Strike Back season 7 is both a beginning and an end for Varada Sethu. It’s her first season as a series regular, after her character Lance Corporal Manisha Chetri was introduced as a recurring player during season 6. But it’s also the Cinemax show’s last season, so this is the final mission for Chetri and the rest of Section 20.
But the seventh season has already proven to be incredible, with the first two episodes featuring fantastic stunts and some important character reveals. So before today’s third episode, Nerdophiles connected with Varada to talk about what it meant to her to become a part of the main cast, why Strike Back season 7 is different from the rest, and how hard it was to let go of the series when it was over.
Learn more about both Varada Sethu and Chetri in our interview below, then be sure not to miss the next Strike Back episode tonight at 10 p.m. on Cinemax!
Nerdophiles: You got a well-deserved promotion to regular status this season. Talk about being cast as Chetri; did you ever see yourself here?
Varada Sethu: I did not see it coming at all, If I’m being completely honest, I looked at the script and I looked at the scale of the show and everything, and I kind of felt like, I’m still relatively a bit of an unknown…So I went into my audition and I did my best, and I literally just thought “Well, there’s no chance I’m going to get that because it’s just too big a job.”
And I didn’t hear anything for about three weeks, and then I got the call to say yeah, you got it. I thought there’d be some kind of recall [audition] or anything, but it was straight off the bat. I could not believe it. I screamed.
NP: It’s an incredibly difficult show to be a part of, but you had the benefit of having recurred during Strike Back season 6. So how did you prepare for this season? Was it a little easier since you had that prior experience?
VS: This season, I went in a lot harder into the gym. I got a lot fitter. [And] in terms of keeping my mental health better, because when you’re physically exhausted because you’re working so hard all the time, and then you get to bed, it’s quite difficult to take a moment to clock how you’re doing. You don’t really get time to think about that, and then suddenly you get really stressed out and overwhelmed. I didn’t want that to happen, because that happened last year.
So this year I was a lot better, in terms of just hanging out with people, talking to people. Dan [MacPherson] is a big advocate for meditation, so that was something I did a little bit. In terms of prep, it was hitting the gym, taking better care of myself mental health-wise, and I guess watching a lot more Army-themed stuff on TV like I watched The Hurt Locker. A lot of films that sort of slipped my radar.
NP: Many TV shows have the obligatory technical expert, but Chetri is a lot more than what we normally see in that position. How did you work with the writers to ensure she was so well-developed?
VS: Well, Strike Back is great because people are very open to input from the actors, and I think a lot of it just sort of happened by itself. For example, going from Chetri to my nickname being “Chetters,” that was something coined by Warren Brown. There’s a lot of stuff that we would say off-screen, and it would kind of make its way into the scripts, just as [showrunner] Jack [Lothian] would pick up on little things.
That helps because you kind of lived the character anyway. We’ve been cast beautifully; [casting director] Gary [Davy] did a beautiful, beautiful job in casting us. We all fall into our roles really, really well. We sort of are those people off-screen as we are on-screen, so it felt very easy to make the character a real-life human and not sort of 2-D.
Additionally, I really didn’t want her to be a sort of nerdy, gawky computer girl. I wanted her to be capable of being a badass. I think I tried to absorb some of that energy from the others, even though I was actually quite nervous. I hadn’t done anything action [oriented]. I hadn’t worked with guns or anything before. You’ve just got to sort of take it in your stride. It really, really helped that Chetri and I were on a very similar trajectory. She hadn’t killed anyone or had a go in the field last season, and she had her first kill last season. All of that was very similar to me as well. Not that I’ve killed anyone, but I’ve definitely not had any experience with guns, so it was sort of allowed for me to look a little bit timid with weapons.
And then this season, I’d had the training from last season, and we landed at the end of April. We had, I think, two or three weeks of just intense training in Croatia when we got there. They’d pick us up in the morning, we’d have weapons training and then we’d have a gym session and then stunt training, and then, costume fitting or whatever. They kept us really busy for about two, three weeks even before we started [filming]. That helped prep me, because obviously some time has passed between last season and this season, and Chetri has become a lot more confident and evolved in her ability to handle weapons.
NP: Though Chetri is definitely a part of the Section 20 team, she’s also detached in a sense, because her job is to observe and support most of the time. So what do you think her opinion of her teammates is, having that ability to distance herself from them?
VS: I think she’s a really unique character in that she’s definitely a part of the team and very loyal to Coltrane. But [with] just the nature of being Zero, she is used to keeping an eye on everything. She’s at once a part of the team and aware of everything that’s going on, but also separate because she has to be in the Crib and she’s an observer. I get to sort of be both.
But I think she is similar to the others, in the sense [that] she has a rogue streak running through her, even though it seems like she plays by the rules. I think she is incredibly loyal; she respects Coltrane and respects what he thinks is best for the team. She thinks Wyatt is a bit of a loose cannon, McAllister, also similar; they’re all a bit rogue. But I think she really, deeply loves all of them. They’re a family to her.
What’s great about her is that she’s capable of thinking for herself. She’s smart enough to question orders and resourceful enough to do the right thing…She does what she thinks is the right thing quite often.
NP: A character’s second season is normally when shows tell us more about them, but with Strike Back season 7 also being the final season, do we have time to learn more about Chetri personally?
VS: I would say this season is a lot more character-oriented. You get a little bit of history for Coltrane, his past, a little bit of McAllister, a little bit of Chetri. It’s not necessarily a full-blown exploration into her world, but you get to learn a fair bit more about the characters this season.
NP: I’ve spoken with the other cast members about how difficult it was to say goodbye to Strike Back. Was it also hard for you, even though you weren’t here for the entire run? What was your personal experience as you filmed this final season?
VS: It was really sad. I don’t think I really realized how sad I was going to be until after we all wrapped and I got home. And then a month later, it sank in like, oh God, I’m not going back. Because during the process, before and during, I was excited to do this new season. Jack has taken some risks I quite like in the storytelling of this season, and he’s done a beautiful job; they’ve really, really paid off. I sound like an ad for it, but it really is a season unlike any other. Personally, for me, it’s the best season, and I’m not just saying that because I’m in it. In terms of the writing, in terms of the style, it’s so different and so well-done that it was more like I was just so excited to be a part of it. I didn’t really have time to think about it coming to an end.
Then it finished and it was heartbreaking. There were quite a few tears. But it didn’t really break me until I came home. That’s when I felt like I was crashing and burning. Dan, Warren, and Alin [Sumarwata] warned us about this when we joined the job. Towards the end, they were saying okay, you’re going to get post-Strike Back syndrome, which is when you get home and you’re not going to know what to do with your life. That happened. It was absolute torment last year. (laughs)
This year, I felt like I was marginally more prepared. Last year, at least, it was okay, well, I’m going back to it. It’s a mixed bag of feelings. It’s great, but I’m also heartbroken. It really feels like heartbreak, because you come home like if you had a split-up with someone, and everything reminds you of them. You’re making breakfast and you’re like, oh my God, I’m just having some toast [but] this reminds me of when I was in Croatia and I had toast that one time. You can’t escape it. It becomes a part of you.
Strike Back airs Fridays at 10 p.m. on Cinemax.