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MacGyver Roundtable Interview with Peter Lenkov and James Wan at SDCC 2016

This fall, CBS is reviving MacGyver. Tune in Friday September 23rd at 8pm for the premiere. MacGyver stars Lucas Till (Walk the Line, X-Men: First Class) as MacGyver and George Eads (CSI: Crime Scene Investigation) as Jack Dalton. We sat down with the show’s creator and Executive Producer, Peter Lenkov and Executive Producer and Director of the Pilot episode, James Wan.

Many may know James Wan as being a movie director known for Furious 7, the Conjuring films, Insidious and much more. So why the transition to MacGyver and specifically to television? James responds, “This is my first TV experience, and personally I’m very lucky to work with Peter Lenkov, who is a genius and a super professional in this role. And he freaking knows everything about this role. So I’ve wanted to make MacGyver for a long time, back when it was a feature film.” He goes on to say, “When peter came along and basically just injected the series with new life, I got super excited. I came back and said, ‘You know what? I can see myself doing the MacGyver Pilot as my first foray into television.’ And listen the TV world is crazy. It’s insane, but it’s also really fun.” James even made sure to plug the show in his response. “You barrel through it. You make things up along the way, not quite unlike MacGyver. So you could say I’m MacGyvering my way through TV for the first time.”

If you’ve been a fan of MacGyver before, you may have noticed some differences in this version. Most notably, MacGyver is played by a 25 year old. When asked what went behind the decision to make MacGyver younger, Peter Lenkov explained that it was never their intention. “I think really it was casting. We weren’t really looking specifically for an age. It was just really the character. And Lucas [Till] is really the perfect MacGyver, and when you see him on screen you’ll see why. But it really was that. It was not anything specific looking for an age range. It was really finding the best actor. And we cast it, and it just so happens that he’s 25 years old. But when you see him on screen, you’re gonna believe that he’s MacGyver.”

Often times it’s easy to believe that actors who get along in a television show must have great chemistry behind the scenes. Unfortunately this isn’t always the case. Peter talks about how wonderful it is for the leads Lucas and George to have such great and immediate chemistry. It also helps the audience to not focus on the age gap. Peter explains, “When I did Hawaii 5-0, I wrote an origin story. And with MacGyver, I didn’t want to write an origin story. I wanted to jump into their world, get a peek into this relationship at a point where MacGyver had a life change. And I wrote the story of the relationship as the relationship that you see. So that relationship was cast dependent. The chemistry all of that stuff was dependent. The bromance, the older brother younger brother relationship, and it just so happens that we really cast this thing so perfectly.”

Peter goes on to explain how lucky they were to have these two work so well together. “Because what you see on stage is what you see onscreen and what I always imagined the relationship to be when I was writing the script. So we’re jumping into a relationship that feels fully formed. It feels like the characters have known each other for a long time, which they do in the story. We’re just very lucky casting wise because those guys genuinely adore each other. And they have that kind of relationship that you dream when you’re casting a show because that’s lightning in a bottle. That chemistry is gonna be the reason that you’re gonna tune in each week.”


With setting MacGyver in present day, the sky is the limit in terms of what can be done for stunts and the MacGyverisms. When asked about his favorite MacGyverism the they’ve done so far, Peter was having a hard time picking just one. “Every episode there’s going to be about 8. So that’s going to be like picking your favorite child. They’re all pretty unique in different ways.” He goes on to explain their strategy for this new show for fans of the previous iterations as well as those who want to try out MacGyver for the first time. “We’re coming out of the gate with people that are going to be very skeptical. We can’t recreate the exact same show. We have to keep the soul of the show alive and also introduce it to a brand new audience to get them to watch also. When you get somebody like James [Wan], you can’t just write MacGyver inside a room taking a watermelon and turning it into a screwdriver. You’ve got to do something big. The guy directed Fast and Furious 7. People are going to expect that kind of action.”

With a show like this, fans will obviously come back for the amazing stunts and the MacGyverisms. But, Peter explains why fans will want to keep coming back week after week. “It’s an event, a summer movie every week. It’s a popcorn show. It’s got a lot of great ingredients. The MacGyverisms are the secret sauce of the show. That’s the thing that nobody else has.”

The relationships and the personal aspects of the show will be one of the reasons to keep tuning in. James explains, “For me, it doesn’t matter whether I’m doing an action movie or a horror film, or the Conjuring films; it’s all about the characters. And that’s what I love about these two guys. They’ve got such great chemistry between each other, and it’s really the story between the two of them and how well they get along and who MacGyver is along the way. And so if you can get that right then all of the action stuff is cream on the cake. All the set pieces is just cream on the cake that just makes everything so much tastier.” Peter adds, “There’s a lot of heart in the show.”

Of course, it wouldn’t be MacGyver without giving a nod to those who came before. When asked if there’s a chance for Richard Dean Anderson to pop up on the new series, Peter couldn’t hide his excitement. “We hope so. That’s our goal. As fans of the original show, you couldn’t do this show without his involvement. So that’s our goal. We want to establish it and then really convince him to come and join us.”

We wanted to end on a fun note, so I made sure to ask James Wan if there had been any hauntings on the MacGyver set. James laughs and replies, “Yes there’s a creepy ghost that hangs around the set all the time. That just happens on all of my shows.”

So what do you think? Did James Wan and Peter Lenkov sell you yet on MacGyver? If not, take a look at the previews from CBS. I think I’m sold already. Tune in Friday September 23rd at 8pm for the premiere of MacGyver.

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Jenny Lampe

Jenny Lampe

I'm a TV and movie enthusiast. I enjoy all genres and try to keep up to date on the latest hits. Follow me on Twitter at @JennyLampe.