Shane Taylor left his mark on the second season of "Strike Back," but the show's stars left their marks on him, too.
The British actor suffered a few hits while playing ruthless soldier-for-hire Craig Hanson in the Cinemax drama which ended its season Friday. (Spoiler alert for those not cuaght up!) Throughout the season, Hanson had run-ins with Michael Stonebridge (Philip Winchester) and Damian Scott (Sullivan Stapleton), two operatives from the counterterrorism unit called Section 20. The actors in those roles, as fans can see, make the fight scenes look as real as possible.
"I have profound respect now for action-type shows," Taylor told me earlier this week on the phone from London. "I don't think anybody escaped injury. I had my fair share."
Those would be his "Stapleton rib" and "Winchester eye," as he has nicknamed them. A good-natured debate has arisen about whether Stapleton actually cracked the rib, but there's no denying that the black eye, which you can see in a photo Taylor links to from his Twitter feed (@tinker_t), came courtesy of Winchester's elbow.
"Momentarily, momentarily, I thought I was going to black out, but I came back. I learned I could take a punch," Taylor said, chuckling. "Phil's bicep is like the average man's thigh. You know what I mean! In rehearsal he just kind of cracked me, and that kind of put me out.
"I'm not even sure how we managed to do the actual fight. I don't know. I just had to have a big timeout. They had to do other stuff before I could get back in the ring."
Things didn't go perfectly once he got back into the ring either. After cracking his rib earlier in the season, Taylor took some time off to rest it so that he would be fit enough to film the final confrontation between the one-time comrades who had become bitter enemies. The fight was filmed on their last day of shooting in Johannesburg, South Africa, and they had little time to prepare after the fight choreography had been changed, both actors said.
In the scene, Stonebridge throws Hanson on some steps and jumps on top of him. During the shoot, Winchester landed on Taylor and they both heard a cracking sound. "I just felt it against my leg," Winchester said. "It was horrible."
Again Taylor rebounded, and turned in what Winchester called a "flipping brilliant" performance in the scene.
His performance throughout the season gave a depth and sadness to Hanson that I'm not convinced was on the page. Hanson, holding Stonebridge responsible for the death of his brother, retaliated by gunning down the Section 20 agent's wife. But thanks to Taylor, Hanson was more than just a mad man who got off killing people; he was a disillusioned former soldier who had lost the only thing he had left in the world. He also knew that he was partly to blame, and the guilt tore him up inside.
"The motivation for me was always about Hanson's own disgust of himself," Taylor said, adding that he also was challenged by how to make Hanson an intimidating person when Taylor himself isn't imposing physically.
"I always kind of joke, it's 6-foot-2 brawn versus 5-foot-10 scrawn. I mean there's nothing of me," he said. "I trained as much as the rest of them, but I'm never going to bulk up and be like [Winchester and Stapleton].
"I tried to tap into more of a presence, more of somebody that you wouldn't want to mess with. I've come across those people before where there is just something about them. There is an air. There is a way they carry themselves. I hope it worked."
(I believe it did. What do all the fans think?) Taylor and I chatted more about his experience on "Strike Back," the Stapleton rib, how he got into Hanson's head and that he auditioned for the role of Stonebridge.
I was happy you saw the rib story and video and that now we get to clear this up.
[Laughs.] Yeah. That kind of sparked it off really. I just I couldn't help laughing. It was bizarre. ...
But Winchester didn’t mention the black eye that he gave me, a huge black eye right at the end of the show. ... He and I had to go over a good few things first of all. Then the stunties kind of changed it at the last [minute]. A section that was supposed on the floor was now going to be on these steps. We were just going over a few moves, swinging a few arms and stuff like that, and what they call blading, which is not using your fist but just your elbow to protect your hands. ... He got me in my eye socket.
It almost played into the scene because my eye was gradually getting bigger and bigger while we were filming it. There was absolutely no makeup required. [Laughs.] I was having the rocky eye and I could barely see. And it was, of course, incredibly painful. But it worked. It really did help the situation. Yeah.
And there was the Sully rib, or the Stapleton rib as I nicknamed it. That was an injury by degree. He was right in saying I didn't really mention anything initially because it was just something that actually happened while we were being trained at the gym. Then I did something else to it when Sully and I were rehearsing in the gym on another occasion. Actually, at that point the medic said, “I need you to come to the hospital and get an X-ray.” Nothing showed on the X-ray, but they mentioned it being the intercostal muscles might be damaged there, which can be more painful than a fracture.
They said, “You need a bit of time off.” I said, “Well, I haven't got any time off. I’ve got to fight tomorrow.”
It's just it's one of those things. I just had these Victorian-type corsets. [Laughs.] I had everything you could possibly put on to be able to do this fight. It was just a random shoulder. We were going at it. We were doing everything that we could to sort of avoid that certain area. The choreography was orchestrated in a way that I wasn't going to get any damage on the left-hand side. It was just Sully's shoulder, me against the pipe on the wall I think, and a random shoulder that went in there. It was audible. It just went [makes snapping sound]. And that was that.
We got through the fight—painkillers—but then it was straight to the hospital. It was kind of like a little hairline fracture. From that moment on the schedules kind of changed so the big fight sequence with Phil was right at the back end of the shoot, and I could be fairly fit for it.
Come the time, it wasn't bad. It wasn't completely healed, but it was enough to be able to get up and move around and throw a few punches and kicks and whatever. We just had to be gentle. Then the irony was that he bladed me in the eye and I was just injured all over again, but in an entirely different area. [Laughs.] There you go.
That's the way Sully and Phil treat their guests. What can I say? [Laughs.]
It was great fun to do. Like I say, those boys and Michelle as well, the regulars, I know what they do on a daily basis. I know how they train. Of course, I was part of that when I was there. I have profound respect for doing that because it's an intense thing to do. You go and shoot stuff, and then you come away from the shoot, and you go back to training. It's constant. I think Sully had his “300” trainers there as well. On top of the “Strike Back” stuff, you have to then go and do that, which is just insane.
Your rib was almost OK by the time you did the Phil fight for the finale.
Yeah, as much as it could be. Even then there was a moment where Phil and I got in a tussle on the floor. We rolled a certain way. He literally lept off me because heard this kind of crack again, but it wasn't anything. I could continue. ... Phil is very good. Phil is very sort of specific with what he does. He is very controlled. I did trust him as well.
It looks really good.
OK, all right. Well thank you. I can't really remember too much about it. [Laughs.] By the end of it I couldn’t see him. My eye was throbbing. My ribs were in pain. I needed to flop on him. [Laughs.] “Just kill me. Let’s get it done.” I don't think I got up. I couldn't get up in fact. Once I was on the ground, people had to come and get me. It was one of those.
When you heard about the part, did you like the idea of exploring this guy who becomes so consumed by his anger?
Arguably the go-to thing is that this guy is just a mad, bad, crazy man, but for me there isn't much difference between Stonebridge and Scott and Hanson. They’re damaged goods. They're damaged men; they're damaged soldiers. It's just manifested into them in different ways.
I think I have to look where Hanson has come from. I think every one of them believes in the righteousness of their actions. That may be slightly worse if you look at Hanson and his overall way of doing things. He doesn't set out to be the mustachio-twirling evil guy. There is a reason. There is a motivation. I had to look for that when I was doing it.
I know it comes out quite late in the series in small little amounts, but tough, working-class background with his brother, obviously soldiering is in the family. Jake wasn't a soldier, however, and that was pretty obvious now. I had to make a decision about how much did Hanson know about Jake's pill-popping fragility? I would probably say not much, but did he know he was vulnerable? Yes. Did he know that he really wasn't cut out to be a soldier? Yes. Could that stuff then force him into being something that he wasn't? No.
You've got this thing going on with Craig Hanson, where for me, it's not about Stonebridge. Stonebridge becomes the emotional target. For Hanson, it's about the guilt. It's about the self-loathing. It's about forcing his brother to do something that he wasn't cut out to do, and then leaving him, and he’s the only thing that he cared about.
There is a massive amount going on underneath that. It's that classic, psychological transference of anger that is thrust upon Stonebridge because after all, he's looking at Stonebridge as the man who would look out for [his brother]. Now you can go into the details. Stonebridge had to take him out in the way that he did. There are reasons for what he did, but in Hanson's eyes he kind of failed him. He failed him. It's almost like a betrayal.
He knew he was vulnerable, but to what extent I must say, I don't think Craig Hanson probably knew in terms of just how bad it was. But at the same time, he was expecting Stonebridge to look out for him, and it didn't happen.
The justification for then going on and shooting his wife, well, that’s extreme. But then you're dealing with an extreme man who comes from an extreme background. There is a one-way trajectory from there on in. What Craig Hanson was looking for was not only to make him suffer, but then to really go on a particular route that was going to see Stonebridge end [Hanson’s] life, if you know what I mean? It was almost like a Special Forces suicide ... He’s always looked at Stonebridge to end it. He was aware that it was going to end when it got to that final conflict. It was what he was egging him on to do.
It was, in Craig Hanson’s warped mind, and the way I was trying to play it, it was going to serve both people. It was going to serve Stonebridge for his vengeance, although he’d have live with it. Also, for the fact that it takes Hanson away because he had nothing. He just didn't have anything to live for, and he didn't want to. I think that the whole thing snowballs, pretty much, after the assassination of Stonebridge's wife. Then it goes on from there.
I think it’s interesting you say there is not a lot of difference between the three of them.
You look at the way they deal with things, it's post-traumatic, isn't it, for every one of them? They all had their ways of dealing with things, and they're highly controversial. They're all killers. They're all people who take out other people, for whatever reason. They've all got demons. I really don't see it in black and white, you know, these can be seen as good people because they're in Section 20 and Hanson because he joined Knox is this kind of character. They all operate in that gray. That's why I find them all very fascinating.
I would like to have seen all three of them in the field working together. I think they’d make a great unit.
I drew parallels to help me with my character. I would often read about the two of those characters and where they came from, and what their back story was. ... I just kind of thought, “Wow, this is really interesting. This is really interesting.” I know it kind of gets extreme for Hanson, but the energy, the makeup, the DNA is very similar. It's something to get a foothold for me going in.
I quite like the initial stuff with my brother and then Stonebridge. Then, of course, things happen, and Hanson becomes this kind of in and out sort of killing machine. By the end of it, I'm glad that there was some kind of moment where I could explain to Stonebridge where I was coming from, and what we are, and that’s nothing really to be proud of. Whatever I say, “It’s a game of soldiers and this is just no life.”
He's come to the end of the road. This is the perfect resolution for Hanson anyway. This needed to happen. It really needed to happen, and I knew that.
Are you as adept at getting out of handcuffs as Hanson is?
[Laughs.] You know, this is the thing, it's weird because you have these specialists, like Paul Hornsby is one. He's a great man. He did some stuff on “Band of Brothers” years ago and I worked with him. They are really good at doing what they do. They'll be the first ones to say, “Look, in reality this can't happen. This situation, you wouldn't do that; you can't do this.”
Then there comes a point where directors or producers or whoever it is that are writing, whatever. It's written in a certain way because it is an action show, and it's high entertainment, where the spectacle and the sort of poetic license just takes over. They get overruled. I feel for them because some of the situations, some of the “A-Team” situations like, “Man, how could they all get hit?” I feel for them because they've gone in and said, “Well, that can't happen; that's outrageous.” They are often overruled for the spectacle of the visual and the entertainment value.
Those handcuffs, you know, I tried. There is no way. You can't do that. You can't do that. To back against the fence and do a couple of things and abracadabra, I'm free. [Laughs.] Yeah. That was pushing it.
Even taking out three guys with your hands cuffed behind your back.
[Laughs.] Yeah. That was very sort of “Matrix.” ... There are sort of super heroic elements to it.
And the people in the neighborhood, instead of running to find police, they're all standing there applauding Hanson, which I think is sort of a true situation in the neighborhood full of criminals that was supposed to be.
Absolutely right. You're spot on with that. ... That was the roughest neighborhood I had ever been to. It went on for blocks and blocks. It was incredible because you could tell at one point in time that it was an artist hub. The buildings were incredible. They were dilapidated when we were shooting but at one time it was kind of an artistic hub. It's got this very ugly beauty about it.
I think they were even using some locals for security because if you knew a few people around, you sort of could keep them at bay. We were in the heart of darkness really. It was just a very deadly situation. But then what do you do? You embrace it and you get the people involved. That's what happened on that day. They were the neighborhood locals. They got involved. They loved the day. It was something different from their day-to-day lives. Everybody had a great time.
That scene is kind of very macabre, very sort of a dark comic moment, I think.
You play it well too because you didn't wave or anything. It's just so Hanson because he doesn't really react. He just looks up at them.
Yeah. [Laughs.] Giving the Fonzie thumbs up, that would have blown it there. [Laughs.]
Exactly. Did you find being in South Africa was a perk of the job?
Very much so. Luckily they had that first season there, and because Michelle and Sully and Phil all knew the place, it was great to just tag along and get to know the areas through them. I got my girls out, flew them out toward the end of the Cape Town leg, before we went to Johannesburg. By that time I knew the areas myself. I got the car. I could take them all over the place. It's easily navigable, Cape Town. It's very easy. You've got to wise up. You've got to know where to go, and Jo’burg’s much worse in that regard.
You really cannot go out. I called it moon base one, but it was really just like a hotel within a shopping mall. It was huge. There wasn't actually any natural kind of area to go that was outside. You had to make special arrangements to go outside and be taken to certain areas because the pockets. There are some great pockets in Johannesburg. It is an exciting place, but it's peppered with these really bad areas that you just want to go into.
I thought Cape Town itself, and the surrounding area of Cape Town was absolutely beautiful. It was definitely one of the moments where you realize it's just an incredible job, to come here, to do this sort of thing in this kind of area.
How was working with Charles?
Charles, what can I say? He's probably the youngest-spirited one of us all. Yeah, great, great time with Charles. Two of his friends were in it as well, Pete Evans and Tim Pigott-Smith, in the opening episodes. I think Tim is the oldest swinger in town. He tops even Charles I think. Whenever we went out he was the last man standing. Even over Sully, which that's a feat to be able to do that. I mean he was just great. I think everybody that came in embraced it in the best possible way.
It wasn't just about them and us, cast separated from crew or anything like that. The crew was very integral in all of it. ... In terms of the experience and working on a show like that, I haven't had a better experience. It was a really fun thing to do and a fun place.
Phil told me a while ago that when you guys met you told him that you were up for his part as well, Stonebridge's part.
Can you believe it? Yeah, I mean they would have had to radically gone in a different way. ... Yeah, I was one of them. ... I went up for it. Met in London and LA, and then London again. Even though it got quite far, it never quite felt right. It didn't quite fit somehow. I put a lot on tape. I met a bunch of people. That's when I met Sully because he was London. He had just finished “Animal Kingdom.” He came over because I knew the director wanted to see Sully. We went out a few nights in London while he was doing that. He ended up getting the role. For me, it was just meeting all these people and knowing everybody.
Then when I met for the Hanson role, I was useless. ... I did a really rusty meet. It was purely down to the fact that I had put so much on tape previously. I met everybody in the States and this side to do with the show. It sort of swung it in my favor. That's when they came and said we've got this character and he's going to have this season-long arc, which was great, which was an amazing thing.
I think Phil is a perfect choice. How he conducts himself outside of the Stonebridge character. Even though Stonebridge has gone through a bunch of stuff this season, I think just the way he is. He’s a real gent. He's just perfect, and the way they riff off each other is obviously the juice of show, and they do it really well. For me, given the choice, of course I would like to have always had a bit more to do with Hanson, but I mean the particular role was very interesting. I found a foothold very quick on it. I enjoyed myself thoroughly doing that role and knowing that I was going to have these moments with the boys especially.
Did you take any special pleasure though, in being able to whoop on Phil a little bit?
[Laughs.] Of course, coming back and you could see in the face, “Steal Stonebridge off me?” No, I think it just worked at the end in the best possible way. Even if there was a chance for this character to come back, I think, it wouldn't be for me. I think this particular role was definitely a hit-it-and-quit-it character. I like that. For me, that's where I'm at. I like the intensity of doing something that's going to kind of come in, do something, and then that's it, and get out.
It's really one of my favorite shows because of all the layers. It could just be an action-adventure thing, but they look into more about how the job affects the people, about the areas where they work.
I agree with what you're saying. It's about Stonebridge and Scott and that relationship, and the way they play off each other, and the complexity within that. But then I quite like the way they show Section 20 as a unit. Michelle, for instance, that's kind of fleshing out. I'm glad to see that they've been getting out in the field actually and doing a little bit of that. I would hope that the next season would allow Richmond and certainly Liam, or Baxter, they flesh out those two a little more, and whatever happens to Rhona. It will be nice to see a bit more going on there.
I think everyone involved has a huge respect for the real soldiers. Did you find that?
Absolutely. They’re surrounded by those people, and some of the stories that you hear. It's crazy. It's incredible what they put themselves through. ... The scenarios that are set up [for the show] obviously are based in certain truths. Some of them, as you know, are kind of exaggerated situations. But the way that they would actually go about dealing with it is very much as the Special Forces people would deal with it. They're very, very meticulous about that and rightly so. I think that they really work hard to get that down.
When I was out there people on the range, I would be talking to the guys there. They had all served, some of them in Special Forces. They said, “We'd take Phil with us within a unit. He's that good doing what he's doing now.” And I can believe it. You can just see it. That's how meticulous they both are. They all are, Michelle as well. Michelle is brilliant at getting everything right.
You have other stuff coming up you want to talk about?
I think maybe I have to knock back on HBO's door. They've been pretty good to me over the years. Just before “Strike Back” I was supposed to be doing this ... psychological horror film ... called “This Little Piggy.” ... It's a pretty small film. I mean it's a real sort of indie encounter. It's going to be shot in Darby, which is kind of northwest England. ... Corinna Faith is the director. The producers are actually from the producers of “Hunger,” a Michael Fassbender film. ... We're on standby. That last piece is often the hardest, and you never know. It's about working out schedules from then on, and we'll see what happens.
Other than that, Curt, I'm just behind the mic. I do a lot of voiceover stuff for animation and Playstation and Nintendo. That's my bread and butter stuff. I enjoy that a lot. You can just roll out of bed and do it.
You don't get hit in the face?
[Laughs.] You don't get hit in the face. You really can sit in comfort. [Laughs.]
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Shane Taylor rolls with punches of 'Strike Back'
Shane Taylor stars as Craig Hanson in Cinemax's "Strike Back." (Cinemax / October 13, 2012)
Shane Taylor left his mark on the second season of "Strike Back," but the show's stars left their marks on him, too.