Philip Winchester is used to handling tricky action scenes after spending a few seasons as one of the stars of Strike Back. In fact, taking on a starring role in NBC’s new action drama The Player felt like a natural fit for the athletic actor who believes The Player is reminiscent of action TV shows from the 1980s.
“We’ve got an amazing production team. The guys from The Blacklist are helping us out. John Rogers is our writer/showrunner. We are fortunate enough to have amazing writing which makes the action count. Without good writing and without good relationships and without characters being invested in each other, the action just becomes robots punching each other in the face,” said Winchester, describing the series during our roundtable interview at the 2015 San Diego Comic Con. “We are fortunate enough to have both sides of that. We’ve got great drama and then it’s balanced out by this really fun ’80s action which John and Wesley [Snipes] and I are interested in bringing back to television where you’re seeing the guy doing the thing. Where you’re going, ‘Oh, they didn’t cut. That’s them. That’s them jumping. That’s them running.’ That’s them fighting or riding motorbikes or getting in front of the explosion. We want to do as much of that as possible to characters that you care about because the investment’s been made in the writing.”
Asked to compare Alex, his character on The Player, to Michael Stonebridge on Strike Back, Winchester says they’re very different. “[Alex] is a John McClane. He gets stuff done by accident sometimes. Or, he gets stuff done just because he has more tenacity than the next guy. He’s not getting stuff done because of his talents. So it was fun to bring in a little bit of Michael Stonebridge in the physicality, but Stonebridge is definitely…we put him to bed December 20th of last year and we’ll see him come back out this year at the end of July for the next 10 episodes of the season. But, Alex is a lot of fun. It’s fun to play an American. I haven’t played for five years, six years. It’s fun.”
Winchester performed stunts in Strike Back that might have made producers flinching and he’s also handling stunts in The Player that might have producers questioning his sanity (and their insurance coverage). “There were some things where I could see the producers picking up their phones and going, ‘Umm, we don’t know if our lead actor should be riding a motorbike down a hallway full of broken glass in an abandoned mall. Can we make sure that goes through the insurance broker?’ Strike Back was notorious because we were shooting in these third world countries. We had Michael Bassett leading the way and he was like, ‘You guys want to do it?’ And Sullivan [Stapleton] and I were like, ‘Yeah, we want to do it. What’s the risk?’ ‘You die.’ ‘Yeah, let’s shoot it. The audience really likes that.’ For better or worse, the audience came to expect that so if we stopped doing that on Strike Back, we’d be insulting our audience. I want to bring that element back into The Player. I want network television to have this taste of this ’80s-style action. It’s just having our guys and our girls right there doing it the whole time. I think NBC wants that. I think we just have to loosen them up a little bit and go, ‘It’s okay. We want to do this, too. We’re not afraid of this. Let us do it.’ Michael Basset’s coming on board to shoot this so he’ll push hard,” said Winchester.
But The Player isn’t just about action as Winchester was quick to point out. “Working with John Rogers is such a gift because he gives you this bible, basically, of who your character is and what he’s been through,” explained Winchester, describing how much he knew about Alex’s backstory. “What was fun about Alex, and what’s fun about, I think, where network television’s going now, they’ve realized we need to give the audience what they want which is we need to give them the stories of these people. It can’t be three episodes, it can’t be two episodes, it’s got to be 10, 13, 22 of backstory, of real life, where we can dive into these people so that, again, when the action happens or when the drama happens, we care. If we don’t have the time for that stuff, if we don’t have the time to dive into that, then we’re just talking heads. He does an amazing job of that.”
Watch the full interview with Philip Winchester:
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