I am so excited to introduce you to new Strike Back cast member Yasemin Kay Allen. Yasemin will be playing a Russian special forces soldier, Katrina Zarkova, who finds herself having to work with the Section 20 team. That push-pull of mistrust and necessity will be super interesting to watch as we head into season 7. I spoke with her about coming into this cast and what it was like filming for 6 months in Malaysia.
Strike Back is a totally different beast of a show to film. 6 months on location, intensely physical, it’s kind of like a marathon. So how did you prepare to meet those physical demands, and was the reality different than what you expected?
To be honest, it was as challenging as I thought it would be. I was relatively fit before the show started because I like to be careful, I like to go to the gym. But this was a different level, to inhabit the body of a soldier. For it to at least look realistic, for you to actually feel like you’re halfway there is going to take at least 6 months. It took a lot of getting up early in the morning before set and just feeding yourself a lot. Lots of protein, lots of building muscle, and lots stamina work. There is a lot of running around with heavy weaponry in sweltering heat.
It’s absolutely, 100% the kind of immersive experience that I was longing for as an actor. So often you’re typecast as the girl with the long hair that struts around in high heels. Someone who looks more like you, but who doesn’t really challenge you. Or challenges you mentally, but not physically. I loved this challenge, it was really fun.
So was getting away from that, as you described it, “the girl who walks around in heels”, something that really excited you about the character of Katrina?
Yeah! 100%. I have always had both sides in me. I’m an emotional human being and quite feminine. But at the same time, I grew up as a bit of a tomboy. I have danced between both parts of me all my life and it was great to get to channel that into my work finally. To break the mold and break the expectations that might have been put on me by society. To be a little bit more like myself I suppose, in a way, but also completely different. I mean I’m not like Katrina, I don’t have a military mindset, but it was a wonderful experience.
Are there lessons you learned from shooting this year, from preparation or just enduring the length of time, that you will use? Assuming there is both another season of Strike Back and for Katrina?
Yes, definitely. It’s very mission oriented. The work is everything when you’re away for so long. And there is a mission that’s going on the whole season, and all the character is thinking of is that one thing. Total focus on that one thing. There are other dynamics going on, but it’s very “I have to get to the bottom of this.” It’s all-encompassing. But the things that I learned along the way are invaluable. As an actor, it’s really what I got into this job for. To immerse myself in the world of another. To become a different person and do things that I would never have done before.
Learning fight choreography was one of the highlights of it. It was so much fun! It’s like a dance. You get to learn some martial arts along the way, just so you can inhabit your body properly, like a fighter. But what you’re doing there is not actually fighting. To make it look realistic on screen, that’s where the acting comes in. It’s awesome. Really invaluable. I love action and I love playing the part of a female character and I hope to continue to play characters like this.
One of the things that we love about Strike Back is that you guys do most of your own stunts. It really shines through. Is there a particular stunt that you got to do this season, that you can tell us about, that was exciting for you?
A lot of the fight scenes. It’s a professional environment and we do have stunt doubles that step in for the more dangerous scenes. Because, I mean, that is their job. They are flexible and bendable in ways that we are not, and they know how to fall out of a window or dive off a bridge. But getting to do the rest…
I don’t know how it is on other sets, to be honest, this is my first action filming. But I would actually be greatly disappointed if the opportunity to do my stunts was taken away from me. Shooting the fight scenes the way we did, and running and jumping and gunning? All of that is part of the character and it’s how you feel connected to it.
What we’ve seen of Katrina, she’s very interesting. She’s a little quirky, obviously, in the beginning, the feeling is very antagonistic. What were you able to bring to the character that most changed the way she had been written?
I don’t know to be honest. There is something about Katrina that I kind of identified with. I have kind of grown up in different cultures. I grew up in Turkey with an English family and then I went to Australia for high school. All these kinds of things. So I’ve traveled around a lot and been between different cultures. I have been misunderstood a fair bit. I’ve had trouble communicating to people. So I’ve kind of been in this grey zone where people don’t know if they like me, or if I’m a bitch (she laughs). It’s that whole resting bitch face thing. “Are you ok?” they ask and I’m fine. It’s just that people don’t often know where to put me in their heads. I embrace that. I fought it a lot in my life and looked for a feeling of belonging, but with this character, I was able to embrace that. She’s with people who don’t know her in the world. She longs to be recognized but she can’t trust anyone. Maybe it’s that. Maybe it’s that overlapping identity and that search for who we really are that I connected with her the most.
Coming into a team that was already so close. Dan MacPherson, Alin Sumarwata and Warren Brown are very tight-knit. Was there extra pressure coming into this season? Did the addition of other new cast like Jamie Bamber and Varada Seethu make it easier?
Yes, not being the only new person softens the effect of it. But this show really does bond you in a different way. As soon as I saw those guys together, I was like wow, they’ve got such a strong friendship. It’s like they’ve known each other for years and years. I was really excited to meet them and I think they’re amazing. It was very exciting, and yeah, it made me a little bit nervous to come into such a tight-knit group. But like you said, having Varada and Jamie there helped. Every season of Strike Back is a new feeling, new characters, and new stories so we all grow together. We had a really good bond going.
Can you give us a little tease about what to expect from Katrina this season?
I would say…you’re not really going to know what to expect. Ever. What matters to her is the mission, but throughout the season she develops a bond with Section 20. Maybe even love for them. Of course, she can never admit that to herself. They are soldiers and you could lose someone at the last minute. So there is a sort of tenderness underlying, but in the end, they’re all there to do one thing. There is always that sense of everyone feeling, we just have to save the world right now. So I think people won’t really know what to expect right until the last minute. That’s what the situation brings out in everybody.
It’s not just about the action. There is a lot of emotional drama to work through, so for me, it was really rewarding work.
If there was a zombie apocalypse, how long would you last?
Now that I can work my way around weapons, I think probably longer than I would have a year ago! After the martial arts training and I’ve been doing kickboxing lessons, I know how to work an M4 and a Glock. I’m pretty sure I could last a couple of years. Let’s say, I reckon I could last a good 10 years, then I might just give up.
On a weekend night, you’re staying in. What are you eating and what’s on tv?
Oh dear. I’m eating spicy chicken and I’m probably watching a horror film. I love horror!
**this interview was lightly edited for syntax and context
LT with us when Strike Back premiers Jan 25th at 10/9c on Cinemax.
Follow me @nolenag03 or @strikebackcrib to chat all things explosive!