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Just full of surprises

SINCE arriving in Hollywood from his native Canada 11 years ago, Colin Ferguson has been working steadily in films and television. He may not be a household name, but his face is familiar from his many guest-starring roles on such sitcoms as “Becker,” “Malcolm in the Middle,” “Girlfriends” and “Teachers” as well as dramatic shows such as “Cover Me” and “Crossing Jordan.”

The personable 34-year-old actor, who starred in the ill-fated 2003 NBC sitcom “Coupling,” headlines the Sci Fi channel’s new series “Eureka,” which airs Tuesday evenings on the cable network.

In the offbeat sci-fi comedy, Ferguson plays the charming, street-smart U.S. Marshal Jack Carter, who works in the seemingly all-American town of Eureka. But the picture-perfect burg is not what it seems -- the secret hamlet in the Pacific Northwest is home to America’s greatest thinkers and geniuses, there to work on their experiments in a supportive environment.

But experiments often go wrong, and geniuses tend to have as many problems as the average Joe, so Carter finds himself solving unusual cases. The newly separated Carter must also deal with his unruly teenage daughter, who lives with him.

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What was the “Coupling” experience like for you? NBC so hyped the comedy, but it didn’t even last a season.

The funny thing about that is that people forgot at the end of the day it’s just a sitcom. It did amazingly out of the gate, but the expectations were so high I just don’t think anything could have held up to what they were hoping for. I have got to say that “Coupling” was such a good experience from the beginning to the end. None of us ever, ever bought [the hype]. It was good exposure, and we all moved on.

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“Eureka” is a lot of fun because it’s quirky and doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously.

I had done a bunch of sitcoms and some movies of the week, and I was looking for something that, if I was going to get into it for a long period of time, I could have scenes that were comedic and dramatic. And it was actually lucky that it was on a network that was going to nurture it and let it grow.

I have sort of been surprised that a lot of the feedback is that kids watch it with their parents. We assumed that, OK, we’re on the Sci Fi channel, it’s going to be culty, it’s going to be fringy. We didn’t have any idea that we were making a show that everybody could watch.

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Did the producers of “Eureka” approach you about the series?

No. It was pilot season, so you are going out on two or three interviews a day.

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Is that how pilot season works?

You do two or three interviews a day for X amount of months. Your [audition] work on Fridays sometimes is not where you want it to be. Friday afternoon after a week of two or three interviews a day, you are doing your best, but your tank is empty.

You know everybody [who is auditioning] because it’s the same group. It’s a big group, which is nice. Everybody is very supportive. You show up and see everybody and you laugh. You share your war stories.

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Did it feel like a good fit when you read the pilot of “Eureka”?

I had read stuff like this before where I knew what I wanted to do with it. But frequently [the producers] have a different take on the stuff that they have written. So I was surprised how on the same page we were. It felt really good to have a good meeting.

You began your career in improv comedy. Were you a cutup in school?

I was really, really shy in school. But I was always good with a joke or an announcement or a sketch. I would get a lot of joy out of comedy. So I started doing [improv] in college at McGill. A buddy of mine who wanted to get [into improv] and I went down to Montreal [to audition] with him. They offered me a paid position in their troupe that did bars and shows around the city. So I started doing that halfway through my first year. And then I guess in my third year of college, I auditioned for Second City. So I was actually 20 performing on the main stage in Detroit.

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Did you quit school?

Stupidly, no. When I was working in Detroit I actually took three classes across the river at the University of Windsor, Ontario. So my days were stupidly long. I took Victorian authors, Jacobean playwrights. It was brutal. I ended up blowing my knee.

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How?

It was a New Year’s show in Detroit. We didn’t have a ball that dropped. So I scaled up to the bar that was hanging the lights. I just swung out and jumped. It was a good jump. But I think I was so wiped out ....

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How did you make the change from sketch comedy to acting?

I got lucky. I was in Montreal and auditioned for a small role in a big Canadian movie that never went anywhere and they gave me the lead.

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I was amazed at all the truly odd jobs you worked before you moved to Los Angeles in 1995, including the fact you taught high school at 19. How did you get away with that?

I lied! The high school was in Montreal and I was dating a teacher at the school who was older than I was. I started out sort of substituting as a teacher. Whenever I had a spare period from college, I would go and help out with English class or gym. I did that for a couple of years. I was a great teacher. I was hand to mouth back then, so it was all about the paycheck. I desperately needed money to put myself through college.

I was a mannequin for a bit in Montreal. I would stand in the window as sort of a novelty thing they would do every now and then. I had to wear a toga once. They spray-painted me white and I had to wear a toga. It was really horrible.

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Are you taking it easy during your hiatus from “Eureka” or are you working?

I am doing a movie of the week with Lara Flynn Boyle for Lifetime. It is called “The House Next Door.” We are married and the house next door is evil! It will be a nice change of pace.

-- Susan King


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