Discusses Strike Back
Philip Winchester, Who Portrays Sgt. Michael Stonebridge In The Cinemax Original Series, Discusses The Joys And Dangers Of Portraying A Secret Soldier
Philip Winchester (left) and Sullivan Stapleton (right) two of the lead characters in the Cinemax original series Strike Back. Photo by David Bloomer.
By Joey Hancock
Special for Modern Times Magazine
Oct. 20, 2012 — When the critically acclaimed action series 24 went off the air in 2010 it left a massive void in the landscape of action television. That void has finally been filled with Cinemax’s first original series in 15 years, Strike Back.
Currently airing Friday nights at 10 p.m. Strike Back, now in its second season, has everything fans of action series and movies want, without all the pointless one-liners and terrible story lines. Loosely based on the book of the same name by ex-military intelligence operative Chris Ryan, Strike Back is filled with intense firefights, massive explosions and camaraderie that is rarely seen in the action genre, especially between the two main characters, Sgt. Michael Stonebridge, portrayed by Philip Winchester (Fringe, Camelot) and Sgt. Damien Scott, portrayed by Sullivan Stapleton (Animal Kingdom). The two are members of a secret military intelligence regiment known as Section 20, and along with other intelligent and interesting characters, the team searches for war lords bent on world destruction.
Instead of focusing on the action going on around the characters, which is a major portion of the show, the series focuses on the internal demons of both Stonebridge and Scott while portraying the high octane action sequences and relationships in a realistic manner.
Winchester thinks the relationships between the characters are the most important thing about the show and makes him feel like they are doing their jobs by telling interesting stories in a realistic manner in a 45 minute cable television show.
“I think what gave us kind of a leg up last year when the audience saw our show — and I know that the military saw our show because we keep getting e-mails from military guys and from fans who really respect the show and get it — they kept saying, ‘We love the action. We love the crazy stuff. But we've really liked the relationships,’” said Winchester.
At the end of season two, the change in the dynamic between Stonebridge and Scott had been turned on its head. Stonebridge, the always stoic and professional soldier, and Scott the American playboy, former Delta Force soldier, have in some ways swapped ideals. This season, Scott is more focused and has taken on the leadership role in the group as Stonebridge has become more hot-headed and unpredictable. These changes began early on this season after a tragic personal loss in Stonebridge’s life and came to a tipping point during the season finale.
The show has become a cult hit among fans, and Winchester believes the action in the show is important but at its heart the show is about the teamwork and interactions between the members of Section 20 are a big reason behind the success.
“The explosions, the car chases, the, you know, the fun stuff, as Sully and I call it, is easy because I'm a guy. I enjoy that stuff. I felt like our responsibility to keep the show real was really challenged this year. The biggest responsibility for us especially Sully, and I this year, was to maintain the integrity of who these characters were,” said Winchester.
The real life special forces the actors are portraying help in the creation of each episode to make it as realistic as possible. Both Winchester, Stapleton and other members of the cast and crew went through training exercises to learn how to handle weapons, ballistics, and fighting, essentially to learn how to act as close to ‘real’ soldiers as possible. They even took part in reconnaissance missions in South Africa and Hungary. One the South Africa mission, where much of the series is filmed, they even helped to track a drug dealer.
Winchester and Stapleton do 95 percent of the stunt work and have even been a bit too close to the Hollywood pyrotechnics at times, walking away with singed eyebrows and arms. The level of commitment by the actors sets the show apart from many action movies and series when it is obvious there is no way an actor is doing certain stunts. The only time Winchester and Stapleton do not do their own stunts is if time does not permit, but for the most part it is them on the screen.
As the series moves forward — it was renewed for a third season Oct. 3 — many changes may be taking place to improve the show and help the story and characters grow. Thanks to rising popularity, the series is likely to receive a larger budget, but Winchester hopes more money will not change the heart of the show.
“My biggest fear, when you see a production start to get bigger, is that people start to throw money at problems. That certainly has never been a problem with Strike Back and I don’t ever want it to be. I want us to figure out problems with integrity and creativity because that’s what storytellers do,” said Winchester.
The series is sure to grow in stature and action and the characters are sure to evolve, but if the writers and actors continue down the path they have begun, it will be easy to see this show lasting for some time. There is a lot more story to tell and the show has found it’s niche in the broad cable network landscape as the only true action series with substance on television today.
As the show ends its second run and begins season three, there is a sense that all of the action and character development is leading to something more than just the typical climax series like these have and Winchester believes this is important for the legacy of the series.
“Each season that goes on, your responsibility gets bigger and bigger. You know, you can't tell a story for seven years and then not rack it up. You have to let these guys go somewhere. And the thing about the characters that we're finding out is that they might not be so good. So, I'm really intrigued to see where they start to go over the next few years. It'd be really interesting to see where these guys end up,” said Winchester.
Strike Back can be seen Friday nights at 10 p.m. on Cinemax and on the internet, tablets and smartphones, via www.maxgo.com and the MaxGo App.
Reach Joey Hancock at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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