The new TNT drama series The Last Ship tells the story of what happens when a global pandemic wipes out 80% of the planet’s population and the unaffected crew of a lone Naval destroyer, U.S.S. Nathan James, must find a way to pull humanity from the brink of extinction. Captain Tom Chandler (Eric Dane) is a career Navy man who, along with the help of the ship’s second-in-command XO Mike Slattery (Adam Baldwin), must ensure that Dr. Rachel Scott (Rhona Mitra) has what she needs to discover the cause of billions of deaths worldwide and save who’s left.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Adam Baldwin talked about how he came to this show, auditioning for executive producer Michael Bay, whether his character is more focused on the mission or reuniting with his family, how just being around Navy soldiers makes them want to take the work more seriously, working with technical advisors, how much he’s enjoyed working with Eric Dane, and how he thinks he’d fare in a situation like this. He also talked about why Firefly and Chuck were such memorable experiences, and how much he loved working on The Inside. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
ADAM BALDWIN: I auditioned for Michael Bay, and it just worked out. I had worked for TNT on a few things before, and apparently I had sold them on me and was able to get Michael Bay to agree. I feel blessed.
Is auditioning for Michael Bay intimidating?
BALDWIN: Well, you want to do well and you want to be accommodating, but I think – and this is advice I would give to any young actor – if you go into a room with anybody and you come in with a positive attitude and a place of love, and you truly do love what you’re doing, then the negative energy doesn’t even get into the room. Fear is a killer, when it comes to the creative process. You just have to prepare, and then go in and be the best you that you can be, and you’ll either get the job or you won’t.
There have been a lot of post-apocalyptic stories in television and in film, but this show is different because it’s still in that apocalyptic moment. If you were going to explore this territory, was it important to you that it be something different, especially since we’re so used to seeing the aftermath?
BALDWIN: That’s a good question. I’m absolutely fascinated by how we keep this structure of civil society maintained and feel that the U.S. Navy involvement with this, and the command structure that we have and the discipline that’s been ingrained in the sailors, is something that we are challenged with, going forward. How do we translate that back on land? That’s one of the main challenges. We’re on a ship, so who are our foes? They’d have to be able to get on water, as well, and there are only a few people on the planet that could even compete. But we also need to get back on land, at some point, to see what our families are up to. That’s all fascinating to me, and I can’t wait to see how it unfolds.
Will we start to see your character thinking beyond the mission and having an increasing desire to get to his family, or will this season be mostly focused on making sure there’s a world left, to have a Season 2 in?
BALDWIN: A lot of the questions that anyone would naturally have about their family or about their crew, you’ll get much of the answers for, or at least hints to where it will go, in the future. Slattery is a man with a family and he wants to get back to them because he loves them and cares about them, but he also has this family that is this crew aboard the ship that he must guide and lead. That’s the primary mission in front of him. So, he is torn with what to do, but any sailor or anyone in the military who’s deployed away from their family understands that that’s the mission that they have. Slattery accepts that, and still wants to get back and find out what happened with his family. The charge of the ship is to try to find a way to solve this big problem that we’re facing, and he knows that that’s the primary mission.
Does just being around real Navy sailors make you want to take this role seriously, if nothing else, but to just show them respect and do them justice?
BALDWIN: Absolutely, 100%. It was such a great honor to be aboard this ship with these great commanders, captains, master chiefs, engineers, all the way down to the first E1 and E2 enlisted guys. We tried and I think we succeeded in maintaining as much respect in the portrayal of the U.S. Navy, in the best light that we can. Obviously, nothing is perfect. There are flaws in all humans and there are flaws in all machines, and we portray that, as well. We had technical advisors from the Navy available to us, whenever we were shooting. We could always turn to them and say, “Am I doing this right? Am I standing right? Am I saluted correctly?” We had them there to show us the way because we really had a short-form learning curve. It was just a great opportunity.
BALDWIN: Yes, that’s very insightful. And we did have materials that we were given. The book Command at Sea was our fundamental text, and it’s loaded with great information on leadership and command, but unless you’re actually standing with a commander, just the stature of the men and women of the ship is enough to make you want to portray them accurately and respectfully. I think we did a pretty good job of that.
Obviously, it’s challenging enough to have duty to your country, but these people also have the duty of saving the world and saving humanity. How will your character fare, in that regard? Is he good under pressure, or does he also have his breaking point?
BALDWIN: That would be telling! Let’s just say that Mike Slattery is a strong man who weathers well, but has his flaws. He has imperfections, as we all do. I try to make him as multi-dimensional as possible.
Even though we don’t know their background from before we meet them, it’s clear that CO CDR Tom Chandler and XO Mike Slattery have trust in each other. How has it been to work with Eric Dane and explore the dynamic between your characters?
BALDWIN: I’ve gotta tell you, my friendship with Eric Dane has been one of the most delightful surprises of my entire experience. I had no idea what he’d be like. I’d seen him on television, but you never really know the guy until you sit down with him. We talked about life and family, and we played cards together. He is one of the most consummate professionals that I’ve ever worked with. He’s prepared, he’s strong, he looks great, and he’s a good friend. You can confide stuff in him that you wouldn’t normally want to confide. He’s a mature man. We’ve got a lot in common. He’s got kids, I have kids, and we both have beautiful wives. We talked a lot about life and earned trust. I consider myself a professional, and so does he, so we struck a great balance. We actually exchange texts about stuff now. It’s cool. But the great thing about this show, for me, is that he’s #1 on the call sheet and is our leading guy, and I am honored to support a guy like that, who is kind, strong, professional and funny.
TV fans are always going to remember your work on Firefly and Chuck. What makes each of those experiences memorable for you? Are there things about being a part of each of those shows that will always stick with you?
BALDWIN: Well, Firefly and Chuck and The Last Ship, too, were wonderful family efforts that all shows are, but I just happened to be a part of those. Nathan Fillion was the lead guy on Firefly, Zach Levi was the lead guy on Chuck, and Eric Dane is the lead guy on The Last Ship. The old saying that shit rolls downhill is true, but with these guys, their kindness and professionalism rolls downhill. Everyone on board works harder to make it as good as it can be because there’s nothing more discouraging than to have someone at the helm who is not that, and these three guys are that, in spades. To work for them as your department head is a joy for me. It’s something I don’t even have to worry about. It is what it is, and that’s great. It’s a professional atmosphere and you maintain professionalism. The crew is inspired to work hard, maintain discipline, and show up and not drag their feet. When we need to hurry up and finish, they’ll get it done because they like us. We treat the crew with respect, and they treat us back with respect, which is great.
BALDWIN: Portraying the Navy in a realistic light, we had the benefit of having technical advisors with us that showed us the way. The physical challenges were loading equipment on and off the ship, and getting everybody from base camp on board and working on the bridge or in the engine room. In that confined space, you really have to be aware of people’s personal space, as well as the physicality of moving equipment in and amongst without hitting your head, and I hit my head a couple of times. You become much more aware, when you’re walking around on a ship like that. It really was like a big 10-episode movie that we put together. From Michael Bay to the coordinators to the actors, everyone showed up on time and was ready to work, and it was great. It was just a great experience.
Because this show is in the moment, do you find yourself thinking about how you would react in situations like these, and whether you’d be able to step up and make it out the other side?
BALDWIN: I’d like to think that I would, and I hope that I never have to. The most important thing to do, in that situation, is to lead the young crew members and make sure that they can depend on your leadership skills and decision-making processes, so that they can trust you to complete the mission. The mission is obviously #1, but the mission serves the survival of your crew and, hopefully, humanity at large. My goal would be to remain calm, or as they said on Chuck, “Don’t freak out.”
I was a big fan of The Inside, which will forever be on my list of shows that were gone too soon. Did you enjoy the experience of making that show, and do you think we’ll ever get to see it on DVD?
BALDWIN: It’s funny, I have copies of the DVD that I got from the production, so I have my set. Tim Minear was the producer on that, and he works for FX on American Horror Story, so hopefully he’ll be able to convince someone to get that done. Pester him. He can push for that. I love that show. I just think it was a bit dark. Who knows? You never know.
The Last Ship airs on Sunday nights on TNT.