A man with a loose Canadian accent is talking to me in a Hawaiian-themed bar in Prague. "These sci-fi conventions are like Woodstock," he's saying, over neat scotch. "They're full of quirky outfits and joyous fans looking to find someone to fuck." And then he tells me about the time Jack Bauer broke his neck, his adventures with Mulder and Scully, and the dedicated legion of fans who still love him for playing an intergalactic doctor on a cult TV show.
At this point, I'm feeling kind of confused and a little bit scared. Surely this is just Roy from Bognor Regis and he's having me on? A fantasist who's had one too many mixers and been split up from his grotesque stag-do friends. A man who might, possibly, strangle me to death and leave me in a Czech ditch. But the scotch keeps on flowing and the stories continue at breathtaking speed.
"So we just got back from this convention and this woman gave me a cross-stitched painting where I'm being hugged by a naked Joe Flanigan, the actor who played our fearless leader Colonel John Sheppard on the show," he reveals. "I was getting hugged erotically from behind and we're both topless with huge muscles, pecs and even bigger smiles. She just kept demanding, in a German accent, "'Do you like it? They are in space and love one another!'" There's a pause. "I didn't know what to say."
I've just met Paul McGillion. A Canadian actor born in Scotland, he has spent the day entertaining die-hard fans at the local sci-fi convention, and he's now having a drink. So why all the furore? Well, once upon a time, McGillion played the lovable Scottish-accented Dr. Carson Beckett on Stargate Atlantis. But while fictional doctors come and go, Beckett—who unexpectedly exited the show in season three after a deep space tumor caused him to spontaneously combust (you really got to get those space tumors checked out, people)—has somehow endured. Translation: sci-fi nerds fucking love him.
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To make sense of my drunken encounter, I get in contact with Beckett devotee TJ Jeffrey. So incensed by the character's demise, she created a national protest movement along with a lady called Michelle, a NASA scientist who worked on the Orion Project. Together, in 2007, they led a march of fans wearing tartan underpants, who danced to a Scottish bagpipe band, as they protested outside the show's Vancouver studios. Long before the days of grown men and women weeping openly at the demise of Game of Thrones lothario Jon Snow, the "Save Carson Beckett" campaign generated global news coverage. The Today Show even sent a camera crew to Vancouver to film proceedings for a report, while the campaign won McGillion his place back on the show. Well, sort of: He later returned as a bizarre, short-circuiting clone.
"It felt like victory when they brought him back," Jeffrey, who now works as a broadcast journalist, tells me. "Some people were hugging and crying. We loved him, as Carson was just warm and this everyman badass." She adds, "The first convention I met Paul at, we met this girl called Vicky who brought her mum. Her mum got so drunk she got Paul to sign her arse. Me and Vicky ended up being housemates."
As it turns out, this mythical, ass-signing space explorer is actually just some dude who wanted to be a teacher. A few weeks on from our visit in Prague, McGillion tells me over the phone: "When I finished studying to be a teacher, I just went to auditions with friends in Toronto for a laugh. My dad kept saying, 'You're a teacher, so bloody teach!' But when I got a part in The X Files and told him how much I got paid, he changed his tune."
These days, he's a long way from deep space. Our conversation is actually live from the set of Bravo's Girlfriend's Guide to Divorce, a sitcom as Sex and the City-lite as its name would suggest. Bread-and-butter romcom roles aside, though, you sense that spiritually the man still hasn't left his spaceship. In fact, he's spent the last decade touring the world during breaks from acting, because there is no escaping Dr. Carson Beckett fandom. Or, as TJ more accurately describes it, "He's like a Rolling Stone when he turns up at some of these sci-fi conventions. Dragon Con bloody loves him."
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And much like during our rather odd first encounter in Eastern Europe, the stories of the more intense fans quickly resurface. "I've had my fair share of crazies," McGillion says. "I've met a few who think this is reality and that I'm a doctor; they come to me with the most intimate medical problems, expecting me to give them a diagnosis. And when we were in the Deep South, there was a particularly menacing Texan queuing in a trench coat. He asked me if I would sign something special, to which I said, 'Yeah, that's why I'm here.' The next day he returns in the same exact clothes, in need of a bath, and slaps his arm on the table, and he's wearing this giant glove."
The Stargate diehard was actually a man who unwinds by getting actors who play doctors to sign medical gloves.
"He then fills the gloves with cement and displays each of them on the wall in his mother's basement," McGillion explains. The convention equivalent of Buffalo Bill, then? "Robert Picardo, who played a doctor on Star Trek: Voyager, has had a few run-ins with him, too."
Thankfully, the doctorly advice can also result in less sinister situations. As I trawl through a hard drive full of convention photos, one in particular grabs my eye. McGillion, looking like the cat who got all the cream, is holding a blonde woman in a skimpy crop-top rather intimately. So do space doctors get groupies, too? "No, no, no," he quickly retorts. "That woman used to weigh over 400 pounds. I saw her when she was real heavy. She lost hundreds of pounds. I gave her words of encouragement, like, 'Dr. Beckett believes in you,' and a year and a half later she came up to me and showed me a picture of how she used to look. I picked her up and she was real happy, as no one could lift her before then. She is amazing."
Oh, and there was that time McGillion got kidnapped by men in masks clutching machine guns. "It was in a convention center in England and they did this fancy dress competition, and these guys were all dressed up as the Wraith [Stargate Atlantis' chief evil alien enemy, a creepy white-faced species that look a bit like Lucius Malfoy after a week of decomposition]," he says. "So I'm minding my own business and eight grown men grab me, put a handkerchief over my mouth, hog tie me to a chair and point machine guns at my head. I was terrified. I though this could be it. It turns out it was part of the skit from their act and they thought it would impress the judges."
There was also the enamored Polish girl who stalked McGillon passionately from a hotel room opposite the studios where he spent long days filming Stargate Atlantis. The love-struck lady had her mom stay with her for weeks on end as she tried everything to get Dr. Beckett's attention: "She pretended she was a messenger girl, tried to get through the gate on rollerblades." But what happened next couldn't have been easy to predict. "She sent me a DVD of every single episode I was ever in and she sang love songs over the top. The cover photo of the DVD was me in my space uniform holding her hand as we walked through the Stargate portal. At random points in the episode, both our heads would show up on the screen and she'd somehow aged us both. I turned bald and elderly to the music. It was so I knew what we'd look like if we grew old together."
Oh, and the tattoos, obviously. "There was this one lady in Australia who had my smiling head right in the center of her back. She actually had the entire cast of Stargate SG1 and Atlantis tattooed onto her body," he reveals. "People used to get me to sign their neck braces and arms, too. A few would come back with my signature tattooed on their flesh, so I don't sign bodies any more."
However, the international convention circuit, which he currently tours four or five times a year, isn't all stalkers and kidnappings."I love it," he says. "I once ate lunch at the same table as David Prowse, the man who played Darth Vader, R2D2's Kenny Baker, Linda Blaire from the Exorcist, and The Incredible Hulk Lou Ferrigno. Where else can you eat a ham sandwich with that sort of company?
"When I tell people what I do, they are expecting to hear about deranged people, but 99 percent of the people you meet are sweethearts—a lot of them meet their wives and husbands at these conventions; it's a real brother and sisterhood. You never hear about a fight breaking out at Comic Con. There's a lot of babies out there now called Carson or Beckett, and in the future I hope I can meet some of them at a bar in Prague, too."
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