When Rhona Mitra signed on to star in the new season of "Strike Back," she wanted to achieve one goal among all others.
"The key thing of this show is that they're praised for the legitimacy and authenticity of both Phil and Sully's approach to their characters, so the pressure that I felt that I wasn't dropping the ball or lowering the bar was considerable," she told me during a conversation at San Diego Comic Con in July. "I wanted to make sure that I was keeping a certain standard in the credibility that was already set. I couldn't mess up on that."
Mitra plays Major Rachel Dalton, an MI-6 spy who at the beginning of the season boldly pushed her way into the special ops division Section 20 not as a new agent, but the boss who oversees, among others, the main operatives Stonebridge (Philip Winchester) and Scott (Sullivan Stapleton). Mitra, who has starred as butt-kicking women in such films as "Underworld: Rise of the Lycans" and "Doomsday," as well as stints on TV's "SGU" and "The Gates," easily handles the role of a tough taskmaster and expert covert agent. (Just check out her interrogation of the man in the clip above from Ep. 15, debuting at 9 p.m. CT Sept. 7 on Cinemax.)
Mitra's desire to look like the real deal while in battle mode was a taller order, considering the whirlwind filming schedule in South Africa and other African locations.
"We had an incredibly brief amount of time to get everything together as far as training was concerned," she said. "It was a baptism by fire, for sure."
Mitra watched some of the first Cinemax season episodes and studied how the characters worked with their weapons. She paid close attention to Stonebridge because Dalton, like Stonebridge, would have been trained in British military practices--an important detail in maintaining the authenticity of the series.
"What you understand is there's a language in your usage of weapons, which is much liking learning Chinese or French or whatever it is," Mitra explained. "With the British military training you are all given a foundation, so there has to be a way in which you carry your gun that is authentic and legitimate [to that training]."
The show's military advisers--some are British, some American and some South African--worked with Mitra on the various techniques used for different weapons. Dalton would have learned how to use the AK-47 she brandished in the season premiere while undercover in Africa, Mitra said, because it's not used by the British military. Later she used an MP-5, which is a British military issue weapon and which required a different style and stance for shooting.
Mitra praised Winchester for his help on set. "He was brilliant with me in helping me along the way, just making sure I was doing the little things right," she said.
During the "Strike Back" panel at Comic Con, Mitra said she was "a pacifist by nature." Playing a character that sometimes kills for a living meant she had to find mental tricks "so my karma wasn't altered too hugely," she told me during our interview. When she had to discharge a bazooka as Dalton, she imagined the weapon fired something other than explosive shells.
"If I was really doing the damage [the character] was doing I wouldn't be a happy camper," she said, then chuckled. So I imagined there were giant cupcakes coming out of it."
Despite her pacifist leanings, the physicality of the role was "the No. 1 magnetic pull" for the British actress.
"I just love that stuff. I love anything that involves that much physical activity," she said, adding that the mind plays into the physicality as well. "There's also a lot of mental and strategic sort of chess involved where your body and mind are working together. It's a dance. You're always on your game. You're always on fire. You're always awake and alert. I think it's one of the best parts of what I get to do in my job."
Mitra also enjoyed getting into the psyche of her character and how she would work within a new military unit, another task that the show's military advisers and the regular cast members helped her undertake. She said that in a way, her coming onto the series in its second season echoed how her character jumps into the workings of Section 20 as their new commander.
"The beauty of what these people do is that they all have the common denominator to see through [to completion] their mission. And whatever that cause is eclipses their own egos, their own needs, their own agendas. And when working together on one cause and one mission they have to create a symbiosis. And if it means that's done through deceit, through sex, whatever the means are, that's what you use," she said. "That's what they're taught, and it's a beautiful synchronicity when it comes together.
"In a way that's sort of what we had to do as actors. They [the cast and crew] had created this family, this unit, and life was imitating art. I had to come in, listen to it, adhere to it, know when to take a back seat and know when to come in and grab the reins."Copyright © 2015, RedEye