Julian McMahon on ‘Hunters’ and Learning How to Click From His Dog

Julian McMahon
Ben King/Syfy

After a long absence from the American TV scene after his successful turn as a sexy, slightly unhinged plastic surgeon in Nip/Tuck, Julian McMahon has returned with a starring role in Hunters, Syfy’s new aliens–amongst-us series. The actor plays serial killer Lionel McCarthy, who’s a Hunter, a predatory species that’s on Earth for—as of yet—unknown reasons. McCarthy came to notice after he kidnapped the wife of FBI Agent Flynn Carroll (Nathan Phillips) , who as a result, joined the covert government Exo-Terrorism Unit (ETU) which hunts down the extra-terrestrial creatures.

McMahon gives us some insight into his character, what’s happening in this week’s episode and the rest of the season.

Welcome back to U.S. TV, though it’s filmed in Australia, your home country. Nip/Tuck concluded in 2010, why has it taken so long to be back in a regular role in an American series?
I did Profiler, Charmed and then Nip/Tuck back to back… And I was basically shooting one movie a year. So it was a conscious decision to take a break, to be honest, and spend time with my daughter and my wife. Then one day, I drove by a set in L.A. and the light bulb switched on; it was time to return. I went off and tried to relaunch myself, so here I am.

Why did you choose Hunters for that launch?
I really enjoyed the script and the character was an opportunity for me to do something that people wouldn’t predict and also play with a little bit. Lionel McCarthy was very interesting and I had the opportunity for a lot of different looks.

You’re pretty hot as a murderous alien DJ. Liking that grey hair/beard combo.
(Laughs) I got that look because I’m starting to get a little peppery. But I had come up with a bunch of looks, including some funky ones. The worst was Rastafarian dreadlocks. They looked bizarre. For the first episode, we altered that to a hat with dreads out the back that we structured to mock the structure of the alien. I also grew a mustache that made me look like a ’70s porn star. I really liked it, but It never made it to the screen.

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McCarthy has killed a series of women and bombed a market place full of people. Do you play him as a terrorist or as part of a species fighting to survive?
This is a species fighting for survival. Everyone on the show is—whether they’re human, alien, or like my character, a hybrid. As he says to the ETU, when he’s captured in this episode, “You’re examining us like we’re insects, how would you feel if I did the same thing to you. Cut up your wife for educational purposes?”

Episode 4 is very McCarthy-centric. Is it a turning point for him and the show?
I think so. Up until now, he’s done what he’s wanted without being affected by any human governmental body. You’ve seen him be destructive and in control, and though he does that to some degree this week, things change dramatically for him. Ultimately what he wants is to propagate. He thinks because he’s such a strong alien/human hybrid, he’s the best that his species has. There’s an outcome to that desire in the episode involving a baby that’s both horrific and almost beautiful at the same time, and will show both the human and animal—or alien—side of him.

Britne Oldford

Britne Oldford

Isn’t ECU agent Allsion Regan (Britne Oldford) a hybrid as well? Could she be important in his plan?
She is, but her Hunter genes are only a small part of her. Though her Hunter instincts could take over her human qualities as the season progresses.

Will Regan and McCarthy have a lot more interaction?
Yes, near the end of the season.

The Hunters communicate with each other in a form of clicking. Are you an expert at it now?
It was going to be in my first scene. I was wondering how to do it. Strangely enough the answer came from my dog. He had cut his side open and after the doctor sewed him up, whenever he’d turn his head to lick his wound, he’d do this weird kind of click thing with his teeth. I thought, “That’s the Hunter click!” I took it to production and once they saw me do it on camera, that’s what we used. So an animal with a strong sense of hearing is showing me the way for my character-an animal whose top sense is hearing.

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When will we find out when, how and why the Hunters came to earth?
Around episode 8, we’ll start to find out why. You’ll know what they want. They need a purge before they start their mission on Earth, but McCarthy makes it more brutal than necessary. He’s an outlier among his species.

Is Earth inundated with alien Hunters?
There’s a lot, and lots of different forms too. McCarthy looks like a human, but only because he’s using means he shouldn’t be. To look human, they have to have to have human blood in their system, but they’re not meant to kill humans to get it. What works for best for him, he believes, is taking the spinal fluid from human junkies, which kills them. Then he injects it into his system. But there are lots of Hunters who don’t assimilate properly, so they have funky faces or weird chests, etc. They don’t pass as well as McCarthy does. There’s at least 12 different varieties this season.

Will we learn why McCarthy took Flynn’s wife Abby (Laura Gordon) this season? Will Flynn find her?
We get a little of why. But the question is still very much unexplained and it falls into a completely different storyine toward the season’s end.

We get to see McCarthy in his character as a musician sing a dark and sexy song in a club. Is that you doing the singing?
Yes. And it wasn’t very good, was it?

Actually, you passed the test.
That’s good to hear.

Hunters, Mondays, 10/9c, Syfy.