From executive producers Mark Wahlberg, Stephen Levinson and Lorenzo di Bonaventura and showrunner John Hlavin, the USA Network original series Shooter is an edge-of-your-seat conspiracy thriller, based on the best-selling novel Point of Impact by Stephen Hunter and the 2007 movie. Following the journey of Bob Lee Swagger (played with convincing intensity and determination by Ryan Phillippe), a highly-decorated veteran who is coaxed back into action to prevent a plot to kill the President, only to find out that his former commanding officer Isaac Johnson (Omar Epps) is responsible for framing him, and he must do everything in his power to protect his family and clear his name.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, actor Ryan Phillippe (who is also a producer on the series) talked about how he came to Shooter, insisting on doing all of his own stunts, why he feels that delaying the series was the right decision by the network, flipping preconceived notions on their head, what makes Season 1 an origin story, finding out he’s a natural shot, and how excited he is to hopefully get the chance to tell the next chapter in this story. He also talked about making a short film shot entirely on a drone, and why that was something that interested him. Be aware that there are some spoilers discussed.
Collider: How did this show come about? Were you looking for an opportunity to live with a character for a longer period of time, or was it just the story that you wanted to be a part of telling?
RYAN PHILLIPPE: After the experience on Secrets & Lies, I was definitely open to the idea of a series. It wasn’t something I was actively looking for. I was into writing and I was setting up my second movie, as a director, and this came my way. At first, I was resistant because they wanted to shoot it in Vancouver and I didn’t want to leave my kids. Eventually, they decided that they could shoot it nearby L.A., so I sat down and met with Mark Wahlberg, Stephen Levinson and John Hlavin, who’s the showrunner/creator. I just liked them so much, and I was so flattered by Mark saying that I was essentially the three of their first choice to take the role to.
That must have been nice to hear.
PHILLIPPE: Very much so! Mark said that he loved the character, but he wanted me to make it my own. They also made me a producer on the show, and I said that I wanted to do all of my own stunts. I said, “I want that to be a calling card of our show.” There’s not a lot of action in the television marketplace right now, with this kind of conspiracy thriller style of action, and I stay in really decent shape and I’ve been doing martial arts since I was a kid. I said, “I want to do absolutely everything that Bob Lee does in this show.” We started talking about those aspects that we felt would be compelling, and the opportunity to show veterans in a certain light and the way military wives and children are affected. The book existed and also the movie, but especially in the movie version, the bad guys are kind of one-dimensional because they have truncated, compressed time. There was an opportunity with an actor like Omar [Epps], who I think is really wonderful in this series, to play a bad guy who’s conflicted and you ultimately find out what choices he’s made that have brought him to this point. It seems like really fertile territory. There are eight books about this character, Bob Lee Swagger, so they said, “Let’s try to approach it as one book a season.” We’ve got great material to use, as our starting point.
At any point, did you regret your desire to want to do all of the stunts yourself?
PHILLIPPE: You know what? I never did. I’ve got that mentality that I think it akin to what a soldier can have, which is that focus of, “I’m going to do this.” I was determined. I knew I’d be banged up ‘cause I’m 42 years old now. I’m not a kid anymore. But I was approaching it like a football season, and I’d heal up after we finished.
Some of the fight scenes are in pretty tight spaces, which it seems would make it easy to take a hit in the wrong place.
PHILLIPPE: Anyone will tell you – actor or stunt person – that when you shoot a fight scene of any merit or an extensive fight scene of any kind, you’re going to take a couple of knocks. You’re doing these unnatural movements, over and over again, with high velocity and intent. One thing that I really enjoyed was that I got really involved in the stunts, got to help choreograph elements, and come up with really inventive ways to get injured or to injure other people. I wanted to get nasty with it and make him fight like an animal. I enjoyed that. If you’re fighting for your life, you’ll gouge eyes and rip mouths. I wanted an element of that energy to be present in the series and in the desperation for clearing his name.
With a show like this, especially with the delays that it’s had, people will wonder whether they should tune in and just what kind of show this is. What would you tell people that they’ll get from the experience of watching this show?
PHILLIPPE: I know, in my mind, that we’re unique to anything that’s really available right now, in terms of that action/conspiracy thriller model. You get really caught up in that, if it’s layered and if it’s done well. I’m very happy and stand completely behind the decision the network made. I would far prefer us to come out now, post-election and what was happening this summer. It just would have seemed insensitive. It gave us a chance to reframe some of the marketing and make it clear that my character is in pursuit of the shooter. He’s a vet who served with honors and is highly decorated, and he’s a family man. This show isn’t gun glorification or gun porn. We handle the weapons with respect. Our technique is militarily sound. I worked with the Marines at Camp Pendleton for hours and hours, and we had Marines and servicemen on our crew, which was a nice asset for us actors. From the first five minutes, the show flips preconceived notions on their head because it’s Bob Lee disarming careless hunters who are hunting a wolf. I give the audience enough credit to recognize what it is and whether or not they’ll enjoy it.
Is everything that Bob Lee does for the protection and safety of his family, or is it equally about justice?
PHILLIPPE: I think it’s absolutely a combination of those things. When these 10 episodes resolve, I think that becomes pretty clear. Bob Lee is not a superhero, but this season is like an origin story. You see a guy who’s removed from battle and out of the service, and then over the course of the season, because he’s put into this situation, you see him re-access his abilities and some of the skills that he did employ during service. Those things start to come back to him and you see the soldier come back into being, in a way, which I found interesting. There’s something fun about that. He’s not discovering the power of web-slinging or flight, but there are some parallels.
Did the moments that Bob Lee gets to spend with his wife and daughter, exploring the love that he has for his family, feel like a welcome relief among all of the intensity?
PHILLIPPE: It did. Those scenes serve that purpose in the series, and they also did for me, as an actor. Working with Shantel [VanSanten] was great. Bob Lee goes this first season with no allies, at all, with the exception of Bill Fichtner in one episode, who I think is really excellent. Other than that, he is on his own, except when Julie becomes a partner. There’s a point in the series where she starts to be able to predict and anticipate the moves that Bob Lee is making without communicating with him, so she does serve as a partner.
Do you feel like your character and Desmond Harrington’s character are really two sides of the same coin?
PHILLIPPE: Yes, because of the determination that Desmond’s character exudes, from the time he steps on screen. Bob Lee was probably blue collar and lower middle class, and Desmond’s character was born into wealth. That informed a lot of their direction, and then his character’s injury would have kept him from being in any kind of combat, but there are aspects of their personalities that are alike.
With all of the skills this guy has, the physical stunts and the sniper work, did any of the training feel especially challenging, or did you take to it easier than you thought you would?
PHILLIPPE: I found out that I’m a pretty natural shot, when it comes to the sniper rifle. I hit a 12-inch target at almost 900 yards away on my second shot, in front of the Marines and they were all really impressed. One of the most enlightening parts of my prep process was discovering the extensive nature of the skill set of a special operations solider. These guys are put into immersive language classes before they’re deployed to a country like Afghanistan. They’re trained in field surgery and medicines. These guys are a cut above the average human being, just in the way they’re tested and the money that’s put into their training. They estimate that a special operations soldier’s training value is somewhere around $7 million. These guys are tested and trained, and they’re highly intelligent, and we wanted to show that intelligence. It’s not all brawn and gunplay, in terms of how he gets out of this situation. It’s also using his brain. He’s constantly making calculations.
This season is 10 episodes, and Bob Lee Swagger goes on a pretty intense journey over that time. Were you satisfied with where it all ended up, or are you more excited about where it could go next?
PHILLIPPE: I’d say yes to both. I think we delivered something that, for television, is pretty impressive, at times. Man, I wish I could tell you what the storyline for Season 2 is. We’ll find out pretty early on, I think. The second season’s story is better than the first, so let’s hope we get to make it.
You recently did a short film that’s shot entirely on a drone, executive produced by Dana Brunetti and with Academy Award-winning cinematographer Claudio Miranda. How did that come about?
PHILLIPPE: Awhile ago, I reached out to DJI about working together, in some capacity. They got in touch with me about The Circle (which is about an estranged father who is reunited with his young son in the Depression era) and told me that it was a period piece shot entirely on their newest drone, and I said yes. I own a lot of their stuff and want to look for new ways to use flying and mobile cameras, so it seemed like a great way to establish a relationship with a company that I really like and learn more about filming this way.
Shooter airs on Tuesday nights on the USA Network.