Continuing on from the fan-favourite Sky1 series Strike Back (which was created by Chris Ryan, and starred both Spooks’ Richard Armitage and The Walking Dead’s Andrew Lincoln) Strike Back: Project Dawn (still simply known as Strike Back in the US) takes the series in a new direction, kills off its former main character, and focusses on a former US Special Forces operative who joins the illustrious Section 20, in the hopes of fending off a large-scale terrorist attack.
Sullivan Stapleton (Animal Kingdom) stars as Damien Scott; the former US soldier who’s known for being a bit of a rogue, and doing things his own way; and is drafted into the secretive Section 20 (a fictional division of MI6) by a by-the-book operative named Michael Stonebridge (Philip Winchester, Fringe), and earlier this month we were lucky enough to get time to sit down with the show’s new lead actors (at Empire Presents Big Screen) and discuss their work on the new series of Strike Back…
You’re characters are very different in the show, does that create a lot of tension between them?
Sullivan: Yeh in the show there is, but outside there’s none. In the show they start off, and they don’t like each other very much at all.
Philip: It’s chalk and cheese with them. Michael Stonebridge, the character I play, is very by-the-book, and the only thing I know about Damien; Sully’s character; is that he was dishonorably discharged, he’s ex-Delta Force, and he’s living in a brothel; things Michael isn’t accustomed to; but he realizes, once they get into situations where their lives depend on each other, that they can watch each others back, and they start to trust one another.
And was it difficult stepping in a following the work of Richard Armitage?
Philip: What was great about is that we weren’t so much taking over another actors spot; I mean Richard Armitage did an amazing job in the first series; but it was just refreshing to know that there was going to be a new twist on it. I think the biggest challenge, was just trying to make the military stuff as realistic as possible, and if I can have military guys watch this and say that we have the movements and weapons training down, then that’s the biggest challenge done.
“There are scenes where we’re doing 360 degree handbrake turns in the middle of Cape Town and shooting out the windows… it’s great.”
– Philip Winchester
The first series was obviously very realistic, but Strike Back has also been compared to a James Bond style show. What do you think about that?
Philip: Well I’ve actually said it’s like James Bond meets Jason Bourne. But it’s still very realistic; and that came down to the training.
Sullivan: Well the stuff in the show actually happens. We had military advisors on set who would teach us things, and pick us up on things we were doing wrong; like I threw a grenade once and was told “you swapped hands when you did that”, and when we watched it on the playback he was right. But he actually told us a story where he threw a couple of grenades and forgot to take the tape off, and that’s in the heat of battle, so this stuff does happen.
What was it like filming in Cape Town?
Sullivan: I didn’t know that much about it, other than what I’d seen from documentaries, but you get down there and Cape Town is just a great city; it reminded me a lot of Australia, and we had a ball there; and the best way to see the city was just to run through it, which we did. A lot. Every day.
Philip: We did a lot of things on the outskirts, but episodes 3 and 4 were all set in Cape Town and that was great; there are scenes where we’re doing 360 degree handbrake turns in the middle of Cape Town and shooting out the windows; but it’s just an amazing place, like South Africa in its entirety. One of our special effects guys actually blew the windows out of their City Hall; he blew the doors off using a car bomb in the show…
So were there any other incidents or mishaps while filming?
Philip: No it’s all very professional; as soon as you start the live fire stuff you’re given a talk saying “if anyone does get hit you’ll be taken to a hospital there, or there”; and they try to keep it very real. Obviously you get the normal bumps and bruises, a couple of pulled ankles, and stuff, but we were also able to do the vast majority of our owns stunts, so we got a bit of a battering doing that.
What was the top stunt you were allowed to do?
Sullivan: Probably the fight scene for me that’s in the first episode; where I fought a giant of a man who basically wakes up in the mornings and kicks trees. It was a lot of fun you know.
And which of you found the training the hardest?
Philip: We both found different areas of it hard. Like for me it was the running; Sully’s really good at running, but I’m not much of a runner. What was great about the training though, is that the military guys and the trainers saw both of our weaknesses and went right for them; they put Sully on a diet, and I was doing squats 24/7.
Sullivan: I did find that hard actually. It was the complete opposite, Phil had to gain the weight while I had to lose it, and cutting out food, especially in a place like Cape Town, is quite hard.
“In the first episode I had to fight a giant of a man… It was a lot of fun.”
– Sullivan Stapleton
So you’re both enjoying getting back to normal now?
Both: *Laughs* YES!
Philip: I was put on a diet of about 4000 calories each day, so I found it challenging to actually get enough food; my wife was cooking me a 6 egg omelette in the morning, 2 hours later I’d do a protein shake and a refreshment shake, and 2 hours after that id have a steak lunch, 2 hrs later protein shake, and then another meal at night with chicken breasts, so it was just constant eating.
And does any of that put you off coming back for a 3rd season?
Philip: Absolutely not. I’d do it again tomorrow.
Sullivan: No. Well, I’d need a bit of a break, but I kind of liked it. I’ve never had a 6 pack before, and now I’ve got the start of a little six pack; at the age of 34; so it can be done, and its bullshit if anyone says they’re not genetically built like that; which I used to say.
Strike Back: Project Dawn is currently airing on Sky1 and Sky1HD in the UK (on Sundays at 9pm), and on Cinemax in the US (on Fridays at 10pm), with repeats airing throughout the week, and the possibility of a third series on the way.