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Strike Back's Daniel MacPherson Breaks Down the Explosive Finale

Plus: What it was like to work with Philip Winchester and Sullivan Stapleton

Kaitlin Thomas

The first season of the newly rebooted Strike Back came to a close Friday in typical Strike Back fashion: an adrenaline-fueled speedboat chase followed by plenty of firefights, explosions and, of course, some good quality banter.

After Mac (Warren Brown) took out Omair Idrisi (Don Hany) once and for all, the team then had to track down the Russian special operatives who'd stolen the Atlas, which contained classified intel on covert British military operations. In the end, the only way to get the Atlas back was to force a trade with the Russians, so Mac, Wyatt (Daniel MacPherson), Novin (Alin Sumarwata) and Reynolds (Roxanne McKee) -- with a helpful assist from everyone's favorite bros Michael Stonebridge (Philip Winchester) and Damien Scott (Sullivan Stapleton), now working as private mercenaries -- stole a server containing similar intel on Russian black ops. But in order for the team to escape and the mission to succeed, Wyatt had to stay behind to stop the databank's self-destruct mechanism.

Strike Back Renewed for Season 6 on Cinemax

TV Guide caught up with Daniel MacPherson to talk about how the close call in the finale will affect Wyatt moving forward, what fans can expect to see from Section 20 next season, and what it was like to share the set with Strike Back alums Stapleton and Winchester. Check it out below.


Warren Brown and Daniel MacPherson, Strike Back

Liam Daniel/Cinemax

TV Guide: First, I need to ask how Wyatt survived, because I understand theoretically what happened, but I just want to know your theory on how he actually escaped.

Daniel MacPherson: [Laughs] Sometimes in Strike Back, it's best not to ask. Sometimes in Strike Back you just have to look at the explosions, laugh along, hold on for the ride and not really try and assess how Sgt. Wyatt managed to fit into a manhole sewage pipe underneath a Russian secret server. Look, he may have crawled through some ducting vents, he may have found a very secure little area. But I doubt -- if you look closely, I doubt he came out with his eyebrows intact. Let's put it that way.

Were you ever worried that Wyatt wasn't going to survive?
MacPherson: I read the script ... at the entire cast read-through, and we're reading it for the first time, and all the cast and all the producers were there, and I thought I'd been sacked! [Laughs] I honestly didn't know what was going on for the two minutes of the reading of the scene. And I'm flicking ahead through the script to see if I come back. And I thought maybe I'd missed an email, I'd missed a phone call from my manager or something!

Yeah, that's something they usually tell you in advance.
MacPherson: They made it very clear from the beginning that you never get too comfortable on Strike Back. I think the quote was, "There's a bullet with everybody's name on it in this series." And so when I read that finale, I thought for a second that all my hard work had been for nothing and Sgt. Wyatt was going to be a one-season wonder.

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This obviously wasn't the first time his life's been in danger, but will this dramatically alter Wyatt moving forward next season?
MacPherson: I hope so. I love Wyatt for his complexity at either end of the spectrum. He's the guy cracking jokes when things are dire. I also think he's got a huge well of pain and hurt and undiscovered character backstory that we're definitely going to see more of in the new series next season. I'm excited because we've done so much work on that character development with the writers and myself that I'm really excited to explore that. But by the same token, you know, he's the guy that you want cracking jokes, he's the guy that you want by your side in a firefight because I think he's a really, really solid operator. And at the end of the day he knows that mission comes first. But there's only so many times you can have real near-death experiences and not be affected by them.


Warren Brown and Daniel MacPherson, Strike Back

Liam Daniel/Cinemax

I'm glad you brought up Wyatt's journey, because at the beginning of the season he's a bit of a lone wolf and doesn't think he needs anybody, but by the end, he gives that nice little speech about how he's happy to be part of the team when he thinks he's going to die.
MacPherson: Yeah, I wasn't afraid to make Wyatt really kind of unlikable in those first few episodes. That was kind of my goal: to have people actually look at him and go, this guy is abrasive and he's brash and he can be a bit of a dick. And then hopefully by the end of the season they are [like], "I misunderstood that guy and there's more to him and I really kind of like him. I really get where he's coming from." I really wanted to push him in one direction to be sort of unlikable and almost show some of the ugly sides of his personality and then slowly take him back the other way throughout the course of the series.

Obviously his relationship with Mac is a huge part of his journey, and that was fantastic because Warren and I had a great chemistry from the very first moment we met in the auditions. And so I found Mac was a great sounding board and a great sort of, just a great character to kind of revolve around in terms of Wyatt's journey. And I guess even Novin probably -- I think Wyatt and Novin have got some similarities in their takes on life but they come from very, very different backgrounds. They struck me a little bit like a kind of step-brother/step-sister kind of relationship there. So, you know this series was about really setting up that team and those interpersonal relationships, but for me, Episode 7, where we really got to dig into Wyatt's psyche, his history of loss and how he deals with his grief -- that was some of the most interesting stuff for me to play and to really dig into the character and hopefully we'll see more of that in the new season.

The show's fans were really excited when Sullivan Stapleton and Philip Winchester came back. What was it like to have them on set and work alongside them?
MacPherson: Oh, it was great. We were five months into a six-month shoot. We were at the end of a Budapest summer, we'd had a heat wave, we were exhausted. To have Phil and Sully turn up for a few days was not only a great shove in the arm on set, you know, [it] really energized that set for a few days, but it was also a bit like a homecoming for those guys. And there were a lot of crew members that had worked with Phil and Sully a lot and it was good for us just to see, even still, how much the show meant to both of them. They were quite emotional when we finished our days of shooting and we all had a couple of big team dinners. And I've been fortunate enough to know Sully for 20 years; he's a great mate. That was a lovely sort of changing of the guard. And I'm glad we got that crossover because it's a very fine line in setting up a new series in how much you pay homage to the previous owners of the format, I guess. You don't want to detract from what we're doing with the new team, but by the same token, there's such a great fandom of Scott and Stonebridge. They owned that series for many seasons. It was an emotional time for them, it was a great time for us, and it felt really like a really nice kind of passing of the baton if you will.

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Did you feel any pressure stepping into this role because of the legacy of Scott and Stonebridge and the previous seasons of the show?
MacPherson: Oh absolutely. Absolutely we did. And I think this cast and crew were very aware of the legacy of the show and the legion of fans and the ownership that those fans had of previous versions of the show. So we were all very aware of that. The good thing was that we went through the auditioning and casting process probably five months before we stepped on set. So we worked as hard as we possibly could to be up to speed in terms of our weapons handling, our tactics and character development so that we were hopefully trying to start off as close to where Scott and Stonebridge left off, if that makes sense. I think it's probably fair to say that was in front of the camera and behind the camera as well. That was the producing team, that was the writing team, the showrunner. That was everybody trying to work out how to set up a completely new show but still have it be unmistakably Strike Back. And I think if we're being honest, and I think the fans will agree, that the show started off with a bang. It was very big, it was very explosive, but I think it took a couple episodes just to settle into the team and the new characters and I think the entire series just got stronger as it went.


Philip Winchester and Sullivan Stapleton, Strike Back

Laura Radford/CINEMAX

You're about to embark for the new season, so how do you feel now? Do you feel much better about stepping back into this for another season?
MacPherson: Yeah, absolutely we do. And I would have been really disappointed if we didn't get another season, because I feel like where we leave off in the season finale, where we leave off, particularly Episodes 6 to 10 of this season -- it would be a shame to have done all this hard work to get to this point where the characters are fully layered and the interplay is very complex and the team is cohesive and not to really see the sort of fruits of that labor. So I feel like it's a very exciting place to start a new season. And I feel like this season coming, the one I'm about to literally fly out to tomorrow, is going to sort of come on in leaps and bounds from Season 6. And it's been great just to see, to be bolstered, I guess, by the fan reaction as the series has gone on. The fan interaction on social media, the feedback and reviews, just the overall reaction to the show as the show has built and really solidified -- I feel like the audience has really echoed great positivity about it.

One of my favorite things about the show, and you've already touched on it a bit, is how it infuses humor in between all these action sequences. How hard is it to actually do these insane stunts and make sure you get all of those lines out at the same time?
MacPherson: That's definitely the skill of a show like Strike Back. And I didn't realize that the craft of the action genre is you've got one take when the boat's exploding, the camera is on another boat speeding the opposite direction, you've got bad guys flying past firing guns at you, and you've got one take to get your dialogue right, to get your weaponry right, maybe throw in an ad-libbed gag and then jump off an exploding speedboat, you know? There's nothing like it. Phil and Sully said there's no other job like it in the world; I now completely agree with them. And now that the scars have healed from last season I'm ready to go again, but that's the craft of it. And it takes a certain type of performer, I think, to thrive under those conditions and really embrace those conditions. I think we've got a cast that really does that, especially when you look at Warren being a two-time world champion Thai boxing fighter, Alin coming from a kickboxing background, and you know, myself coming from an elite triathlon background. It's a sort of a type of performer that really embraces that kind of chaos and really tries to excel in the midst of the mayhem.

Did you ever have a moment where you were like "What the hell have I gotten myself into?"
MacPherson: Oh yeah! I mean, that first six weeks we were in Amman, Jordan, we spent the first four weeks of pre-production training with the Jordanian special forces, jumping out of Black Hawk helicopters, doing stunt driving, abseiling off hundred-foot high towers with full weapon packs head first, back first, feet first, you name it. And then once we start filming, just... we blow everything up. There's cars exploding next to you and there's buildings blowing up next to you and helicopters landing on top of you. Every day you limp off set covered in cuts and bruises, but it's like, just let me do it again tomorrow! That's great. There's no other show like it on TV, you know? Particularly, there's a slew of other military shows on TV right now, and I've watched a lot of them and I really enjoy a lot of them, but I don't think any of them have the realism or the kind of gritty action and explosive nature like Strike Back, where your lead cast and your camera are in the midst of the action and it's for real.

You're about to head off to shoot the next season, so what can you say about what's coming down the pike for Wyatt and the rest of the team?
MacPherson: To be totally honest, I'm jumping on the plane tomorrow night and I'm reading the first two scripts of the new season. So far it's been all discussions with the showrunner. We're definitely going to delve into Wyatt's history with Task Force 18, which has been alluded to a couple times in this season. We are going to -- I think also another thing Strike Back really does well is tackle contemporary issues, and there's a lot of stuff happening in the world right now in terms of conflict and in terms of politics that will be inspiring the next series and [we're going to] certainly have a Strike Back kind of spin on that. And I can tell you it will be a completely different world, a completely different landscape and completely different texture to what we've seen this season, which was desert and Eastern Europe. We're going a completely different direction and it's going to look fantastic. I can't wait.

Is there anything you're hoping to see more of next season or anything you maybe didn't get to do this season that you want to do next season?
MacPherson: Wow, um, what haven't we done? Oh, personally I would like to do more driving. [In] Season 6, Novin did all the driving and Wyatt was always stuck in the backseat. I used to have my car racing license and I used to do a lot of race car driving and stuff in my 20s and my late teens. So, I would like to get behind the wheel. That would be one area of stunt work I would love to explore a bit more. And then we were pretty confident there would be another season getting greenlit, so I've just continued to work on my skills, my tactics, in particular on my weapons, and that's been really good. So yeah, I'm really excited to sort of pick up on the weapons training and the weapons skills. I know Alin's been working very hard on that as well. Warren was out here in LA with me at the beginning of the year so we went back to the range, so I think the overall MO is to pick up exactly where we left off and go bigger, better and more explosive once again.

Strike Back will return for Season 7 on Cinemax at a later date.

(This interview has been edited and condensed.)