In the action drama “Strike Back,” which centers on British top-secret counterterrorism intelligence unit Section 20, the most important characteristic of its members is the ability to think fast in potentially deadly situations and to come up with alternative solutions to get out of them.
This is also a quality that comes in handy during the production of the show, according to star Philip Winchester, who plays Sgt. Michael Stonebridge in the Cinemax series.
The second season of “Strike Back,” filmed in South Africa, premieres with back-to-back episodes at 9 p.m. Friday. It also stars Sullivan Stapleton, Rashan Stone and Michelle Lukes, and features new cast member Rhona Mitra.
A Montana native, Winchester, 31, whose uncle is retiring Garfield County Sheriff Bill Winchester of Enid, spoke to The Oklahoman during a recent phone interview to discuss working on the show’s second season, including how the shooting location of the first two episodes had to be changed at the last minute.
“We lost this main location right off the bat,” Winchester said. “We were supposed to film the first two episodes in Mozambique ... and there was a massive freedom fighter rally about a week before we were supposed to get there.
“And production sat down with all the people who deal with traveling safely and things like that, and they just said there’s no way that we could take a production team and a bunch of guys with fake AK-47s where there’s a 100,000 guys with real AK-47s and RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades) and stuff, walking around the streets of Mozambique commemorating battles that they’ve had.”
But, of course, in the world of entertainment, the show must go on.
“They pulled the plug on Mozambique. ... Some of us, we chartered a plane and went there for a couple of days and did some interior stuff, and then did some rooftop shots, but we never got to hold a weapon in Mozambique. And then the way to fix it was they made it all night. So they changed the script to night time, and we shot it back in Cape Town.
“So, that first block was just brutal, because we went from a month in Mozambique, which was going to be absolutely beautiful, to a month of night shoots in Cape Town in some of the roughest neighborhoods and townships.”
While doing virtually all of your own stunts is exciting, it comes with a price. Winchester recounted a story about an up-close-and-personal experience with a grenade when he and Stapleton were filming a chase scene on a rooftop.
“When that grenade went off, Sully and I are supposed to peek in the door and then pull out, then the special effects guy was to push the trigger and the bomb went off. Well, he did everything absolutely right, the timing was absolutely on,” Winchester said.
“But what happened was because we’re on the rooftop of this building, there was this kind of wind vortex, and there was this wall of wind kind of swirling around us and the fire ball came out and hit that wind wall and it came right back against Sully and I and smashed us against the wall, and I burned the whole right side of my body and Sully burned the whole left side of his body.
“We looked at each other after the take, our hair was smoldering and our clothes were on fire ... and I just looked at the special effects guy, and I went, ‘Hey, bud, that was a little close, you know?’”
The role of Stonebridge is so intense that after Winchester had been home for about a month after filming the first season, his wife, Megan, told him it was nice to have her husband back, having felt like she had been living with “Stonebridge” for seven months.
Winchester is well aware playing such a strong role is much different from carrying out the job in real life.
“I know it’s all fake and I know it’s all ... we’re playing soldiers, so for the life of me, I don’t know how these guys do it for real, and how they walk away from that with any integrity at all, but they do. We see it all the time,” Winchester said.
“And it just goes to show the training that they do, and the type of men and women that are working in our armed services. They’re incredible people, and my heart goes out to them. I take my hat off to them every day, ’cause what we’re doing is just pretend, and these guys do it for real. It’s incredible.”