Philip Winchester must be an adrenaline junkie, because after five seasons on the action thriller "Strike Back," he’s back to kick butt on NBC’s "The Player.”
The new high-stakes drama follows Alex Kane (Winchester), an ex-military operative turned Las Vegas security expert who’s recruited by pit boss Mr. Johnson (Wesley Snipes) to prevent some of the biggest crimes imaginable – as a group of wealthy individuals bets on the outcome. Kane agrees, hoping to take down this mysterious organization from the inside while seeking revenge for the death of his wife.
Winchester spoke with a group of journalists about his character's quest for answers, performing his own stunts, working with Snipes, and the differences between "Strike Back" and "The Player."
How would you describe your character and what drives him?
Philip Winchester: I play Alex Kane, who is an ex-FBI systems analyst. He was at the top of his class, goes off and is doing stuff in Afghanistan. He's basically doing snatch-and-grab stuff, where a Navy SEAL, a CIA agent and an FBI guy are going into the room and asking questions. Through a few things happening, Alex realizes he's a lot better with a gun in his hand than he is with a recorder. He takes matters into his own hands, goes rogue for a few years and the FBI can't find him. He comes back to the States, he opens a security firm in Las Vegas, and that's where we find him when we open the pilot. He's getting wrapped up in this high-concept conspiracy.
How has it been jumping from "Strike Back" to mainstream TV, where there are no obscenities and no shirts off?
Some shirts come off, but not everything else; I have a seen where I run down Fremont Street in my underpants. Both have pluses and minuses. It's a blessing to be working at all, and I think what we can do on NBC is we can get this to a wider audience. We've got Michael Bassett on board, who was our director on "Strike Back." He's a great guy and he just gets action. He understands how to make it palatable and how to get more bang for your buck. If we can get this heightened style of action on NBC that we had on Cinemax, I think we have a winner. It goes out to a broader audience and people can sit down every Thursday night and go, "Man, I haven't seen that happen on TV – ever." We're looking forward to doing that.
On "Strike Back," you performed most of your own stunts. Are you continuing that here?
I got to do a majority of my stunts. There was some stuff where I could see the phones going up to the producers' ears. I could see them turning away and walking off set. We had a scene where I jump off the roof of a building, grab a rope and swing through a window. I got to do the run up to the jump and the swing in the window, but I didn't get higher on the building. The drone cameras were coming up.
What motivates Alex to be a player in this game, and does he ever have self-doubts about being involved?
He absolutely does. Without giving too much away, something happens to someone very close to him and it's basically the catalyst that makes him say, "I have nothing else to live for. I'm going to get involved in this company and see what they can offer me." In doing so, I also have an ulterior motive and I'm going to exploit that for everything I can. He definitely has another reason for being involved in the House and involved in the Game other than just trying to stop crime.
What's Wesley Snipes like?
He's an enigma. He's an amazing guy. I remember sitting at the table read. Damon Gupton was next to me, and Charity Wakefield and the other actors in the show, we were just kind of kicking each other. He was right there. He killed it in the table read. He did an amazing job in the pilot. I'm excited to explore these relationships that are written down. There's a lot of hidden stuff in this story. How they unfold that with him will be a lot of fun.
Do you find Alex is amoral? Does he believe he is above the law?
He's not above the law. He operates in the gray area, but only because he has to survive. He definitely has a set of morals that he lives by. He has a code he lives by. But, like anything with a military background and this world that we live in now, that gray area gets explored a lot. We find him every week in a situation where he has decisions to make that, "If a good guy doesn't do this, the bad guy wins. Do I want to do this as Alex or do I want to do this for the Game?" He has to make those decisions.
Comparing this to "Strike Back" again, do you find "The Player" contains more mystery and less of a military overtone?
Alex was a flawed character. Michael Stonebridge was a flawed character, but he hid behind this machine of being a super-soldier. What's really fun about Alex Kane is he's just a guy. In my head, I have this internal John McClane going on. He needs to be the guy who is begrudgingly being the hero. He's like, "Ahhh, crap. I have to jump off the building and save the day? Here we go." It's not something where he's like, "I want to do this because I have to do it." It's like, "I have to do it because I know it's the right thing." We're trying to bring out the comedy side of that, as well as the darkness and the light. He's a lot of fun to play because he's just a dude. He's not super-brilliant at what he does in terms of the weapon handling and stuff. But, he has a lot of tenacity and that covers a lot of sins.
Alex's relationship with Mr. Johnson gets thrown out the window in the pilot. You really had to stand up to him. What's that interaction been like?
On a personal level, it was fun to play those different notes with each other, play those tones with each other. I think Alex does that in that scene where his wife has been taken away from him, where his wife has been killed. He's living in this area where he's trying to find who is responsible. He thinks it's Johnson. He's like, "You're the guy. I'm going to figure out how to get under your skin and I'm going to ruin you." We leave the pilot with that in his head.
Does each case bring Alex closer to discovering the truth about the Game?
Producer John Rogers has been gray about what he's letting us know. He's told us bits and pieces about what's going to happen. What he said is some things are going to bring us closer to the answers we want to get and some things are going to take us much further away. Sometimes Johnson will do something where the audience goes, "That's horrific." Then, other times, he'll do something where the audience goes, "That was great." All these characters have great characteristics about them and good things about them, but, they also have horrible things about them. That makes interesting TV.
“The Player” premieres tonight at 10 ET/PT on NBC.