The second of three children, Julian McMahon was born in Sydney, Australia, where his father served as prime minister from 1971-1972. McMahon didn't show any particular interest in acting during his youth; in fact, he went to the University of Sydney fully intending to study law, but became bored with college life and left with dreams of a modeling career in 1987. While that path was fruitful enough to take McMahon to some of the world's most prominent fashion arenas (including Milan, Paris, New York, Los Angeles, and Rome), it was a blue jeans commercial in his native country that led to an 18-month stint on a popular Australian prime-time soap opera.
After his departure, he landed a role in the television series Home and Away (1988), which was eventually adapted into a musical. A supporting role in Wet and Wild Summer! (1992) prompted McMahon to make a more permanent move to Los Angeles, where he planned to pursue acting full-time. Sure enough, McMahon quickly found a role on NBC's long-running daytime soap Another World, and, after leaving the show two years later, he participated in a series of plays, as well as several unremarkable films (including Magenta in 1996). McMahon's forte, clearly, was in the world of prime-time television: In 1996, he co-starred in Profiler, and later took on a role in Charmed, a WB fantasy series in which he played a love interest saddled with the unfortunate trait of being a demon. Though McMahon starred alongside Jeff Daniels in director Michael Walker's psychological thriller Chasing Sleep in 2000, his true breakout role would come in 2003, when he won the starring role of playboy plastic surgeon Dr. Christian Troy in Nip/Tuck, F/X's joyfully over-the-top nighttime drama.
McMahon would also appear in feature films like Fantastic Four, Premonition, Red, and Faces in the Crowd.