Julian McMahon played a demon in TV’s Charmed, the villainous Dr. Doom in two Fantastic Four flicks and Nip/Tuck’s conflicted Dr. Christian Troy, who had a bit of a nasty streak. But his latest character is downright evil: the violent, unhinged leader of a secret cell of alien invaders who’ve taken human form in Syfy’s Hunters. Premiering tonight at 10/9c, it’s based on Whitley Streiber’s novel Alien Hunter and follows the FBI’s Exo Terrorism Unit as they fight the undercover predators. But first, the Aussie actor opens up about his career, marriage, fatherhood and… favorite alien.

“I don’t really have a plan. I love what I do and I love working hard at it, whether that’s acting or staying healthy and focused. That’s just as important as everything else.”

What drew you to Hunters?
I’m a big fan of [producers] Gale Ann Hurd and Natalie Chaidez and thought the piece was fascinating. It’s very relative to our situation today as far as politics and terrorism. The premise is a very different invasion of earth—the aliens are like terrorists, and they’ve been sitting in sleeper cells for the last 20 years, waiting, and now they’re ready to go. I play the main bad guy, McCarthy, a sleeper cell alien terrorist. These aliens have found a way to put on a human skin, and to do it he needs to take human DNA and inject it into himself. He’s a very scary guy and a great challenge to play. Physically, I go through a lot. He changes his look whenever you see him in public so there’s hair, makeup, prosthetics. A lot went into it.

What do you like about him?
On the surface, he appears to be quite a brutal character, but at the core he really wants to be respected, to be understood, to be accepted. He’s not without his own kind of conscience and his own needs and his own desires. He eventually becomes almost a sympathetic character to a certain extent.

You were in Childhood’s End, another alien invasion drama. Are you a fan of the genre?
I’m fascinated by aliens, from when I grew up watching everything from Star Wars to Aliens to everything that depicted something outside of this world. Man has been gazing at the stars for as long as we’ve been around and kind of projecting its potential allows us to open up thought on what goes beyond our galaxy. Particularly under the current situation on planet Earth, we are starting to realize our limitations in regards to population and fuel, and we’re starting to look at other possibilities.

Do you have a favorite alien?
The alien creature from Alien and Aliens. I find myself going back and watching every few years. It just speaks to me.

What do you consider your career highlights?
Nip/Tuck was one of those moments in time where cable television was not evolved yet and we were pioneers. I loved the fact that we were doing that and did it so well. It was a great character, a great show, and I got to play with some cool people. I’d put that at the pinnacle. But I loved working on Charmed, Fantastic Four, Another World, my first gig in America. If I didn’t have Another World I wouldn’t be here. So they’re all highlights. One led to the next. Also the time was different then. It wasn’t easy [for foreigners] to get work permits so it was great to get a contract.

How do you stay fit and healthy?
I work out a lot. I love eating healthy. I vary my workout. I do a lot of running, I work with weights, yoga. You name it, I do it. It’s an integral part of my life. It’s a way you make a choice to live your life. Look, I’m a human being and I’ve had my ups and my downs in the past, but that’s what life is all about, it’s not always perfect.

You’ve been married to three beautiful women. Is there a secret there?
It’ll sound corny but it’s really about who they are as people. Of course physically you’re attracted to somebody, but it’s really about who they are as people.

You’re now married to model Kelly Paniagua. Is the third time the charm?
It’s been the longest one so far. I’m happy. I’ve been with her for 12, 14 years, before we married.

Why the delay?
I’d been married twice before and it didn’t work. I was certainly wary. I wanted to be a little more responsible. But I hope I have not grown up too much. A lot goes into the decision to get married. Getting married at 21, 22 maybe wasn’t the wisest choice but every marriage that I’ve had I’ve certainly learned a lot from.

You have a 15-year-old daughter with Brooke Burns. How’s parenting a teenager?
It’s fantastic. I see her a lot. She’s an extraordinary young woman. She’s got some great friends. She definitively does not want to be an actor. If she wanted to get into this I’d be very happy for her. But she has a wonderful eye for photography. She’s a great painter and artist. She’s very smart, a lot smarter than I am. The world is her oyster.

What’s on your to-do list for the future?
I don’t really have a plan. I love what I do and I love working hard at it, whether that’s acting or staying healthy and focused. That’s just as important as everything else.

Photo by Peter Brew-Bevan/Syfy