REJUVENATED MACGYVER LOOKING FORWARD TO NEW SEASON
With his ABC MacGyver series at the beginning of its fifth season production, it's hard to believe Richard Dean Anderson was ever as stressed and burnt-out as he was last spring -- when he described his condition as "nearly catatonic with exhaustion."
The actor whose down-to-earth manner and aw-shucks charm have made him popular not only with fans, but with much of the media, seems even more laid-back than usual as he settles in to talk about his plans for the new season and for himself.
"I decided not to work at all this past hiatus, which drove my agent crazy," he notes. "The nature of doing MacGyver, and also the nature of my lifestyle, hasn't been conducive to staying in touch with close friends and family -- so I wanted to take time off to reconnect.
"My father (jazz bassist Stuart Anderson) and I bought a cabin in Minnesota last October. We spent some time up there over the summer, and bonded again. I'll tell you, it's kind of wonderful to be 40 years old, sitting by a lake and talking to your dad, getting back to the important issues of life," he says.
Then, with a chuckle, he adds, "We had problems with army worms this year -- important issues like that."
Anderson describes his getaway retreat as "a beautiful, elegant old cabin made by Finnish craftsmen, tucked away in the woods in the middle of nowhere, about five miles south of the Canadian border. It has quite a history, actually; it's been around for 75, 80 years. It has kind of a not-so-pristine reputation for bringing out the naughty quality type things in people. In fact, my dad is trying to dig up all the old records as we speak. Evidently John F. Kennedy stayed in it for a couple of nights once when he was campaigning."
The actor laughs when asked whether the cabin brought out his own "naughty quality things."
"No, I was either with my dad or strictly on my own, which I like to be sometimes. My mornings would consist of paddling out to the middle of the lake, and watching the sun rise, the mist evaporate, and just sort of letting a gentle breeze blow me to one side of the lake or the other. Then I'd paddle lack. It was exercise and therapeutic meditation all in one."
Anderson, who has been linked romantically with actresses Sela Ward and Marlee Matlin in the past, has been talking about settling down and starting a family of his own for a while now. But when asked if there are prospects for change in his personal life within sight, he good-naturedly groans a negative response. "Oh, I wish!"
"I wish I could give you some good dish or controversy on that, but there isn't any."
He admits, "In the last couple years I've had this real strong paternal urge, because I love kids and I'd love to have kids of my own. I just haven't been able to figure out the part of it that brings this about -- the wife thing."
Still, "I'm tryin'. I'm tryin'," he says. "I don't want to get so lackadaisical about it that I won't be able to run a post pattern with my kids... That's a football term."
Much has been made of the parallels between Anderson and his video alter-ego: their playfulness, their love of the outdoors, their adventurous natures. Anderson himself has noted, "MacGyver is a lot like me." So it's all the more interesting to hear him describe the character as "an independent maverick loner... I think that part of the mystery about MacGyver is that he hasn't been able to sustain or maintain a relationship, for whatever reason. He's an honest and upright guy, but he starts getting nervous and shuffling his feet in any interpersonal confrontation."
The actor, who was hopping freight trains in order to travel around his native Minnesota -- and the country -- by the tender age of 16, admits his own wanderlust is as strong as ever.
Besides his lakeside respite, his recent work break took him traveling. "I spent time in New York, went to the Indianapolis 500, spent time in St. Tropez, went to Greece -- floated around the islands in an 80-foot schooner -- then buzzed around Paris for a while, went back to New York, then L.A."
He won't have much time for a social life any time in the near future, now that he's back to MacGyver's grueling schedule. But Anderson makes it clear he's never been more enthusiastic about jumping into the shoes of his offbeat TV detective hero. "I'm excited about the range of subjects we're taking on this year."
Anderson reports that this coming season the series will consist of a blend of "heavier, meatier shows than we've had before," some typical stories "in what we call with affection our 'run and jump mode'" -- plus a sprinkling of all-out fantasies.
One of those will be a sequel to last season's western show, set in 1867. "MacGyver had a mustache, and was greasy," Anderson recalls happily. "I was so comfortable with it, I said, 'We need to have more western dreams here.' I love westerns. I really think I missed my era. We'll be going back to Calgary to shoot that in October." Another episode that will take MacGyver out of the realm of reality will have the mythology-loving character on a quest for a sacred sword.
On the meatier side, there will be several ecology-themed MacGyver installments, another of the show's "famous, or infamous" anti-gun episodes, a segment that takes the thinking detective to Romania for a look at life in the age of reform, and another that deals with a group of vigilantes who take it upon themselves to battle crack dealers in their community.
"In the beginning, when we were building an audience, I think we were more interested in the action-adventure stuff. What we've been able to do more recently is realize our position -- that we're able to sow some seeds for education -- and tackle some more profound, more topical, and for the most part more controversial subjects," he says.
"But we have to remember that we're here to entertain, even though we like to teach a little bit. Not preach, teach. Consequently, we have to make sure whatever we're doing is going to be entertaining enough to sustain an audience. I think the writers and producers do an excellent job of that."
As for himself: "I feel great now," he says. "I'm working my fanny off, but I'm enjoying it. The producers and writers respect my intelligence. What actor could ask for more? However," he adds, "if you have another conversation with me in about six months, I swear to you it'll be different. Things get a little iffy late in the season, after months of 14-hour days and shooting in the gloom of winter."