I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to interview Daniel MacPherson who is currently starring on Cinemax’s Strike Back as SGT Wyatt.
Season 6 of Strike Back just started a couple of weeks ago here in the US and so far we’re enjoying it. Coming off of being an elven prince in The Shannara Chronicles, what drew you to Strike Back and Sgt. Wyatt in particular?
He was such in interesting and dynamic character from the very first read. Cheeky, fun, flawed, yet with some deep issues and personal pain hidden underneath all that. The kind of character that will reveal different sides to himself as the series progresses. Just when you think you have him pegged, there’s another layer, another side to this guy. He’s multi faceted for sure. On top of that, of course, he’s a highly skilled operator, so the physical nature of a show like Strike Back was right in my wheelhouse.
How is shooting such an action-heavy show different from one that’s beautiful, but heavily CGI like Shannara?
Completely different, in Strike Back we are 90% practical effects, stunts and locations. We are right in there, so there’s not much imagination needed! You feel the heat of the explosions on your face, you are yelling because your ears are ringing from the gunfire… It adds an intensity and an edge that you just can’t manufacture I think. It’s unlike any other military show in TV.
Sgt. Wyatt is a very interesting character, he comes onto the team somewhat unwillingly but seems at the moment to be on board. Will we see his conflicting loyalties play out over the season?
He’s super complex and I love that about him. Like all of the characters with the new Section 20, relationships & trust develops at different rates between the team. Wyatt has been burnt by teammates in the past, and coming into the twilight of his career as an operator he’s definitely a little jaded and cynical, but still has this childlike attitude towards a lot of things. Yes, his loyalties will be tested, as will his self-centered nature. Life is easier for him if he has no-one to care about.
One of the things we’re really liking about Wyatt is his differing views on Western military powers being in the Middle East, particularly Libya. We don’t see that attitude on many action shows these days. How do these views affect the way you play him, and will they influence his relationship with the rest of Section 20?
Yeah, I really like that about him. At mid-30s, he’s been around a lot, deployed a lot. And so with that experience comes a very personal and unique view on humanity, the world, on conflict and his role within it. I think he’s had to go searching to find a meaning in all that he’s seen and done, and it leaves him sounding occasionally like a wartime philosopher. He’s had great teammates before and he’s been let down by them. He’s seen the futility of a mission, and he’s seen soldiers lose their way. He’s a rogue, a wanderer, yet on the battlefield he is laser focused and exceptionally skilled, and the guy you want by your side. I love the duality of that character.
Strike Back is very well known for it’s seamless banter between teammates, we’re definitely seeing that this season already, especially between Wyatt and both Novin and MacAllister. Was that chemistry there right off with Alin Sumarwata and Warren Brown, or did it develop over the preparation for shooting? What is the behind the scenes dynamic like on set?
It was for Warren and I from the very outset, and Alin and i spent plenty of time together once we started the audition process. Once Alin morphed into Gracie, it was a no-brainer that they would be the two jokers in the pack. Warren has given Mac a very dry sense of humour, and I know that Wyatt knows how to push his buttons. It makes for a lot of fun on set, and I think that fun comes through on screen. By the same token, when the game faces are on, and the stakes are high, the team knows how to bring it.
In past seasons we were able to see the actors taking on more of their own, and bigger, stunts as time went by. Did you – and will you in the future – have the same opportunities? What was the most exciting stunt to film for this season?
Absolutely, I think even the episodes that have gone to air so far have an element of all the cast and crew diving off the deep end, but the show still taking a moment to find its feet, find its best balance. We were doing as many of our own stunts as we could from the very beginning, but it was a learning process for everyone involved, from the producers to the stunt team to the cast. We certainly didn’t shy away from any stunt work, be it jumping from exploding vehicles to filming explosive speed boat chases in eps 9 & 10. I think the speedboat sequence we shot in Croatia was my favorite, just epic and classic Strike Back.
Cinemax just released the news that Philip Winchester and Sullivan Stapleton will be reprising their roles for a guest appearance this season on Strike Back. Did it add pressure during the time they were back on set to live up to past seasons, or was it a more seamless integration of the two teams?
I think we put so much pressure on ourselves to pick up where they had left off, that by the time Phil and Sully turned up for the final two episodes, we are all rocking along and the two teams worked really well together! I loved the fact that most of Scott & Stonebridge’s stuff is with Novin & Reynolds, it’s a load of fun. We really wanted to start the series at a high standard, honoring the legacy left by those guys, and I think we did that.
Being an Australian, playing an American, joining a British special forces team, fans have drawn a lot of comparisons to Sullivan Stapleton playing Damian Scott. Obviously, Wyatt joins the team in a very different set of circumstances, but was that similarity (and difference) something you kept in mind while shooting?
I’ve know Sully for 20 years, and I think we have some similar traits as Aussies, but we are great mates and very different humans. I think Wyatt and Scott as American operators are no doubt cut from the same cloth, but perhaps from different ends of it. I just tried to keep Wyatt fun and unique, and I think as you get to know him more, you’ll see less similarities.
We’ll be seeing you soon on the big screen playing Calvin’s father on Wrinkle in Time. This movie looks incredible and has an unbelievable cast. What was it like filming and can you tell us a little more about your role?
Oh man, I have a small moment in this extraordinarily big movie. It was a dream experience on set, the previous film I had done was an ultra low budget Indie, then 2 weeks later, I stepped onto a set as big as Wrinkle. Ava is everything you expect her to be and more, and I’m excited to see the finished product like everyone else!
Strike Back has a very loyal fan base of which active duty and prior service military are a big part of. We reached out to a support group for veterans with PTSD who’ve bonded over their love of Strike Back and asked them to submit some questions for you. This is how they describe themselves, “We’re a band of brothers, vets of all ranks and branches, and our sole civilian sister, just as fierce, formed together with one goal – leave no man behind in the battle after the war. Stronger Together.” Here is what they’ve asked:
One of the challenges of PTSD is the ability to stay focused and mentally sharp for any duration. Did you find that true on such long, physically demanding filming days, and what helped you to stay tuned in?
For the character of Wyatt, I took on a huge responsibility to honor those veterans and active military the very best I could. I read every book I could get my hands on, listened to every podcast, watched documentaries, and most importantly spoke at length with combat veterans who so generously shared their stories with me. We shot for 6 months, plus 2-3 months of training prior. So by then second half of the shoot, exhaustion levels were extremely high, especially given the physical nature of the show. I think on those days, you simply have to look at your cast mates and your crew, who are working just as hard, and pull together and summon the energy to do it for each other. For me, a driving factor was simply not to let down all those veterans who had spent hours teaching me how to shoot, move and honored me with their stories, because they love the show.
The struggle with PTSD/PTSS was a significant part of both the Stonebridge and Scott characters. Aside from all the action and great stories, it’s a big reason why we connected. We’ve only seen a couple of episodes here, but can see the potential with the new team to deal with that as well. Will that be something you see Wyatt dealing with?
Absolutely, and I think as you get to know him, you’ll see that he’s been dealing with it all along. I think it’s a huge part of why Wyatt stays with Section 20, because he’s tried to go home before, and he just can’t fit back in, so he keeps working, keeps going on mission, and this team might just stop him from falling through the cracks.
Did you find the transition back to “normal, everyday” life a challenge after such an intense filming schedule? How intentional were you about adjusting and are there any specific things you employed for that transition that you’d care to share?
Absolutely I did. Firstly, let me preface this by saying that we were making a TV show, and no matter how realistic, we not even remotely in the same stratosphere as what real veterans have experienced! However, we ran on exhaustion, adrenaline, caffeine and no sleep for 6 months. Nursing injuries and pain, we were surrounded by gunfire and explosions and highly imagined trauma for 6 months, and so it’s not like coming home after a normal job. I had to quit coffee & caffeine as I had quite high levels of anxiety upon return. I couldn’t take an elevator as I became too claustrophobic, but I just had to be really kind to myself. I did things that were really familiar to me as Dan, not Wyatt. I got back to jogging; I spent as much time in the ocean as I could; I began to meditate and just try and slow my mind and body down. It took me three months to unwind from Strike Back and wash off Wyatt. I just tried to be patient with myself, and surrounded myself with good people, good experiences and made sure I spoke to people in similar situations. I also joined a Crossfit gym to focus on learning new skills and encourage health and clarity.
You’re back home in Australia – Strike Back and Underbelly air at the time. Who wins in the tv remote war?
Ha, luckily my wife and I live in LA, so we didn’t have to face that one, but my wife wins everyday! Zoe supports me so well, I do my best to support her back just as much.
Thank you again so much for your time, is there anything else you’d like your fans to know?
Thanks so much, just a huge thanks for all the support of the series, and I really hope you all enjoy the rest of the series, as it just gets better and better! I think you guys will dig it! Finally, just a big shout out to our armory and stunt teams, who worked so hard to make us all look good! They are rockstars!
You can see Dan on season 6 of Strike Back, airing at 10/9 on Fridays on Cinemax. The series finale is April 6th, but don’t worry – it’s already been picked up for another season!
photo credit Derek Wood and Liam Daniel/Cinemax