Coming off of shows like Dominion and Game of Thrones, how do you prepare for the physicality of a show like Strike Back? I know in the past some of the cast had spent time training in South Africa, were you able to receive similar training?
Part of the casting process was a fitness day, we were driven out to a field in Sussex, in the south of England. We were then asked to run up hills, crawl across the land like energetic frogs in mud, before doing press ups and basic gun training! You essentially weren’t getting hired for the job unless you had a decent base level of fitness and a willingness to partake in the extreme. Once landing the job, I was asked to put on 15lbs of muscle, i’m naturally pretty small, so I ate every bit of protein I could lay my eyes on… we then did six weeks of HIIT training, combined with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Climbing, Abseiling off 200ft buildings head first, and weapons training at KASOTC – The king of Jordan’s military base. So you know, all pretty easy stuff, just like a period drama… 😉
What drew you to Strike Back, and to the role of Captain Natalie Reynolds in particular?
I wanted to do a role that combined mental agility and physically aptitude. She is a tough, smart human, an alpha with plenty of flaws, but nothing is standing in her way. She’s operating in a male dominated world, at a high level, with grit, strength and determination. I admire the character…
I imagine that in order to do so many physical stunts there has to be a lot of trust between your whole team, what helps you get to that head space?
Our stunt team were absolutely incredible, and when you have faith in the people teaching you, and you listen, you can do anything… If you need a little extra help to calm your mind, meditate. Take a few deep breaths, and release the anxiety. It works. It’s important to be as calm as possible (at least on the inside) when you’re doing stunts, and I admire the real stunt people, they are brave, brilliant, and valuable.
Game of Thrones and Dominion rely heavily on green screen for their fantastic backgrounds. How is the experience of filming on Strike Back different?
Actually on Thrones, they built the most amazing sets, walking onto set was truly like walking into a different world. Any time there were animals, I was hooked. Going back to the hotel felt so anticlimactic after being surrounded by capuchin monkeys, owls, rolling Irish mountains, shadowy Croation forests, and the smell of incense. Dominion was all set based, so that was a different experience. Still visually fabulous, but man made. Strike Back is just epic, the Jordanian desert is spectacular and freeing, you immediately feel how insignificant you are in those rolling deserts, especially when a storm picks up. There was one day, when it was a fight against us and nature, the storm was rolling in, the sand started to fly, and as the winds picked up we knew we could be in trouble, but MJ was determined to get the shot, and we did… we ain’t afraid of no sand storm! Budapest was an architectural delight, so Parisian in feel, yet still uniquely Hungarian, with it’s historic and modernist buildings. Croatia was simply a fairytale, glistening waters, twinkling lights, Venician style back alleys, perfect for section 20 to barrel through on foot. During the speed boat chase sequence, Alin and I were in the cold water surrounded by jelly fish, at one point I lifted my hand and asked if were in oil, Warren said, no, you’re holding a jelly fish. It was very, very real and very, very fun!
MJ Bassett has been working with Strike Back for long enough to have gone through a lot of cast, Cinemax obviously isn’t shy about killing off its stars. Was there any pressure coming into this to live up to what’s been done in the past, and how did MJ help you all get comfortable?
Nah, we all know in advance what’s happening. We know, but you don’t 😉 watch this space…
Can you give us a hint if we’ll see a cameo by Philip Winchester or Sullivan Stapleton in a future season?
You absolutely will. They were so lovely and fun to work with. Sully was great with weapon tips and training, he has a ton of experience with weapons, and for us it’s all new, so he was super kind and protective. And Phil Winchester is one of nicest men i’ve ever met. A real gentleman. It was lovely having them around, even if it was brief.
This seems like such a departure for you, and I can imagine a welcome one. Is it a relief to not be the “glamorous” actress, but to just get to kick some butt?
I think everyone has a badass inside of them, and I believe every character I’ve played has been a tenacious survivor, given their circumstances. We all implement different tools to survive whatever scenario we are faced with, whether that’s Doreah manipulating and surviving by using her sexuality, or Reynolds by busting a cap in your ass. We live the only way we know how, and it’s a privilege for me to inhabit the thought process of another human, no matter what that is. As for whether or not it’s a departure from a more glamorous character, I think she’s glamorous as hell, ‘cause she’s tough and capable. Glamour, sex appeal, beauty, all those words are subjective. For me there’s nothing sexier, than getting down and dirty, no makeup, running around outside, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love a stiletto and red lips. Depends on my mood, I want to play it all. I hope every young woman feels this.
Is there an actress that you look to as an example of a strong physical presence to inspire you in the role of Captain Reynolds?
There wasn’t a particular actress I used to embody Reynolds, but there are many actresses who I admire for their versatility and strength. My favourite actress is Juliette Lewis, she’s just superb. I also love the rawness of Penelope Cruz, and the versatility of Angelina Jolie. Nicole Kidman, because she’s so compelling, Reese Witherspoon because she’s so full, and Shayliene Woodley because she’s effortless. Growing up, I was obsessed with Winona Ryder. There are too many to name.
The climate in the entertainment industry does seem to be changing some with the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, have you found this to be true in your current work or how you’re being approached for future roles?
I think the TimesUp movement is one of the single most important movements created. I am humbled by the solidarity of all women right now. I am in awe of the brave ones who have come forward, and I am hopeful. I will continue to be hopeful. Powerful messages of resilience and change are being brought to the fore and for this I am grateful. Subjugation of any kind needs to be ended, now is the time to open the conversation on the rights of humanity. For us all to stand together and push for equality. Have I personally noticed a change? I have seen women who would otherwise have remained silent, speak. I have seen realization, on the eyes of men but more needs to happen, and I believe it will.
Is there anything else you’d like to add for your fans?
I’d like to add this, to all the young women out there, don’t let anyone paint you into a box, you are not one characteristic. You are a rainbow of ability and you may not even know it yet, so when you feel something is hard, push harder back in opposition. You can!
photo credit @Roxanne_McKee and Liam Daniel/Cinemax