As the crew of the Navy destroyer U.S.S. Nathan James prepares to return from a training mission in the arctic, they discover that while they were gone a deadly virus has devastated the world’s population and the only hope for a cure may be in the hands of a scientist on board their ship. That’s the premise that sets off the events in the first episode of The Last Ship, a new series from Michael Bay, airing this June on TNT.
The series stars Eric Dane as Capt. Tom Chandler, Adam Baldwin as Executive Officer Slattery, Rhona Mitra as Dr. Rachel Scott, Charles Parnell as Master Chief Russell Jeter and Travis Van Winkle as Navy S.E.A.L. Lt. Danny Green. Parnell and Van Winkle joined executive producers Hank Steinberg and Steven Kane at WonderCon to preview the first episode and talk about where we might see the show take us in upcoming episodes.
CHARLES PARNELL: Me. No.
STEVEN KANE: We don’t think of the show as post-apocalyptic. We think of it as apocalyptic. Some shows will say that it’s 50 years after the great war, or even two years since the lights went out. This is happening right now. So, how do you deal with it, in the moment? And we’ll get tastes of how America and the rest of the world are dealing with it, in the moment, and how cultures are dealing with it. It’s a really interesting examination. It’s science fiction, in a very pure sense, where the science part is really based in reality. It’s the reality of a virus, which we’re seeing emerge in Saudi Arabia and in the arctic, and the reality of how societies would deal, in these kinds of catastrophic situations. Then, you go into the philosophical questions about, what does it mean to be human and what does it mean to be civilized? As opposed to saying the world is over and now we’re looking at it later, it’s happening in the moment. So, it’s apocalyptic, but not pre- or post-apocalyptic.
HANK STEINBERG: There’s a line from the next episode, right in the first three minutes, which is, “Every day we don’t make it home with a vaccine, another half a million people die.” That’s a very different paradigm than other action-adventure shows with crews in space, or wherever. They have a particular mission and they can save the world, and there is a ticking clock and an urgency to everything that they are doing. And so, each episode of the first season, as an example, is its own episode with its own theme and beginning, middle and end, but the trajectory of the whole first season is one serialized story of, are we going to get the vaccine or the cure, and if we do, are we going to go home? And what are we going to find when we get home? And what’s going to be the next thing?
You asked what makes it different, and what makes it different is that they have a mission and they’re the last hope. If they potentially have that vaccine, or develop that vaccine, that is the most coveted commodity, in the history of the planet. And so, who’s chasing them? Who wants it? All those things give our show a different level of urgency. It also has motion. They are moving on a ship, going from place to place, having adventures both internal and existential, on the ship and off the ship. The trajectory of the season has an incredible drive. I think it’s going to be both the kind of show that people can’t wait to watch, week to week, and have a cliffhanger, but it’s also going to be a binge watch experience, where people are going to inhale four or five episodes at three in the morning and their wives are going to be saying, “Honey, come to bed,” or vice versa. So, I think it’s really a show that’s fit for the modern audience now.
KANE: These guys lived, as actors playing sailors, around real sailors. There was a moment on the ship, the last time we were filming down in San Diego, where we were filming on a real ship, called the U.S.S. Dewey, where the commercial for The Last Ship came on one of the TVs when we were all in the dining area, and we all cheered together. We were so excited because it was their ship and our crew and their crew, and in that moment, we were all shipmates. We learned so much from them about what it means to be a sailor, and what honor, courage and commitment are. These guys have brought that to life. So, to answer your question, they are a different kind of hero than you’ve seen before. They are unlikely heroes, in some ways, because they didn’t ask for this or sign up for this, but they’re also highly trained heroes. So, we hope that when you watch it, you think, “If a plague ever comes, this is the ship I want to be on, with these guys.”
STEINBERG: Well, we’ve been using the movie magic of being able to shoot in L.A. and San Diego with green screens and visual effects, to create a lot of different worlds. At the end of the pilot, the captain says, ‘We’re going to Guantanamo Bay to get supplies.” So, the next episode takes place on a naval base at Gitmo. It will look like Cuba, and it will look like the ship is pulling into Gitmo, but we found a location here that was a really good image for that.
There’s another episode where they have to go look for monkeys when the doctor thinks that she might have a vaccine that’s worth testing, and we go into the jungle in Nicaragua. We were actually able to find a very cool lake here that we were able to shoot and make it look like a river.
With the amazing visual effects capabilities that exist now, this show is a lot easier to do than it would have been, 10 years ago. And of course, being in the Michael Bay family and camp, we have the best visual effects people to able help us enhance all of that. And then, we also go out to sea with real Navy ships and get shots of the ships out in the ocean doing their maneuvers, with choppers landing on them. There’s a huge amount of production value in the show.
And the pilot was also shot in Canada, with that big sequence on the ice. We went up to Manitoba, Canada to make it look like the arctic. But, the ship really is the most exotic location because, when the crew goes out there for a week to film at sea, living with those people and watching and filming it from above, nothing compares to that real ship doing its maneuvers. It’s a pretty awesome experience.
For the actors, what can you tell us about your characters and what makes them stand out, as military men and heroes?
PARNELL: Hero, I don’t know how to answer. But as a military man, I play the Master Chief of the ship, which in the big picture is the third ranking member of the ship, behind the Captain and the XO. He’s really the highest ranking enlisted man. So, as a military man, I take the temperature of the ship and the crew, and let the Captain and the XO know how policies and rules and things are going over. I keep track of whether there’s dissention and people want to get off the ship, for any reason. And I also take the temperature of the Captain and the XO. I basically give everyone what they need, in a human sense. While they perform the missions, I keep everybody going, check on people, and gauge the temperature. So, I help the heroes. I don’t know how heroic I am, but I help them be heroic.
TRAVIS VAN WINKLE: I’ll let the audience decide if my character gets to be heroic, but as the Navy S.E.A.L., I get to do all the missions off the boat. So, anytime we have a mission, whether it’s to get monkeys or whether it’s to go do whatever we do, I have to have my crew together and come up with a plan, and then we go out and get to get our hands dirty. It’s been fun getting to do a lot of action with this show, and it’s got Michael Bay written all over it. There’s a lot of cool stuff that we got to do. I really hope that it mirrors what the real Navy S.E.A.L.s do in action. And with them working by our side, I think it’s going to be pretty damn authentic.
STEINBERG: The other thing that’s going on with Travis’ character is that, in the pilot, he loses his closest friend, so his character is carrying a lot of the grief. We can’t cut to everybody crying about their family, but he just lost his best friend. He’s carrying that, going forward, and he’s also carrying on this extracurricular relationship with another lieutenant that he’s not supposed to be having. He’s a very complex character.
VAN WINKLE: He is. There’s a lot that goes on with the relationships that I have, and the relationships that I lost. And on top of that, we don’t know if our families are alive or not. There’s really no communication. So, throughout this process of being on a mission and having this extraordinary feat ahead of us, it’s a pretty heavy experience to go through. My character goes through a lot of it and it’s like, how do you put that on the backburner and do your work, and succeed in the mission? I think there’s a lot of struggle that happens with that dynamic, and it’s a pretty fun ride.
PARNELL: Which is true for every individual character that goes through that. What’s going on with my family that I can’t get to? I don’t know whether they’re alive or dead, or how many of them survived or not. And also, we have this immediate thing in front of us of trying to save whoever we can. It may not be the people we want to save, but it’s still our brethren.
The Last Ship premieres on TNT on June 22nd. Click here for all our WonderCon coverage.