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, actress Rhona Mitra talked about how she got involved with the show, how the physical aspects of the role compare to the work she did on the Cinemax series Strike Back, what she enjoys about playing this character, how good this woman is under pressure, and how much things will start to weigh on her. Check out what she had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers.
Collider: Especially after your time on Strike Back, it’s clear you have no problem working with an almost entirely male cast, as well as giving the guys a run for their money with the action. How do the physical aspects of The Last Ship compare to the work you did on Strike Back?
RHONA MITRA: It’s night and day. I was the head of a major special ops operation, so I was training every day and carrying AK-47s and reloading mags. My whole bicep situation was in very different order. I love all of the action. I have to confess that I love it. But, it’s lovely to be cerebral. The great thing about my character in Strike Back is that she was both. I really enjoyed the balance of who she was. And this isn’t that much of a departure, except that she’s not military.
What I love about Rachel Scott is that she’s a woman. She’s not a gun-toter. War and the military is not her thing. It’s a very foreign world to her, and that’s really a relief to me because I’m a complete pacifist. It’s really lovely to just stay bright in your mind and stay athletic in your mind. This is really much more of what I’m about and what I’m interested in. It was lovely to metamorphosize into Rachel Scott, instead of Rachel Dalton.
How did you come to this show?
MITRA: They actually came to me, which was really overwhelming and quite humbling. I’ve been part of the action world and genre world, and I’ve always played these quite strong characters, even in the other television stuff I’ve done. So, at this stage, to have somebody that we all look at as being one of the godfathers of the action world say, “You would be great for this. What do you think?,” I ran completely towards it. I believe so much in the subject matter being such an important thing that we need to talk about, right now. I’m so excited, in a teenage child way, to run towards Michael Bay and say, “I wanna play with everything that you have to offer. Please just show me how and in which way.” He’s such a genius at what he does. But, I also feel that I’ve harnessed enough of who I am to work intelligently with that, and not let all of the bombastic boy stuff run away with the story.
I can bleed in a really good amount of female connected, nice, intelligent strength without it being chest-beating. She is just a really sensible, intelligent woman, and that’s a really lovely thing to have to play, at this stage of the game. It’s a very important thing, for any of us, to realize that there’s a lovely woman there who’s been given this responsibility, albeit saving the human race, and how would one do that? It’s been a challenge that I’ve embraced and really taken very seriously, and much more seriously than any of my other roles. I didn’t want this to be something whimsical or light-hearted. I didn’t want anyone to watch it and go, “I don’t believe that. This isn’t even a possibility.” I want people to believe it.
It’s challenging enough for these characters to have duty to their country, but with the situation that they’re in, they now have the duty of saving the world. How will your character fare, in that regard? Is she good under pressure, or does she have a breaking point?
MITRA: I don’t like the expression “saving the world.” It’s saving the human race. This is already a possibility because this is in alignment with everything they’ve known since they started working. These mutating viruses are and have been on the rampage. You’re dealing with a fairly capable complex human being who doesn’t deal with these facts in the same way as another human being, even how someone in the military would. She’s briefed and ready for it. That doesn’t mean to say that, when it happens, they’re any less undone about the risk or the responsibility, in any way. Emotionally, you’re dealing with people’s families and you’re dealing with the responsibility of keeping that information from certain people about their families. At the same time, there’s a coping mechanism that your average human being doesn’t have. This was not a matter of if, but when. That puts her in a slightly better position to cope better than the average person.
At some point, in order to test this vaccine, Dr. Scott is going to have to ask for human volunteers. How will she deal with that?
MITRA: It’s awful, on every level. And it’s not just human. There are animals involved, as well. We got to a certain part of the world and find animals, and I have an issue with that because I don’t see a difference between animals and humans. I think we’re all the same. I don’t think we give up one love for another. Personally, it’s a conundrum for me, and it’s a conundrum for her. But ultimately, when you’re talking about the extinction of a whole race, that’s when you go into military mode. You turn into a soldier and you have to do what is necessary. What happens with the relationship with everybody on that ship, as far as working together, there’s a point where you don’t work alone.
The most beautiful thing about the show is that all of the codes, all of the certificates you have, all of the badges and all of the accolades fall away. You’re human beings dealing with human beings, and you’re confronted by how you create that result together, as a unified one. It’s not about being afraid or what you believe in. The survival instinct takes over and there’s a conglomerate. How do we, as a unified one, do what’s best? That’s what I’m interested in. Personal agendas fall away. They just do. In a state of crisis, nobody cares what you do, what you’ve done before, what you’re qualified as, and what you’re capable of doing. You show up or you don’t, and your survival instincts kick in. Everybody puts in their best effort, with everything that they’ve been taught.
The Last Ship airs on Sunday nights on TNT.