Actor Philip Winchester (STRIKE BACK, LAW AND ORDER: SVU) stars in ROGUE which released today On Demand and Digital, and will release on Blu-Ray and DVD on September 1, 2020. The film about a squad of soldiers on a dangerous mission in South Africa also stars Megan Fox and Jessica Sutton. I had an opportunity to converse with Philip, who seems to have an almost effervescent personality.
“How are you?”
I’m good. How are you?
“Good, good thanks. Thanks for doing this. I appreciate it.”
Well, thank you for taking the time to talk with me. So how does one go from playing ADA Stone on LAW & ORDER: SVU to playing a mercenary in South Africa? I mean, is this just like your attempt to get back to STRIKE BACK?
“(Laughs) A little bit. There was definitely a little nostalgic nod in that. Mostly, it comes down to my relationship with MJ Bassett and the work that we’ve done for years and years now. She reached out to me after she knew that I was done over in New York, and she said, “Hey I wrote a character for you, called Joey Kasinski, who’s a mercenary, and we’re going to shoot in Africa. It’s going to be down and dirty. Do you want to do it? I said, “Absolutely, let’s go.” So, it was a little bit of wanting to get dirty again, but also just the right timing and a good friendship with MJ.”
Joey’s the best character in the movie, by the way. He was written for you, so does that mean he’s a lot like you?
“I think Joey and I are – I mean, he’s not me, and I’m not him, but we’re pretty similar. He’s more similar to me than Michael Stonebridge, right? So, it was fun to be a little looser with the character and have a little more humor. I really enjoyed that.”
How physically demanding was this role, and how many of the stunts did you do yourself?
“Most of the stunts we were able to do because we had the time to do them. If we didn’t have the time or we needed to run onto a different set to do something, we had an amazing stunt team that would take over and do the big stuff. But all the in-camera stuff, that’s pretty much us, and it was tough. I mean, MJ likes to break her actors down and to get them at their rawest, most vulnerable. It’s a really great way of working, and I understand that about MJ. With me, her favorite thing is more blood, more dirt, more ice, more anything that makes you uncomfortable, I want more of it on you, and maybe to get in your mouth. (Laughs) It was terrible, but I enjoy it. I do enjoy it.”
If ROGUE had starred a live well-trained lion instead of the CGI lion, would you still have done it? Why or why not?
“Oh my gosh. Look, let me put it this way. There was an afternoon where we were able to hold some cubs, and I think they were somewhere in the region of three or four months old, right? The power of these things, even at that age, is so terrifying that you just think to deal with anything in its adult form like that would just be impossible. You’d just get your ass handed to you. So, I don’t know. I don’t know if I would’ve done it. That’s a good question. I got my ass kicked, and it was make-believe so maybe not, you know, probably not.”
What, if anything, did you know about lion farms before signing on to do ROGUE?
“I knew a little bit about it just because of my relationship with MJ and working in South Africa. You know, it was a very popular thing on days off during STRIKE BACK to be like, “Hey, you know, there’s a lion farm over here. We can go and feed the lions or do some things, and then the truth started coming out about it. Like anything, there are better ones, and there are worse ones, right? So, you just have to be educated and get tucked into the local fabric a little bit and find out who’s doing it right and who’s really just in it for the wrong reasons. But this is pretty eye-opening, this movie, in particular. Kenneth Fok who played Bo, kind of my tightest relationship in the movie, he had that great speech at the end about lions and tigers and what they’re being raised for and how it’s the antithesis of what they are, you know. This is not what they were made for. It was really, really eye-opening. With all the joking and explosions and guns and running around outside, that story that’s underneath it, this is happening every day, and it’s not right. Someone needs to do something about it. I have a thing with wild animals. Actually, I even have a thing with going to zoos and seeing animals in a place like that because they’re just not supposed to be there. You know what I mean? I appreciate the conservation element to it, but these animals are so powerful and made for such different things than just being looked at.”
What other causes do you support?
“We’re trying to reach out right now in our local community here in Bozeman, Montana and work with some of the reservations up north, near Glacier, just trying to bring awareness to some of the situations that are real-life, that are happening right now, that a lot of us aren’t aware of because we’re so fortunate, you know. We live in such amazing times, even with COVID, there’s food on the table and a roof over our heads. It’s such a gift. A lot of people are really struggling with those two basic things, so bringing an awareness to that.”
What was it like filming in South Africa?
“It was great. I mean, it was really nostalgic for me. it’s a bit of a going home for me. I can’t think of a place better than South Africa to shoot shows. The cast and the crews out there are so solid and so ready to rock at work. This one was really fun because it was four weeks of night shoots. Everyone was dreading going into it, but because I came over from the states, my clock was sort of set on that time anyway. We were able to jump in, you know. When the sun was setting, and the jackals started yipping and yapping, and the big bugs started running around and landing on your shoulders, it was a bit of a survival thing, in itself, but it’s such a joy out there. It is such an amazing part of the earth. It just gets in you, and it’s hard to shake it.”
This was really a fast, like five-week, shoot wasn’t it?
“Yeah, that’s right. For all intents and purposes, it was like a little TV show. It was fast 12-hour days. Get ‘em in, and get ‘em out. Shoot as many pages as you can. Try not to mess up. Not a lot of time to rehearse and think about stuff; just kind of fly with it. Again, that’s sort of MJ Bassett. Let’s get in, and let’s serve the movie. Any idea that’s better than what’s on the page wins, if the page doesn’t win, and let’s go and make a movie. I love that style of shooting.”
What was the biggest challenge for you working on this?
“The biggest challenge for me was being away from my family. I’ve got a five-year old and an eighteen-month-old daughter. My wife and I, prior to having kids, we always did everything together. So, to be away from my family just sucked, especially knowing my wife’s love for South Africa and wanting to share that with my kids. If it wasn’t night shoots, I think they would’ve come out with me. But, it just doesn’t work. I mean, you’re shooting all night. You come home at six or seven in the morning, and you got a try to get two hours sleep in the daytime. If there was a five-year old and an eighteen-month old running around the hotel, that was not ever going to happen. I’ve got a pretty kick ass wife. She pulled out all the stops and made it happen, so I’m grateful for her, and yeah, we were able to enjoy the movie, and then get back home as soon as possible.”
How do you balance family and work?
“You know, it’s a constant thing. I mean like creativity is a muscle – you gotta use it or lose it kind of thing. It’s the same with the family. I try to be really intentional when I’m not working. For example, this time during COVID, ironically, has been such a gift because there has been zero possibility of work, so your intentions are able to be really pointed towards the family and the kids and the free time that you have. One of the things that I really gleaned from this time is that I want to take that into the future when work is happening again, and to decide these are the hours we have in the days in the weeks, and they’re going to be all about you, and we’re going to dive in deep with each other. Then when it’s time to go away, I can say my goodbyes and turn the volume down on that and turn it up on the work. So, it’s just intentionality, and look, sometimes you get it right, and sometimes you strike out. One day at a time, and like I said, COVID has sort of provided this strange opportunity to own that a bit, so I’m hoping with the next job I’ll be able to test it.”
Every job is an opportunity to learn. What did you learn from doing ROGUE?
“My favorite thing about this industry is you work with new people, and you see new things. With ROGUE, I think that it was the opportunity to work in a really difficult situation again with people I haven’t worked with before, and I also realize that man, I am getting old. I just learned the roles are going to change. Things are gonna change for me (laughing). That’s okay, as long as I get to keep working and creating, that’s totally fine. Look, when you work with a really talented ensemble – Megan Fox, Jessica Sutton, Brandon Auret, Kenneth Fok – you’re reminded that this isn’t about a singular thing. This isn’t a New York or an LA thing. Acting and creating is being a part of a worldwide thing. I was coming out of New York and coming out of SVU wearing suits for two years, and as grateful as I was for that opportunity, I wanted to get dirty again, and this cast and this crew out in South Africa welcomed me with open arms. They really blessed me with their talent and their patience.”
Which is more uncomfortable to wear, a mercenary outfit or a suit?
“Oh a suit, hands-down.”
If you were with these people as their characters, and you could only save two of them from being mauled by lions, who would you save and why?
“Oh my gosh! Barbara, that’s horrible! That’s horrible! OK, so look. I gotta pick Ken because Ken’s just had a baby girl, so Kenny and I, we teamed up, and we were talking about being parents so I got to say Ken, and oh my gosh. Can I save bits of them? Is the tiger going to take them all?”
(Laughing) You just want to save a piece of somebody?!
“I mean, I don’t know, like that’s too difficult. Maybe MJ because then I have a chance of working again. Kenneth and MJ come out of it purely for selfish reasons.”
(While Philip didn’t quite catch that I was asking about the characters and not the cast or crew, I decided to just leave it alone and move on.) My next question is my attempt to get a little insight into why you choose the things you choose. If you were offered three roles, but due to schedules, you could only pick one. One has a really meaty complex character for you to play, one has a cast and crew with whom you had always wanted to work, and one has a brilliant overall story and will be filmed in a great location. Which one would you choose and why?
“Oh my gosh, probably because present circumstances being what they are, I would pick brilliant story, amazing location because when you sit down and read a great script, or you’re a part of something like that from the get go, it’s a different vibe, and then to travel right now would be such a gift. Megan, my wife, and I sat down the other night, and we’re watching THE TRIP TO GREECE, just the food that was in it and the locations that were in it, Oh! We sat there and looked at each other and went, “Remember when we used to do that?” So, I think to be able to travel and to be able to get behind something that’s really good would be amazing.”
What would be your dream location to shoot?
“I’ve been really fortunate. South Africa is a homerun. It has everything. Thailand was great. I love Europe. You know where I haven’t been, but I would really love to go? Greece. I’ve always wanted to get there. It just looks hands down so perfect.”
Philip Winchester plays Joey Kasinski in Lionsgate's new release, ROGUE, now available On Demand and Digital.