below! You can also listen to an audio-only version by clicking on the player above or subscribing to the GateWorld Interviews podcast. Our full conversation is also transcribed below.
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GateWorld: Paul McGillion — welcome back to GateWorld! It’s been a lot of years.
Paul McGillion: Thank you!
GW: I’m so glad to see you again here at Gatecon 2018.
PM: It’s great to see you, my friend.
GW: I feel like we asked you so many questions about your character, and your character’s development — some of them I’ll just ask again, to get your perspective on it ten years later …
PM: Why not! [Laughter]
GW: But let me just start with the big picture: What has Atlantis meant to you — as a human being, as a professional, and as somebody who comes to these conventions?
PM: [Scottish accent] Are you trying to make me cry? [Laughter]
Atlantis has been, honestly, one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, professionally speaking. Just an amazing — what a great chance to not only play a fascinating character, multi-faceted and layered character — I had the great pleasure of playing Dr. Beckett — but just the chance to meet all the people, and the fans. We’re at Gatecon how many years later? And I’ve had a chance to travel all over the world. And it’s the gift that keeps on giving.
Stargate is truly … I equate it to some people watch football, some people watch basketball, and some people watch sci-fi. And I love it. And the fans are what makes the show so special. It’s truly been a blessing for me. And to meet everybody and travel all over the world — I couldn’t really have done it without Stargate. It’s been amazing.
GW: So the show first started [in] 2004. They were hiring the main cast, they were switching some characters around; they got David Hewlett to reprise an old role. But Beckett — the first season Beckett was not a regular. You weren’t a main cast member yet.
GW: When did you feel like the character was working, and like they were bringing him back and he was going to be a fixture?
PM: It was very exciting. When I read for it initially there was two characters: there was Beckett, and there was Grodin. And they were kind of these two characters — a lot of actors read for these. And they wanted an international flavor to the characters. I played Beckett Scottish, which was my heritage, and I thought I’d bring that to the table.And actually when we shot the pilot I felt it was really special. I mean, this is really, really cool — we’re doing this pilot, and Robert Patrick is in it. It just had a real buzz about it. Just going to the set of Atlantis, when you’re in the main gate set you’re like, “This is permanent. This isn’t going anywhere!” You had that feeling. There was a real buzz to it. And there was just a massive amount of background performers and everything.
And then during the second week of filming the pilot Martin Wood came up to me and said, “Listen, Damian Kindler wants to speak to you about a big Beckett episode that’s coming up in Episode 5 or 6.” And I was like, “Wow! OK, great!”
PM: Yeah! “… Because he wants to talk to you about your background a little bit.” And so I went up and spoke to Damian, and that episode ended up being “Poisoning the Well” — which I think really solidified Beckett as a main character on the show. For me, that’s where I felt like [it]. And it was a really meaty episode for Beckett. And I just really wanted to knock it out of the park.
And shortly after that the producers came up to say, “Listen, we love what you’re doing and we’re going to make Beckett a regular. But not this season — next season. How do you feel about that?” I’m like, “Great!” I ended up being in 17 of the 20 episodes of the first season.It was really one of those things that, it thankfully caught on, and the fans were so great to me and they really supported the character. It was great.
GW: “Poisoning the Well” is one of my favorite for the character’s journey …
GW: Not just for Beckett’s character, but it demonstrates the kind of stories the show is capable of telling and is going to be telling.
PM: Absolutely. Yeah.
GW: There’s not a lot of Stargate episodes that end on that kind of downer note that is a punch in the gut, when you see what the Hoffans have decided to do.
PM: Well, it’s humanity. And I think that’s the great thing about Stargate. There’s a lot of humor in it as well, and of course action. But I what the backbone of the show — and I think certainly with Beckett — is the humanity that the character has, and was able to portray given the great writers that we had for the show.
And that episode in particular: it deals with loss, especially for him. And it deals with integrity. I think the show has a lot of integrity and a lot of humanity.
That’s why a lot of families watch together. And I really love that. I’ve watched families grow up all over the world … the kids are taller than me now, and I met them when they were little, just watching Stargate! It’s one of those shows that the family can watch together. And I think it has good values and principles. And I think that’s really great. I think it’s rare these days that you have a show where everybody watches it together. It’s nice.GW: Fast-forwarding a few years: it’s tough to be killed off a popular show. I can just imagine fans coming up to you afterwards, giving you hugs because they want to be reassured that you’re OK even though Beckett is gone!
PM: It was really special. Obviously a difficult point for me professionally. And I think for the show it was a bit turn to kill off a main character. It got a large reaction. And subsequently they brought the character back, which was amazing — that’s again a testament to the fan base for Beckett to come back.
When Joe Mallozzi called me and said, “Listen, how do you feel about coming back on the show?” I said: “Well … I exploded!” He goes, “Well, it’s sci-fi!” [Laughter] Which is amazing.
And he told me the plot line, and I’m like, “Oh my God, that’s so clever.” And he was like, “Yeah, we can do it.”
GW: We could blow you up again and bring you back!
PM: Yeah, sure! And that was really special I think, too. I felt like that was really — in a way it was an homage to the fan base that they could bring him back. I thought it was really special for me to be able to come back.
I had a lot of people — [and] so many people still today — [say], “I cried so much when I watched ‘Sunday.’” I think as your job as an actor too I think I want to get that emotional reaction from the fans. Because I think the character deserved it.
So it was nice to come back. It was tough leaving, but it was great to come back. And then Beckett flies Atlantis back into San Francisco Bay [“Enemy at the Gate”]. So it came full circle.
GW: He’s right there. We loved Beckett so much, and then he was gone … and there was a period of mourning and then he was back. And we as the viewers were shocked right along with the team when he was discovered in “The Kindred.” And then you’re through several episodes in Season Five.
There’s this line that Rodney has in “The Kindred, Part 2” that I continue to wrestle with all these years later, which is Rodney says to Carson: “As far as I’m concerned you’re my friend back from the dead. You’re not a clone.”
Are the two Carson Becketts different people, in your mind?
PM: No. No. You know, I talked to the producers about that and I said, “Is he different at all?” And they were like, “No — no, he’s not.”
I didn’t play him differently. I played him a little more awkward in the first [episode]. Obviously everyone is looking at me like I’m a ghost! So you actually react — as an actor you’re kind of like, “What are you looking at?” That sort of thing. But then I just kind of played him how I normally would. I think that’s what they wanted.
It’s interesting playing a clone. He’s exactly the same. I went, “OK!” So he had the same memories, he has the same everything. And I just played him like that.
It would have been nice to see what would happen in subsequent seasons if we went further — see where the character went. That’s a whole other plotline: what happened?
GW: Does he go back to Earth, and go back and visit his Grandma and tell her there was a mix-up?
PM: Yeah, exactly. That’s right! [Laughter] Go back for some mince and tatties!
GW: In your mind is there a quintessential Beckett episode? If you wanted to show someone one episode, to show them who that character is?
PM: I think “Poisoning the Well.” Because, you know what’s interesting about that, there’s one of my favorite — there’s that monologue I have basically [saying], “I’m not going through that thing! It’s bloody insanity” going through the Stargate. And that’s the opening of “Poisoning the Well.”
It’s very funny. It’s one shot; it’s one long take. And the funny thing about shooting that particular scene, Brad Turner was directing — he’s a great guy, great director — and we had to do it in one take. And Rachel [Luttrell] has one word in it: it’s “Who?” I’m talking about — “Dr. McCoy” or something I think I say in the monologue, and she’s just like, “Who?”
And it was all technical things, like the camera guy is running backwards and he kept hitting off the wall. So OK, we’ve got to go again. And then it’s like, OK, we got it! All the time it had to be perfect. And finally we got a great take. And it’s like, “OK, everybody’s happy? Everybody’s happy?” Rachel’s like, “Uh … I didn’t say my line …”
And I’m like, “Rachel, you don’t have a line. You have three letters! WHO!”
So to this day I go up to Rachel [and say], “Who?” And she’s like, “Shut up, Pauly!” [Laughter]I love that episode because it does have that comedic aspect to it, and then it has the serious tone. And to me that epitomizes the character in a certain way. I think the Scots themselves wear their hearts on their sleeves. You know what I mean? They are “fierce friends,” and you don’t want to mess with them too, at the same time. But they have a lot of soul. And I felt that that episode really portrayed that.
There’s so many great episodes that we had. So many funny, amazing episodes. It was just such a pleasure to play. Like “Duet” for example was just hilarious and fun to play, and awkward. But I’d have to say “Poisoning the Well,” for me anyway.
GW: That would be my pick as well.
PM: Thank you.
GW: Carson is wearing his heart on his sleeve. And that’s the episode where I felt like I knew him.
PM: Yeah, I think so too. I think it really opened the audience’s eyes to what this guy is about.
GW: So your experience with fans over the years — you’ve done a lot of conventions, a lot of appearances in different countries. What keeps bringing you back?
PM: Well, it’s just amazing — it’s an opportunity to meet the [fans]. It’s one of those things, when you come to a Stargate convention you also have a good time. People are very happy to see you. It’s friendly faces.
And the comradery of all the other guests, as well. It’s always great to see old cast mates, and cast mates from the different shows as well when we cross over. And to see the fan base. I mean, they really appreciate what you do.
And obviously it’s a great chance to travel and get out. And you have a good time. Everyone’s having a great time here. So, that’s special.GW: You mentioned McCoy …
GW: You have played a role in a different science fiction franchise. Can you tell us a little bit about your part on Star Trek back in 2009?
PM: Yeah! It was a small part. I had read for Scotty originally. That was a real pleasure to read for it. And you know Chris Doohan’s family — James Doohan’s son — they publicly endorsed me to play Scotty, which was really nice. I had never met them. I met them last year, actually, at the Star Trek convention. And we hung out for a bit — he’s a lovely guy.
And obviously it didn’t happen; Simon Pegg got the role, and he’s a fantastic actor and does a great job. But when I was coming back from Los Angeles — I was living there at the time and I was driving up to Vancouver to do a play, and my manager called and said, “Listen, we got a call from J.J. Abrams’ office. They want to offer you something on the Star Trek movie.”
I said, “What is it?” They said, “They won’t tell you until you say yes.” I’m like, “Yes!” I ended up being the barracks leader. I had a scene with Chris Pine. It was really great.
He’s such a lovely guy, J.J. For someone that so successful and busy he just had all the time in the world for you. There’s a reason he does so great and his projects are so successful. He’s just a super-nice guy.
It was a massive production. It was really cool, just even to be a small part of it was really nice.GW: It seems like since Stargate has gone off the air the Vancouver film scene has obviously continued to grow and change and evolve. What stuff have you been doing lately? We’ve seen you on The Flash …
PM: Yes! Yeah, I’m reoccurring on The Flash, which is great. And that’s actually the first time I’ve played a Scottish character since Stargate. It’s a really fun character, Earl Cox. It’s hilarious, I think. And I have a good friend of mine, Tom Cavanagh — we’ve been friends for years, he’s one of my closest friends — he’s on The Flash. We haven’t had a scene together yet but hopefully we will this season.
And it’s very different from Beckett. I have a prosthetic belly in the episode! And he’s kind of a bit of a lovable rogue — a bit of a shady character. So it’s kind of fun.
It’s been very busy for me here lately. Lots of different genres I’ve worked in, and I’ve been very fortunate. So it’s been great. I worked on Jason Momoa’s show Frontier this season. I did a few episodes of that. And it was fun to see him up there in Newfoundland. We had a great time doing that period piece. It was really fun.
GW: Cool. Well, Paul — thanks so much for your time.
PM: Guys, thank you so much for having me. It’s great to see you, Darren. Thank you so much.
Follow Paul on Twitter: @PaulyMcGillion