Michelle Lukes plays Sgt. Julia Richmond in Cinemax's "Strike… (Cinemax )
Michelle Lukes didn't get much time out of the crib during the first season of "Strike Back." Thankfully that changed this year.
As Season 2 of the action drama comes to a close Friday, we'll see Lukes' Sgt. Julia Richmond in action again as Section 20 launches an assault in the mean streets of Johannesburg, South Africa. The season finale airs at 9 p.m. CT Oct. 12 on Cinemax.
Richmond proved she's more than a desk jockey in the season premiere with her total Bond girl moment as she and Sgt. Michael Stonebridge (Philip Winchester) swam ashore in Mogadishu, Somalia, on a dangerous mission to rescue Damian Scott (Sullivan Stapleton) and Major Rachel Dalton (Rhona Mitra). In a later episode, she accompanied Stonebridge and Scott to Niger to hunt down a terrorist in possession of nuclear triggers.
"Last year I was desperate to get involved and the boys were just having such a blast. I was, too, in my sort of very reserved and reliable way," she said over the phone from her home in London where she was preparing her specialty, lasagna. "But I just was dying to get down and dirty with them, and fortunately I've been given that chance this year."
She also had the opportunity to explore more of her character's emotional side. After the shocking death of Major Oliver Sinclair (Rashan Stone) in Episode 17, the usually measured and focused Richmond totally lost her cool and shot the South African minister responsible for the capture of several Section 20 agents.
Lukes believes Sinclair's death was "absolutely life-changing for all of them, but I would say particularly for Julia because ... her reaction is so extreme and so emotional and so far removed from the Julia that we know, the sort of sensible, grown-up Julia." The scenes also were difficult to film, she said.
"It was tough, tough, tough, tough, tough to film personally. But as an actor it was really challenging and really rewarding," she said. "It was challenging for me because actually having done the show for a couple of years and the nature of my role in the show, I haven't really had ... to explore the emotional side of this character. So it was new territory for me and pretty scary."
"Strike Back" is the most high-profile international exposure for the actress, who starred in the British TV series "Doctors" and has theater credits at the Royal National Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company and Salisbury Playhouse. She is a 2007 graduate of the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, where she began her studies after being plucked from her dance studies at the age of 17 to star as Demeter in a production of "Cats" in Hamburg, Germany.
For now, Lukes is hanging out in London but eager to get started on Season 3 of the series, if she returns. (Although we know the show will be back, there's been no official word on which cast members will return.) Lukes will no doubt miss Stone (watch the video eulogy below), who she said was probably the biggest jokester on a set where there is a lot of a lot of joking and teasing.
"Don't believe the Oliver Sinclair facade because he is cheeky. He's very cheeky. But he's brilliant. He's a great, great company member, an awesome guy," Lukes said. "It's brilliant because out of everyone he's probably the most unlike his character. We're terrible when we're together. Mercifully for the producers we had a lot of time apart this year which was tough for us. We made up for it in our own time. But probably we are probably the biggest goofballs."
"It's a good group of people. It's a lovely place to work, if lovely is the right word," she said, laughing. "It's a lovely place to go to work and stab people."
Lukes and I talked a whole lot more about her military training for the show, how crew members sometimes don't recognize her out of character, and her past work, which includes teaching Rosario Dawson how to dance for the film "Alexander." (The Q&A section of this story is hella long, but sometimes the conversations are so fun I just feel the need to share it all, or most of it.)
People love kick-ass women, and Julia Richmond has been this season.
What I love about her is that she is kick ass in the field but I still feel there’s a real humanity, a real warmth about Julia, too. I hope that people feel that or see that or get that. It’s something that I know that I want to pursue. It’s not just black and white with these people. I don’t want her to be just a kick-ass woman, you know? They’re a dime a dozen especially in TV land. And I kind of want more quality, more substance.