Many were skeptical when Cinemax ventured into the primetime television game, but its unique venture, the 10-part action drama series "Strike Back," combines what the network does best -- sex -- with violence. In other words, it's every man's new favorite show.
In the explosive season finale -- literally! -- counterterrorism team Section 20 races to stop their season-long nemesis, a terrorist named Latif (Jimi Mistry), from violently derailing a summit of world leaders in Budapest. At the helm of the dangerous operation are team leader Col. Eleanor Grant (Amanda Mealing, "Holby City"), former Delta Force operative Damien Scott (Sullivan Stapleton, "Animal Kingdom") and his straight-laced partner, Sgt. Michael Stonebridge (Philip Winchester, "Camelot").
If you're a fan of the show, this is definitely one episode you don't want to miss. After all, there's a reason the cast list for Season 2 of "Strike Back" has yet to be revealed.
The Huffington Post recently sat down with Mealing and Winchester to talk about the shocking season finale, the actors' intense military training and the real heros of "Strike Back."
The show looks and feels very authentic, which is a big part of the success of the show. What was that training process like?
PW: We had a month of very intense training before the start of the show from Special Forces. These guys came out in their free time to come play with us, and it was full-on. We had backpacks and guns, going through the bushes, getting dirty. Sully and I would train together with air-soft riffles and air-soft weapons. They're not deadly, but they do hurt when you get shot. We also shot with live fire. We went to the range, and we made our own kill house in an abandoned abattoir in South Africa. They had dummies set up, and we would shoot them. It was really intense. We could taste that adrenaline and know what it feels like before you go into it.
AM: I think it gives you a greater respect and a greater sense of what these men and women do on a day-to-day basis. It's not just fun and games. I can't just wave this gun around and make sure the camera gets a good close-up of it. You suddenly realize that this is serious business.
PW: There would be directors that would come in and ask Sully and I to do something a certain way, and we would be like, we can't do that. That's not how the Special Forces would do it. I think from the very beginning we had a very big responsibility from the people training us. We had military advisors come in, and they were like, look guys, you have to do it like this if you want it to look real. So throughout the entire show, there was this protocol that you had to match every day. We had to know how to carry the gun properly, how to look a certain way, how to clear a room and how to be professional. It's very realistic. I think for the most part, we stuck to our guns, literally [laughs], and said, we have to do it like this.
AM: Oh, now that was a good one [laughs].
Was it easy for you and Sullivan Stapleton to become that dynamic team we see on the show?
PW: While we were training, we had a bit of a natural competition build up between us. Who's the better shot? Who's the fastest runner? Real boy stuff, like, who can lift the most? So this natural comradery formed between us, and they let us free style sometimes where we would just rip on each other. The guys we trained with said that everything is fair game except if you're married, and then wife and kids are off limits, so he and I would just go at it. And we're excited to carry on with that relationship into the next season. We're going to delve deeper into what it means to be friends when the stakes are so high.
What has been the response been like from the servicemen?
PW: Sully and I did a web chat the other night after Sky in the UK aired episode eight, and there was a guy who came on the chat and said, 'Thanks for making the boys down here look great.' That is the best thing that anyone could tell us about the show. That's just great to hear.
AM: I was recently at the Women of the Year Awards in the UK, and there's this 23-year-old girl, who's five-foot tall, she's got the Military Cross, is Lance Corporal and has been to Iraq twice, and she came up to me asking for my photograph because she was a fan of the show. I was like, 'I want a photograph with you!'
PW: Bloody hell, and these guys are the real deal. That really is the best compliment.
AM: And again, it's that thing where you want to get it right. It is a drama, not a documentary, so we have artistic license, but the only way it's going to be good and credible is if we make it true to life.
This is also a very timely show. You're dealing with subject matter that is very true-to-life. Does it make you read the news any differently?
AM: Oh, absolutely! We were in South Africa surrounded by SBS commanders and Special Forces guys, and they were telling us very serious stuff, first hand. I was ready and doing a lot of research, and one of the Special Forces guys was like, 'Turn to this page, that's me and that was my operation.' And I suddenly realized that I wasn't in this fantastical world of make-believe and movie magic. What we were trying to do was re-create what this guy had just done. And then you start reading the news very differently. It's not a game. I have an enormous amount of respect for the armed forces. Whether you agree with the conflict or not, these guys are the ones putting their lives on the line.
Did you do your own stunts as well? That must have been intense, right?
PW: We did, yes. There were a few times when we weren't allowed to because we were filming in separate units, but otherwise, we did everything else. All of the stunts with the bombs and the van blowing up in episode 4, those were all us. There are a few good ones in episodes nine and 10. That stuff is right there behind you, and there's no sort of protocol if it goes wrong. The stunt guys were like, 'You'll be fine, just run, don't trip, run.' The training definitely helped because we just got the sh-t kicked out of us everyday. We've had years of television where the anti-hero is the leading man, so it's great to play the hero, the one who can literally kick some ass and save the day.
So, what can we expect from the finale?
AM: It will tie a lot of things together, and many of your questions regarding Latif will be answered. This episode will center more around the team, and you'll see more of their personal stories. You'll get to see Section 20 really work together.
PW: When we get the scripts, I always check the first page and the last page to make sure that I don't pop a bullet and that I'm going to be alive in the next episode [laughs] because we killed off Richard Armitage in the first episode, so anything can happen! I think that makes for good television because it's not safe. But there is a rather severe loss in Section 20 in the finale episode. It's a brilliant episode. I saw the episode, and by the end, I was like, oh my god, I can't believe it -- and I knew what was going to happen [laughs].
"Strike Back's" explosive Season 1 finale airs Friday, Oct. 21 at 10 p.m. EST on Cinemax.
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