Exclusive Interview: STRIKE BACK’s Philip Winchester Talks Season Finale, Intense Training and A Potential Fringe Return

What does it take to be a man? While I don’t have a polished definition that I can use, I do have something better. Two words: Michael Stonebridge.

Played by the wickedly talented Philip Winchester, Stonebridge is one half of the brilliant duo of black ops operatives that take on high risk targets on behalf of Section 20, a covert british military organization in Cinemax’s Strike Back.

Throughout the first season of the series, viewers had a chance to watch Stonebridge go through some pretty impressive challenges with brio and gusto, while at the same time forging a unique bond with his teammate Damien Scott played by Sullivan Stapleton.

Daemon’s TV had the wonderful opportunity to talk to Philip Winchester about what is coming up in the season finale, whether Stonebridge and Scott will make it to the second season, his intense physical training and whether he will return on Fringe.

Check out what he had to say below and don’t forget to tune in tonight Friday, October 21 at 10pm on Cinemax for the season finale of Strike Back.
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I was just talking to Amanda [Meaning] and I was mentioning how much of a huge fan of the show. It’s a fantastic show.

Philip Winchester: Right on. You know I don’t think we really had a grasp on people liking it or not liking it. You kind of disappear down the rabbit hole for a while when you make shows. And when we came up for air we went, ‘Did it work?’ And it’s been really cool to see people’s response in New York these past few days. We’ve just been really blown away but how much people are responding to it.

Absolutely. And with a second season slated to start production early 2012.

Philip Winchester: Isn’t that cool?

I know.

Philip Winchester: I’m so stoked.

I asked Amanda the following question. What are you doing early 2012?

Philip Winchester: [laughs] Early 2012? What am I doing? Well, I think that some training is involved. I know that, Sully and I talked the other day on the phone and there was some talk about going back to Capetown and doing the military training again. And that might happen the end of this year and the very beginning of next year. And not to ruin the finale tomorrow night or anything like that but I know that if Stonebridge survives we’ll be going back probably around January 9th. And we’ll be out there for another eight months doing season two.

Awesome. And like every episode so far, I’m assuming the season finale is going to be pretty intense, as well?

Philip Winchester: It’s brilliant. I mean, you know, Sully and I sat down about two weeks ago at HBO in Los Angeles and we kind of had a marathon. We hadn’t seen episodes seven, eight, nine, and ten. And by the end of episode ten we were just like elbowing each other in the arm going, ‘Dude. They pulled it off. They did a good job’, you know. And Dan Percival, who directed it and Tony Saint, who wrote it, they just, I mean they really pulled everything together and snipped it up at the end. And they did an amazing job with it.

How was it to prepare with all this training?

Philip Winchester: It was the most intense training I’ve ever done for a show. And I’ve done a few. I’ve done very physical jobs in the past, I really like jobs like that. I like that element as an actor and the challenge of kind of keeping up with that. But this one took the cake, I mean we went out to South Africa the end of January this year, and we had a month of military training with ex Special Service guys from England and from South Africa and SAS, SBS guys, and we really got it handed to us.

They kind of took it very seriously and we had to take it very seriously, as well. We were doing life fire stuff, we were doing explosive training, we were doing the real stuff basically in a very condensed period and physically when you have to keep that going for six, seven months while you’re filming, and you’re doing fourteen, fifteen hour days on set, it just whoops you. Because we were having to take in about 4000, 5000 calories a day, me and the stunt boys had a joke, we were saying every two hours we would set an alarm and we’d call it feeding. So we’d have to do a protein shake or shove a chicken breast down our throats and just kind of get the fuel in you because your body, you’re just doing so much. Your body’s just going, ‘All right. I need some more. Let’s go. Let’s go.’

Philip Winchester

That’s incredible. It sort of reminds me of when Taylor Lautner was talking about preparing for his role in ‘Twilight’. And he said that he had a meat bag with him all the time just eating.

Philip Winchester: Right. Right. My wife, actually, bless her was the only reason I could do that. She was up every day. She cooked for me, I had a six-egg omelet every morning. And she prepared me what became known as the feedbag. And it was like I was a horse walking around with this bag in front of me. But literally, it did, it had biltong, which is jerky in South Africa. Full of jerky and chicken breasts and organic vegetables and fruit and chocolate and things like that. And sometimes just raw calories like sweets and sugary things, just to get some energy in there. So it really is kind of a job unto itself to keep all that stuff up on top of the acting and other things.

And do you feel that has sort of prepared you now to join Special Forces? Or do you still need a couple months?

Philip Winchester: [laughs] I think the acting and the real deal are probably universes apart. I’d love to think I could go in there and kind of hang out with them for a bit but I just- they are so good at what they do. And I think more than the physical stuff, it’s such a mindset. Just talking with these guys during the training and us being fortunate enough to hear some of their stories and some of their experiences. They just have a different way about them. And they are so professional and they are so tuned in. I dread to think what I’d end up doing or looking like if I even attempted to join Special Forces.

Reverting a little back to your character, Stonebridge. From the beginning of this season to episodes nine, there’s been an evolution. He’s sort of less by the book and more instinctual. Kind of similar to Scott. Would that be an accurate statement?

Philip Winchester: Yeah. Absolutely. I think very much as we see in episode four an unraveling of the rules that Stonebridge has implemented in his life, I don’t think he’s by the book to a fault, but he’s very much a soldier’s soldier. Colonel Grant says, ‘You’re a soldier. I know what I’m going to get when I put you in a situation. I know you can act in the moment.’ And when he starts seeing key pieces in his life fall out, when Captain Kate Marshall gets blown up and when Scott comes in with his no bag of tricks and his no rules and he’s still pulling things off I think Stonebridge really gets shaken up. And also he has to balance all this stuff with his marriage and with his wife. And hopefully his soon to be family. And so I think that balancing act is really disrupted when he loses his out. He loses probably his emotional crutch, which is Kate. And so it’s not that he doesn’t love his wife but she hasn’t been the person who he can share the dark side with.

That episode was very intense. But it also highlights, I think, a quality of the show which is doing a good job of balancing authenticity and storytelling and putting situations where you don’t know if the character’s going to make it. To be honest, I was not sure if either of you, [Stonebridge and Scott], was going to make it on an episode-by-episode basis. So that’s pretty intense. But does that influence you as an actor in any way?

Philip Winchester: It really did. I can tell you right now that when we get a script for another episode, the first thing I do is check the first page and the last page to be like, ‘Dude, are we copping a bullet at any moment in this episode?’

And you did. You survived but you all got shot at some point.

Philip Winchester: We all got shot. And I know that’s something that we really want to address next year is how we can take some more and somehow make it out, as well. Because these guys do. I mean the guys we were training with, some of them made it out without taking a bullet. But they all had something. They all had shrapnel wounds or something. One of the guys had lost some of his front teeth because he copped a piece of grenade, which somehow didn’t go any further into his head. And some of them would say this is an AK round, this is a nine-millimeter round. And you’re just looking at these wounds going, ‘I can’t believe that you guys are here to do this. And now you’re sitting around on a movie set with us sharing your stories and it’s over a cup of tea. It’s ridiculous.’ So we’d like to very much have the authenticity of that stuff going into this season. And it’s not taking a hit all the time but it’s definitely being so much in the action that sometimes you can’t control it.

Absolutely. But talking about authenticity. While this is an action series, there’s a ton of humor, right?

Philip Winchester: Yeah, that’s right.

You and Sullivan have the best chemistry I’ve seen in a very long time. Just explain the whole process between you guys. Did you spend some time together before starting to shoot? Or did you just evolve into that?

Philip Winchester: It really is just one of those things. I wish I knew what the formula was. Because it’s been great to hear people’s responses. We hit it off in the screen test, which I think is one of the reasons why we were offered the job. Because we both read with ten other guys each. And we were fortunate enough to be offered the job. And we came into it. And I think through the process of that military training that I was talking about, we started to see each other’s strengths and each other’s weaknesses. And just like the military guys were doing with us, we just kind of started to banter around with each other and kind of sometimes really push the envelope on the weak side and encourage on the strong side. And just start to become really brotherly in how we approached each other. And so there was that respect for each other.

But we’d also take things way, way over the line a lot of the time just to see how far we could push each other. And I think that that’s ultimately what you see in the show is that I trust him explicitly as an actor. I just know he’s going to bring something to the table every day. And I hope that that’s kind of how he sees me, as well. We just kind of walk into a scene, we have ideas. Sometimes we surprise each other and it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. It’s just that, it is just one of those really fortunate things. I don’t think we ever planned on it being what it is. We hoped it would be what it was. But it’s just the luck of the draw sometimes.

You can also see that even that relationship evolved throughout the episodes as well. At first it was more of like who is this guy? Why isn’t he following the line? And then now you sort of see your character loosening up a little bit. But also seeing Sullivan’s character sort of stepping up and being more straightforward. So the characters influenced each other to some degree.

Philip Winchester: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean I think it became really apparent kind of towards the later episodes that not only are these guys trusting each other, but they are leaning on each other a lot more than they were or a lot more than they thought they were going to have to. Especially in the end of the first two episodes when they’re standing there in front of the hotel in Deli and they’re just calling each other out on a lot of things, but a lot of that stuff is really hitting home. And it’s really sinking in, and I think throughout the rest of the episodes a lot of that stuff lands and takes route. And we start to see that very much take place.

And especially towards, in nine and ten, in episode nine when they’re taking all that fire in the Georgian streets. And they’re running, they’re doing that, there’s a huge battle that happens. These guys know. I mean these guys know that this could be it. So I’m going to take a bullet for you, buddy. And I know you’re going to take one for me. We don’t even have to question it. And we’re going to try and save each other’s life. But we know sometimes we might miss.

In terms of memorable scenes which ones would you say right now are top of mind?

Philip Winchester: All the scenes where we were really close to the explosions, just on like a physical and kind of emotional level were really exciting because we were really there. And they can kind of direct it where it’s going to go in terms of the explosion and things like that. But Sully and I were standing around a lot of the time and everyone else on the crew is a hundred, two hundred yards away behind a taped line. And the AD is calling out to us with a bullhorn saying, ‘All right. We’re ready to go.’ And it’s like something’s really wrong with this picture.

Where did everyone go?

Philip Winchester: Where did everyone go? I see a cameraman but he’s in like a Kevlar shield and covered in fireproof material. What’s that all about, you know?

Oh my God. That must have been pretty interesting.

Philip Winchester: So that’s what’s really intense. But on the more dramatic side, I really enjoyed the stuff that was written for Sully and I, specifically the stuff in the cars. I think that it’s brilliant. It was brilliantly done. And I think it was an accident, again, that just happened to work. But when they’re placed in tight quarters like cars and situations where they’re waiting for people or they’re kind of doing a recon and they’re doing an observation they have this tension build. And for some reason every time we were stuck in these tight quarters some funny stuff usually happened. And it was just a lot of fun to shoot those scenes with Sully. Because he just goes off-roading all the time. And he’s always freelancing and he’s always kind of just making stuff up. And you have to kind of keep up with him. And so we would throw stuff in each other’s court and see where it would land and see what would stick. And I just really enjoy those days because you come home and you think, that was a lot of fun. That was showing who these characters really are.

That’s fantastic. You also appeared on last seasons of ‘Fringe’ as Frank Stanton, the boyfriend of Bolivia. Any chance you’re going to appear again?

Philip Winchester: I haven’t heard anything from the production or from my representation. I would really like to. I think that it’s an exceptionally well-done show. And I think that Anna Torv is a real gift to the acting community. I think she’s hugely talented. So I really enjoyed working with her. But nothing is in the pipeline at the moment. But I would be very much up for going back and doing something.

Great. And assuming early 2012 we don’t know exactly what you’re up to, are there any upcoming projects you can talk about?

Philip Winchester: You know, again, I do have a couple of things that we’re working on and we’re kind of whittling away. But it really depends on how Strike Back schedules out and what the timing is with all that. So it’s nothing that I’m free to talk about. But there are a couple of things going on. And it would be great if we can kind of schedule them all in and get them to work together because they’re fun projects.

All right. Fantastic. Final question for you. If you could guest star on any other TV show, which one would it be?

Philip Winchester: Oh man. It’s so good. I’m a huge fan of Breaking Bad. And I really would love to just, even if it was just like one of Jesse’s kind of rag tag friends. I would love to do something on Breaking Bad. It’s so well done. And it’s just a great television show.

Philip Winchester