TNT’s new drama The Last Ship comes from Michael Bay’s production company Platinum Dunes. The show is set aboard a navel destroyer captained by Commanding Officer Tom Chandler (Eric Dane), who has been escorting scientist Rachel Scott (Rhona Mitra) aboard for several months.
While collecting samples in the snow, Rachel’s team is attacked and a major helicopter battle ensues. It turns out Rachel has been searching for a cure to a global pandemic that has wiped out much of the population while Chandler’s crew was at sea. Now they are among the last survivors.
I got to speak with Mitra by phone from her home in England about The Last Ship, Rachel and Chandler’s relationship and Michael Bay’s involvement, which was more hands on than I expected it to be. Mitra starred in movies like Doomsday, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans and Hollow Man, and was the second model to portray Lara Croft at Tomb Raider video game publicity events. We had a lot to talk about in a short time, and she was lovely and engaging with every question. The Last Ship premieres June 22 on TNT.
Does Rachel go head to head with Chandler in every episode of The Last Ship?
Oh, gosh, that would be really, really boring if I told you the answer to that. Don’t you want to see it play out?
Yes, and it seems like that is going to be a very fruitful conflict.
Well, you know, here’s the deal. He has a very, very, very, very specific agenda, which he has been governed by for pretty much the majority of his life. And I have a pretty serious agenda whereby I have been governed by the present of the United States to keep something under one umbrella and safeguard that. So we have slightly separate agendas for a while, until maybe we don’t, and I’ll just say that.
In the pilot, how long did it take to film the big snow chase and how intense was it?
It was amazing, first of all. Let me just say that. It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had shooting and one of the most, I’m not going to say grueling, because there’s been worse but it was quite intense. It was very cold. We had blizzards. The snow was incredibly deep. But we were with the most incredible crew and everyone who was there was so absolutely delighted with where we were. It was so otherworldly, and then Michael Bay flew in and he also had never shot in the snow. So it was the only segment of the show that he really shot, so it was a real privilege that he came in and he shot all that stuff. We had these helicopters which were loaned to us and it just leant for such real drama and excitement and thrill on a scale that a television shows really isn’t used to. I’ve done a lot of action and I’m sort of okay with that, but not within the television realm. So I knew that what we were doing was coloring outside the box, which made me feel that hopefully the audience when they see this, they’ll realize that this isn’t par for the course with what we’re used to on our television screens. So we’ll push ourselves and we’ll get colder and we’ll have frozen and numb fingers and hands, and I’ll have these helicopters shoot at me 1000 more times and I’ll be delighted with it because it’s probably the best job in the world and I couldn’t be having more fun and I love everyone I’m with. And we’ve got to save the humans.
So Michael Bay was actually on location.
He shot that. He directed all that.
What is the set of that ship like?
Oh, the ship that we were shooting on, the naval destroyer, it’s very tight and it’s quite claustrophobic and small, contained and really not ideal for shooting any kind of television show or movie. But, it put everybody in such a good state of mind because I think everyone felt challenged to do their best in a very unusual environment. And we had the Navy working with us and they were just delightful and really extraordinary in setting the tone of how things run there. By the fact that they were there, we felt invigorated by their confidence and also just their commitment to what they were doing. So we worked our way around it. Ordinarily as a film crew and as a production, we can usually shoot where we want and how we want and open up walls and break down walls. This is one place where that couldn’t happen so it was humbling I think for everyone in a great way.
When you’re on the deck, what does acting out in the open sea do for you?
You have to act less, because you’re out in the open sea and you’re there and it’s alive. You’re really on a naval destroyer and everything else falls away. So everything that happens when you’re actually really outside in the open sea or you’re inside and the engine’s turning, you’re so connected to the umbilical cord of the mothership. I always say that our ship is number one on the call sheet. She’s our diva and we work around her. We adhere to what she needs in the timeframe with her relationship with the government. As a result of that, you become alive because she’s alive, if you will.
Was Rachel always going to be a British scientist? Was she ever going to be American?
I’ve asked that question and apparently in the writers’ heads, Steven Kane and Hank Steinberg, I liked her because I’ve played American a few times. I was happy to play her as American, but then they heard my English accent and they realized, and they also had an idea. They’ve told me they always wanted her to be English but they were open. Then when they realized English was a better route for them, I think just to create that cultural conflict and that diversity against that very stark American naval, very steadfast fulcrum that is very American, I think they were quite interested to see that and have that be a nice juxtaposition.
Early in your career, when you did the Lara Croft job, did you ever expect her to last more than 20 years and go through all the different incarnations she has?
Lara Croft for me was a detour that I found hugely entertaining in my youth, at 19 years of age. I have continued to play incredibly strong women. For whatever reason, that seems to be my through line so there’s the comparison there. It’s interesting the jobs you take, I mean, the jobs you took when you were 19, I’d love to ask you what you did when you were 19. What did you do when you were 19?
I was still a projectionist at a movie theater.
Right, right, right. So that was a very big move on my part as far as there was a world that surrounded that iconic figure that I got caught up in because I just thought it was just so brilliant and she was so extraordinary as a woman. The pixelated forum and what surrounded her was the thing that I found to be eternal, so I moved away from that because I was more attracted to who she was as a female, not who she was as a pixelated character. So I feel that the person that I took from that and the person that I ran with from that has always actually continued and had some continuity. There’s something that production companies, Eidos, Sony, whoever they are, they do what they want with the other image and I’ll take always the essence of what I think to be the best part of that. I know well that I feel I’ve taken some of that and bled it into some of my other characters. I get that when I go to Comic-Con because some of my fans seem to feel quite happy about the metamorphosis.