Philip Winchester and Amanda Mealing recognized the strange coincidence Thursday that they were doing press for their series "Strike Back" on the day Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi was killed.
In the Cinemax action drama, they play members of a secret British military special force called Section 20 that just might sneak into a country to bolster an insurgency against an unfriendly government.
"This is the voice of the people," Winchester suggested of the Libya news, "but you wonder if there have been little pockets of Special Forces guiding the tip of that sword until it finally touches the point it needs to."
Obviously the actors can't say for certain that the Libyans got help from outside the country, but in the world of "“Strike Back" it is entirely possible. "[Osama] Bin Laden was taken down while we were filming something very, very similar," Mealing said. "And it was quite chilling … Suddenly you realize, talking to the military guys [who advised the production], that the gap between fantasy and reality just closes that much more. You think, 'These guys have really done it.'"
Mealing stars as Col. Eleanor Grant (Mealing), the iron-willed leader of Section 20 who oversees Winchester’s crack soldier, Sgt. Michael Stonebridge. In the explosive finale—and I mean that both literally and in terms of the drama—Section 20 races to stop their season-long nemesis, a terrorist named Latif (Jimi Mistry), from violently derailing a summit of world leaders in Budapest.
In the explosive season finale—and I mean that both literally and in terms of the drama—the team races to stop their season-long nemesis, a terrorist named Latif (Jimi Mistry), from violently derailing a summit of world leaders in Budapest. The finale (3.5 stars out of 4) airs at 9 p.m. Oct. 21 on Cinemax. (Check out video and photo sneak peeks of the "Strike Back" finale.)
Winchester, Mealing and the other actors trained with real former special forces soldiers for a month before the six-month shoot based in Cape Town, South Africa, began.
“It was brutal,” Winchester said, ticking off training in explosives, evasive driving, live-fire weapons, close-quarter fighting, physical fitness and much more. “But we had an absolute blast.”
Because she was playing the boss, Mealing didn’t have to train as hard as the guys, she said, joking, “My training was getting up in the morning and having a cup of tea.”
But she did manage to get injured. “We were doing a boxing exercise,” she said, and the trainer hit her hard. “So I punched him as hard as I could and I dislocated my shoulder. And that guy did not flinch.”
Kidding aside, both actors say they felt a great responsibility to represent the men and women of these secret ops teams by “getting it right.”
Mealing learned from the women in military command positions with whom she spoke that their role sometimes seems maternal. When a colleague is killed in the line of duty, for instance, the commander acts as a sounding board for her people’s grief, while not being able to openly show emotion herself.
For Winchester, getting it right meant absorbing everything the advisers shared with cast members, so that when they were in character they were “the bones of these guys.” He said that on a few occasions the actors interrupted a scene to tell the director, “This is not how [real special forces] would do this.”
“Our job was to make them look good. We had to know what we were doing,” he said. “We wanted to do it right, so that if they were watching they’d think, ‘Hey, they got it.’”
Working with automatic weapons and explosives was quite a transition for Winchester from his previous job playing sword-wielding Leontes in Starz’s “Camelot.” Although Winchester was challenged by the “medieval boot camp” of “Camelot,” he said the “Strike Back” training was much more intense, and not just physically.
“It was an invaluable look into the psyche of these people and how they deal with these situations.”
Below, Winchester and Mealing talked about filming in South Africa and getting naked for a role. Unfortunately, my recorder garbled the first part of our interview so I don’t have a transcript of that section. The interview picks up with Mealing talking more about the former special forces men and women who advised the production.