Philip Winchester's character, Sgt. Michael Stonebridge, has been wrestling some heavy demons in the new season of "Strike Back."
In the season premiere, he was forced to kill one of his Special Air Service trainees. The trainee's brother, former special forces soldier Craig Hanson, got his twisted vengeance by killing Stonebridge's wife. The murder pushed Stonebridge, as his Section 20 partner Sgt. Damian Scott (Sullivan Stapleton) said in the Aug. 31 episode, down a rabbit hole.
The usually level-headed Stonebridge seemingly has switched places with his more unpredictable, fiery brother-in-arms Scott. He lost his cool and beat the crap out of Othmani, the courier hiding nuclear triggers. He pummeled a Tuareg man in a supposedly friendly wrestling match. And when he came face-to-face with Othmani's terrorist brother, El Soldat (shown in the scene above), he insisted that Scott take a shot and kill the terrorist, even though one of El Soldat's snipers was targeting Stonebridge.
Stonebridge doesn't have a death wish, Winchester said, but he's definitely become more reckless as a result of his personal demons. It's a change in character that Winchester enjoyed exploring this season.
"It was really fun to go through those scenes and at the end of scenes sometimes Sully and I would look at each and we'd have a little laugh and go, 'Well, that was different. That wasn't last year, was it?'" Winchester told me during a recent phone call from Montana, where he and his wife were busy preparing to move into their new home. "When stuff like that happens it's fun because, like real life, you surprise yourself and sometimes you go places you didn't think you could go or you wouldn't allow yourself to go. We tried to bring that kind of stuff into these characters this year."
"That kind of stuff" happens in the scene after Stonebridge walks away from El Soldat, when Scott challenges Stonebridge about his state of mind. They once again trade humorous barbs, but this time Scott shows genuine concern for his friend.
This kind of banter is one of the show's strengths, and it's the result of the actors' improvisation that often comes from their own relationship, Winchester said.
“Sometimes we have to play around with the words in scenes, and our natural banter—him taking the piss [out of me] and me just copping it on the chin until I blow up—that happens naturally,” he said, laughing. “So we don’t have to go searching for it.”
Winchester and I talked more about how he and Stapleton work together and how that informs what happened in Ep. 14 between Stonebridge and Scott, and in the series generally. We also reviewed Stonebridge’s state of mind this season, and talked about Winchester's transition to taking time off in Montana.
"Strike Back" airs new episodes each Friday at 9 p.m. CT on Cinemax. You can watch the two-hour season premiere on YouTube and the season so far on MaxGo.
How’s the house?
It’s just great. I’m still in the rental property right now but this morning it was kind of funny. We’re sleeping in; we’re on holiday … before the big press tours for the show kicks off again. I think to be able to sit in Montana and just watching the mountains and just hang out with like-minded people. It’s very cool. It’s such a cool community. So we’re really excited and [my wife] did an amazing job with the house, so I was thrilled.
Is it nice to just be home in Montana?
Totally. There’s that sense of peace when you’re in a familiar place. The first couple days we were walking around downtown and she was saying, “Baby, you don’t have to check every time someone walks behind us. Like we’re not in Johannesburg anymore. You can drop your radar a little bit.” … We were so used to having to have out wits about us so much in Johannesburg everywhere we filmed the show.
When we were in the car at San Diego Comic Con, a motorcycle drove past us and I asked if after filming a season of the show and you're back home and a car comes up close do you have residual “worry,” I guess, from having to watch all around you while in character.
This year has been a lot better. My wife actually called me on it last year … About a month-and-a-half after getting back last year, she looked at me and said, “Well, it’s nice to have you back, Philip.”
So it took me awhile to get out of that place. I think a lot of the reason behind that was, for me, I didn’t know who Stonebridge was [last year]. I had to find him, I had to work with Sully to figure out who these characters were, what their relationship was, how they dealt with things, how they didn’t deal with things. So last year was this period where you’re fully immersing yourself in the character and you’re exploring the whole time, and you’re making mistakes and then you’re correcting them.