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Lucas Till's journey to becoming MacGyver

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Guy D'Alema/CBS

As a kid, Lucas Till considered one man to be MacGyver: his dad, who earned the nickname after jerry-rigging a meat smoker, among other projects. In no world did Till, the star of CBS’ MacGyver reboot, think he’d take on the iconic character more than 10 years later.

“I was a small kid,” says Till, 26 and now 5-foot-10, about how he got into acting. “My mom was like, ‘You need to do something,’ because I didn’t play sports — I’d get run over,” he adds with a laugh. Till got an agent when he was 10 years old and landed his first notable Hollywood role at 14 when he played young Jack Cash in Walk the Line, a moment Till hoped would be his big break. “I was like, ‘This is going to be it! Finally something’s going to happen!'” he recalls. “And then I got pushed into a locker [at school].”

It wasn’t until the Texas native got the role of Havok in 2011’s X-Men: First Class that he began to make the transition from the kid who was once too small to play sports to the action hero. And while Havok saves lives with energy blasts, MacGyver saves lives with a stick of gum and his wits. “[MacGyver’s] younger now and a little bit snarkier,” Till says of his take on the ultimate improviser. “We’re trying to make it contemporary, but at the same time, what we wanted to keep the same was that he’s a nice dude. He helps people out.”

Although viewers will get flashbacks to important moments in MacGyver’s life, the reboot is not an origin story. “I wanted to add some value to the franchise, and I felt like what people tune in for TV these days is really character,” says showrunner Peter Lenkov (Hawaii Five-O). “MacGyver was really a lone wolf back in the day, and I wanted this new MacGyver to have people to interact with. I took characters that existed in the original show and gave them more to do in this version.”

So far, the reboot already has one fan: Till’s father could not be more excited. “I’m the coolest guy in the world to him now,” Till says. And he hasn’t even seen what his son can do with a paper clip.

MacGyver premieres Friday, Sept. 23 at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.