Philip Winchester, Crusoe
Philip Winchester, who plays the title character on NBC's Crusoe (Friday, Oct. 17, 8 pm/ET), does a great American accent. That's because he's American — raised in Montana, in fact. But after hearing the British accent he sports to play the shipwrecked adventurer and checking out his plummy resume (including a stint with London's Royal Shakespeare Company), you wouldn't be at fault for thinking otherwise. Winchester regales us with tales of shooting the 13-episode action-fantasy series in South Africa, including the unwelcome arrival of a very big rainstorm, the prickly perils of the jungle and what the heck MacGyver's got to do with any of it.
TVGuide.com: I have to say, I'm surprised that you're American. I thought for sure you were British, so kudos on the accent.
Philip Winchester: Well, thank you. My mother is actually English, so I was raised with it, and I trained in London. Most of the work I've done is English. I haven't booked a lot of American stuff. I go into casting sessions and they say, "You have a very convincing American accent."
TVGuide.com: Were you a fan of the book?
Winchester: Yeah, my dad read it to me when I was a kid, so I knew the story. When I heard about the auditions in London, I picked it up at the airport because I thought, well, I'd better brush up on this. And after I got the part, I read it another couple of times.
TVGuide.com: How closely does the show follow the book?
Winchester: Well, in the book, there are six years where he's captured by the Moors, and then he travels down the coast of Africa, and then he finally, finally gets trapped on the island. We're focusing on the stuff that happens after that point. We've obviously taken some liberties. For example, Crusoe does not live in a treehouse in the book; he doesn't have a wife and kids. We added those things to make it more believable and to raise the stakes that he has to get off this island.
TVGuide.com: Dealing with Crusoe and Friday's friendship could have been tricky… in the book, Friday was a slave, right?
Winchester: We don't really tackle the issue of race head-on. Throughout filming, Tongayi [Zimbabwean actor Tongayi Chirisa, who plays Friday] and I found places where we could reference it even if it wasn't there in the script. Shooting in South Africa, that undertone is very much still on the surface. As we got away from the pilot and got into the episodic stuff, the producers really let us go there.
TVGuide.com: What was it like filming there? I heard there was a big storm.
Winchester: Getting things rolling in South Africa was really difficult. We got started in the middle of the winter, and it was cold in the jungle. Everything down to the most beautiful little flower has thorns and spikes; everything says "don't touch me, don't come near me, don't eat me." We had to build roads to access all our locations. We had to train the crew how to do episodic television. And then, yeah, there was the storm. It was kind of ironic, in that the main character of Crusoe is shipwrecked. They called it "the storm of the century." It started as a windstorm that came in from Cape Town, which made these 25- or 30-meter-tall waves that just took the coastline in front of our houses away. We were shooting an episode with mutineers at that time, and we lost our mutineer camp, we lost their longboats… It really came in and devastated everything.
TVGuide.com: Crusoe has all these Rube Goldberg-style gadgets and inventions. I mean, the man has a juicer. Did you have a favorite?
Winchester: He does have this wind-ometer that I actually invented one night in a restaurant with one of the production designers. It's something to aid his aim when he shoots. I came up with this thing that has salt and a horn and a fin to test the wind. Also, some of the traps are fantastic: There's one that works on a timer where whoever runs through it will get shot with, like, 20 arrows. It's really cool.
TVGuide.com: Did you have any special firearms training?
Winchester: I grew up in Montana, so I actually already know a lot about weapons [Laughs]. I grew up hunting and going out shooting on the weekends. But this was different because it was all muskets and blackpowder, so I did have some training for that when we got there.
TVGuide.com: Tell us about some of the upcoming adventures.
Winchester: We deal with the big issue of cannibals, and how Crusoe rescued Friday — and eventually, Friday's father — from them. There are a couple of episodes where Crusoe and Friday explore their respective belief systems. Friday initiates Crusoe the same way he was initiated when he was a young man. They also discover what seems to them to be a lost city.
TVGuide.com: Were there other inspirations for this particular desert-island adventure?
Winchester: We're trying to do Crusoe McGuyer Lost Pirates of the Caribbean. They don't all appear in the same episode, but over the course of 13 episodes the fabric of them comes together. I tried to stay away from looking at other TV shows. When I saw that the producers were headed in a more fantastical direction, I knew that it wasn't just going to be about a guy on an island, so I came at it strictly from literature. I read Milton's Paradise Lost. I read things about the time period, in terms of the food and how you would live. If you got a cut or a sore back then, you were in trouble. It was a dirty time to live.
Watch clips of Crusoe, including a tour of the production's treehouse set, in our Online Video Guide