To say that Strike Back season 7 has been intense is an understatement. The Cinemax series has ratcheted things up this season, particularly in the most recent episode, which will go down in series history. So how will Section 20 go on afterward? And what has it been like for the actors to go through?
We posed those questions to Jamie Bamber, who remains a standout on the show as the tough as nails unit boss Alexander Coltrane. Coltrane has been trying to hold Section 20 together through any means necessary, and Jamie gave us some insight into what’s going on in his character’s head after that massive plot twist.
SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains spoilers for Strike Back season 7, episode 6, which aired in the U.S. on March 20. If you’re not caught up or are an overseas viewer, you will be spoiled.
Nerdophiles: First things first – most Section 20 bosses don’t survive on this show, so how thrilled were you just to return to Strike Back for the final season?
Jamie Bamber: It was a minor achievement. (laughs) Everyone had told me that commanding officers with Section 20 didn’t fare too well. I was delighted to get to the end of last year, and the producers were very cool. They sort of told me straight away that they were very keen to involve me heavily in what ended up being the final season, and they kept me in the loop. So that was a sign of confidence.
And it’s a much greater pleasure to go to work without that sort of Sword of Damocles hanging over you, wondering whether they’re going to like what you do. To have been told that they wanted me to be a part of the final season was really exciting. Then obviously I’ve got working relationships with all the crew already, and the major cast. And it’s always like a bit of a school reunion when you go back and you find each other again. You discuss what you’ve been up to in the holidays and all that sort of stuff. We hit the ground running and it was great.
NP: We’ve spoken previously about how the role of Coltrane was a bit different for you. Did you prepare differently for Strike Back season 7 after having been through season 6?
JB: I did, actually. I knew exactly what I was getting myself in for. The way we finished last year, Coltrane was in the field a lot more, and they told me to expect more of the same. So I was fully aware that I had to get into shape physically, and it was good timing. We started roughly the same sort of time in the spring [as last season], and so I had a good couple of months after Christmas to get in shape, and to get prepared physically. I just looked forward to reading the new scripts, and seeing where the story’s going. And to get to know Croatia, a whole new part of the world to me and for the show, that was really exciting.
NP: In this season, Coltrane is very much the middle man between Section 20 and the bureaucracy. At times it seems like he’s keeping his Spencer off the team’s back with a whip and a chair. What’s going through Coltrane’s head and will he ever tell them just to shove it?
JB: He gets to tell them to shove it. (chuckles) He’s sort of caught in a chain of command situation where he’s got a superior this time. We welcome Sir James Spencer, played by John Michie very beautifully. And I really enjoyed having that extra dynamic, having a boss all the way through it. [Coltrane]’s in the middle and he’s having to relay what he can to his bunch, and yet he’s got a very close relationship to his boss, as he now does with the three beneath him. It’s kind of an extended family situation that he’s got into.
John and I were quite clear from the beginning to create some sort of sense that we have a shared family history, a backstory where he is like a godfather, uncle figure to me, and he’s perhaps known my dad. Coltrane would’ve had a service history in his family, and maybe there was some intersection with this James Spencer character. And he’s part of the reason why Coltrane’s been given the second chance, given the command of Section 20 – because Spencer himself started it.
NP: Plus you, as the boss, get to deliver a lot of the exposition in each episode. How is that to play in contrast to being in the field and getting in fights?
JB: All those crib scenes, we call them – the exposition scenes, we’re dealing with communications and information and new information. It’s really Varada [Sethu]‘s character and mine that have to relay that. But we enjoy it. It’s a time to sort of not break into a sweat and not have to run around all day long, and to have cups of tea delivered on set, and sit down not being uncomfortable and exhausted the whole time.
So it’s a different kind of muscle that we use in those scenes, but there’s always some drama going on in them as well, which is quite fun to play. It’s a change. It’s the juxtaposition between the heavy action and the more sedate days.
NP: We saw from the episodes in which Katrina Zarkova, played so well by Yasemin Kay Allen, returned that Coltrane really does not express a lot emotionally. So what do you think his feelings are toward his team now, compared to last season when these were just people he was stuck with?
JB: Last year they were the challenge for him. They represented a problem to be solved. And they stood between him and his rehabilitation into a command role in the field within the military. They had to be navigated.
This year there’s a lot more trust involved between them and him, although that’s strained straight away [in the season premiere] when they’ve got this kill order on a British civilian. Which seems to be completely unethical, and yet Coltrane has kept it from them. But there’s a candor between them that is based on having had each other’s backs in the field. And they trust him. They know he can handle himself. And he has managed to win their respect to some degree, and he trusts them with the chain of command.
NP: Last week’s episode stunned everyone with the death of Thomas “Mac” McAllister (Warren Brown). It was such a massive blow to Strike Back. What was your reaction to the script when you originally read it?
JB: We knew that McAllister was going to die. We had been told earlier on that was the case. And we inevitably are a bit confused as to what that decision has been made for. All that happens in those situations is producers assure you that the death will count for something, will mean something, will move the story forward. And the consequences will be worth it, and that Warren will have something really decent to play.
When we read the script, most of the cast were in tears. And we were just enthralled by what [showrunner] Jack [Lothian] had created. This sense of an interior life. The repercussions of what it is to do what these people have to do. it’s almost Terrence Malick-like, I think, that mediative quality that you arrive at at the end of Episode 6, where you understand what the human brain does in the last few seconds as it tries to hang on, and where it goes.
Who knew an episode of Strike Back could be quite so profound psychologically, existentially, and really look at what it is to confront your own mortality and your choices. I think it really, really lands. And it gives the whole season a real sense of what the consequences are, and it gives the whole show a heart and a soul, which it needs.
NP: It pairs so well with the end of Episode 5, where we see Mac off on his own for that extended sequence, and we’re left to wonder whether or not he’ll make it out alive.
JB: The sequence of Warren going up that tower at the end of Episode 5, I just thought was one of the best pieces of action. There’s no music, there’s no score. It’s quiet. It ticks all the boxes about what it is to be in that kind of gunfight, where moments are slow and then very fast. And you’re entirely with him.
The way it’s shot is I the way I like to see things like that shot, which is from a strict point of view where you are in his shoes. You see what he sees, and the fear is so much greater because you have the blind spots that the individual has. The camera isn’t giving you some sort of amazing 360 awareness of the whole situation from a bird’s eye view, and from lots of cuts. You really are in his mind and in his consciousness as he tries to get up that tower block to resolve the situation that he feels he’s responsible for.
Our director, Jonathan Jones, did a great job and his DP [director of cinematography], a guy called Michael Wood, really just brought a new look to the show for those [episodes]. I’m very proud of them. I didn’t have a great deal to do in them, which means I could really watch them from an impartial and appreciative viewpoint. I thought Warren did a great job.
Strike Back airs Fridays at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT on Cinemax.