In an exclusive interview, TV Equals had the opportunity to chat with director Michael Bassett, (Silent Hill: Revelation 3D) who shot a few Strike Back episodes this season, to ask him about the cinematic qualities behind the series, how to handle the death of a main character and more.
Check out what he had to say below and don’t miss the season finale of Strike Back which airs at 10pm on Cinemax.
(Note: The following interview contains spoilers of the current season. Do not read it if you haven’t caught up yet and don’t want to be spoiled.)
So it appears that you are back for a third season. Congratulations.
Michael Bassett: Yes, I am indeed, I am delighted about it. I have had an absolute blast making this show, it was the first television that I have ever done and so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect and it was all the fun you could imagine and so much more and so I’m delighted to be coming back.
You mentioned that this is sort of your first foray in directing a TV series like “Strike Back” which has such a cinematic feel to it. How was the experience overall?
Michael Bassett: I made a film called Solomon Kane which is out now in the U.S. if you want to go see it, and Phil [Winchester] was in it. I tried to cast Phil a few years earlier, when he was a great young actor; he auditioned for me and I really liked him, really wanted to use him, and so when the opportunity came to put him in a movie, I put him in a movie, and then we went our separate ways again.
So Phil and I were just exchanging our Christmas cards and I said, “What have you been up to?” He said, “I have been doing Strike Back” and I said, “oh yes, I know about Strike Back, it was a great fun show” this is the season two in the UK, the season one for the U.S. and he said “I think you should come and do one.” I kind of went “well, yes, that would be great” in a kind of casual friend way of not really thinking it was serious but he went “no, no seriously, it is right up your alley, they are great characters, loads of actions, with a really cinematic feel. Would you come do it?”
So I said “Phil, I would genuinely like to come and join you on the adventure.” And then a week later, I got a call from the producer. So I went down and said, I love the show and I haven’t done TV but I have made low budget movies as well as some medium budget movies and that is why I understand the pressures.
But the key was something like Strike Back, you are aspiring to cinematic levels of action. It does have the limitations of TV budget and TV schedules but I think myself and the other directors who come on board are all very aware that we are trying to deliver something which makes fullest use of modern audio video technology and so the people who sit in their home, they have big TVs and they have big sounds systems, and you want to play in the biggest way possible.
So you went to South Africa, right?
Michael Bassett: Yes, we shot this in and around Capetown. The story this time was very Africa-centric and so it blends itself really nicely, especially with the political undercurrent and the theme of empowerment of Africa. Actually there was a line in my episode with Eamonn Walker, who is the African leader been broken out of prison by Charles Dance to lead a coup to take power, he says “Who are you to give me back my own country?” and I remember reading that and thinking that is a really smart line and it is a story that shows the political undercurrent. It is in those little moments where you can sort of discover that there is more going on than just Phil Winchester and Sullivan Stapleton running around shooting things.
Definitely having more depth with socio-economic or political aspects make it really interesting to watch.
Michael Bassett: It’s completely true because the writers and the production team spend time before we even write the script, they look at the socio-political world and say: “OK, where is the next thing happening?”. So they will talk to experts in the armed services and in the world of spooks and things.
Our goal is to drive our stories to be current and to allow us to do our action adventure but at the same time to say something and be relevant and have a resonance where people watching it 12 months after we started producing it will go: “yes, yes, I see where they are coming from”.
I think that is kind of why the show resonates with people because it is not just terrific action but it is also something more. As a director, I also come out with the writer’s eye, and you see the structures and you see the ideas going through that so you try and preserve those in the midst of all the chaos and the action.
You shot one of the most gut-wrenching scenes of the season, the death of Major Sinclair. Can you talk about that?
Michael Bassett: It is very, very cool to be able to take out a principle character because from a pure filmmaker’s point of view, I get to do something which is clearly going to be a turning point for all the other characters. And Rhashan [Stone], who is a fabulous actor and great guy was ready to leave, and so knowing that somewhere within the story of Strike Back, he was going to be our sacrificial lamb. I spoke to the writers and we thought it would be terrific if we can deliver it.
So it has to be in the rain, it has to be on his knees, I wanted him to go in a way where you are absolutely certain that the boys are going to turn up in time. That was a key for this, and nobody has to assume that you are not going to kill a principal, he is going to be rescued, but how the hell can it happen? The gun is pointed in his head, the guys are out there and then the gun goes off. It is wonderful to be able to deliver that.
So you did do it on purpose.
Michael Bassett: Completely and the guy who played the South African villain was so terrific as well and I asked him to say the line “Do you have children?”
Rhashan and I talked quite a lot about whether he should reply to it or whether he shouldn’t. He said “Yes, I’ve got kids” and by the way, we think that he did have, and so we decided to have two versions: one where he says, yes, and one where he doesn’t get to speak.
I told him that I want the last thing to go through his mind is to be with his family. Really, I want it to be like a rabid punch to the gut, there is no point in doing it unless you are going to do it like that. Because it has to be in rain, we got to just do this and it’s kind of a wildly chaotic environment and it makes the shooting of it terribly difficult but it paid off.
I read recently some Facebook comments on the Strike Back page and people are outraged that we killed Sinclair and that is the perfect response.
Philip and Sullivan seem to have this great chemistry on and off set. What are the advantages for a director to have actors with that great of a relationship?
Michael Bassett: First, the boys bring great physicality and serious training in all sorts of areas, to a point where the army guys who they train with said they could be real soldiers. So they are both very knowledgeable about that aspect. But the other side to it is in the relationship side, and they are both terrific guys. Now, Sullivan, as you know, is an Australian guy, he is a wild guy and he is fantastic to have around and Phil is such a gentleman, he is a nice decent family man, with a great sense of humor, so he is the rock and Sullivan really is chaos, around the foundation.
So when the two of them get together, it creates such wonderful chemistry that you can just basically point the camera at them and just say “Action”. Really what you are trying to do is shape their energies so that you have something which the audience can relate to. They can have their favorite, like “Oh, I like Michael Stonebridge because he is this.” And “I love Scott because he is this.” And that is really the heart of the show. It’s what these two guys bring to it in their chemistry. Plus they are so great that on set, I realize that I’m having too much fun just hanging out between takes.
Season 3 and you are king for a day. There is no budget limit for the episode you are working on, what would you love to do?
Michael Bassett: I mean that is a really tricky question. I’m king for a day and there is no budget — I have a desire to do more stuff in the water.
Phil said the same thing
Michael Bassett: Oh, did he? That is brilliant. Well, Michael Stonebridge’s character, he is Special Air Service, right? The problem is that water on a budget is incredibly hard to do. It is just chaos waiting to happen and it always gets in the way. But if I had unlimited resources, I would love to do some.