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Q&A: Adam Baldwin on ‘The Last Ship’, Inner Monologues and What He Learned From Stanley Kubrick

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Michael Bay‘s The Last Ship is the story of what happens when a global pandemic wipes out eighty percent of the planet’s population and the crew of a lone naval destroyer must find a way to pull humanity from the brink of extinction.

Starring Eric Dane and Rhona Mitra , the new TNT drama also stars Adam Baldwin as Mike Slattery, the second in command on the ship.

I talked to Baldwin (who’s always a great interview) in a conference call about his role on the show, the “inner monologues” he likes to play in a scene and the one thing he learned from Stanley Kubrick.

The Last Ship airs on Sundays at 9pm on TNT

What was it that first attracted you to the role on “The Last Ship” that made you want to do it?

Adam Baldwin: It was a TNT production with Michael Bay at the helm. How could I say no? The opportunity to work aboard a Navy-guided missile destroyer is a chance of a lifetime. We’ve had the opportunity to go over the horizon on an embarkation to see that ship – Arleigh Burke-class of destroyers in action is something I’ll never forget. It’s life altering.

And the character himself, the difference between him and the captain played by Eric Dane is one of – there’s a fine line there and we had to thread this needle of – you don’t want to be insubordinate and yet you need to be supportive and challenging of decision-making processes in a supporting role and I’m very good at that.

Did you do a lot of research before you started the role?

Adam Baldwin: The research materials that we were supplied were mainly the book Command at Sea by Captain James Stavridis and Vice Admiral Mack, and it details how officers are to interact and also to uplift the crew while still being in a fighting demeanor. It’s been very helpful with the language, the stature that you must bring, and the respect of command.

So that’s been our main research and resource bible, if you will. Plus, the writers have done much more research than all of us put together. They’ve had a lot more time at it since then and we’ve had technical advisors detached from the Navy to supervise and collaborate with us throughout the whole process.

What do you like most about Slattery as a character and what do you enjoy most about playing him if there’s any difference between those two things?

Adam Baldwin: Well the thing I like most about Slattery is his ability to balance Chandler’s decision-making process and to be a leader. I love the leadership role that an executive officer must bring to the command in this world. Also, we get an insight into his background, his family. He loves God and country. He loves his family. He wants to restore order in civil society in this catastrophic scenario. So I thought the different levels and depths of a guy like that in a leadership position – plus you get to wear a really cool uniform. That’s cool.

At this stage in your career, do you still have to audition for parts and can you talk a little bit about how this role came to you?

Adam Baldwin: Pretty much everybody has to audition. There are very – it’s a very, very small club of folks that don’t audition, especially when you have such a project as Michael Bay’s “The Last Ship.” So yes, I auditioned for this, and it came to me through that audition process.

How involved is Michael Bay and Brian Fuller in the day-to-day activities? Do they show up on set frequently?

Adam Baldwin: We saw Michael Bay several times. He was busy directing Transformers, I believe, or a different project that he was actually at the helm of. So he delegated very well.

Mr. Fuller was there much more often and – but again, you hire people that you trust to make your show and if the dailies look great, you don’t need to show up and police it. You just need to keep helping facilitate it and hopefully throw more – if you’re turning in a good product, maybe there’d be a little extra in the budget so that you can get an extra half a day to get those shots that you didn’t get. But they’re certainly as hands-on as you can be without being intrusive. They didn’t feel the need to be that, so that’s good.

What do you think, in your opinion, are the biggest selling points for “The Last Ship?”

Adam Baldwin: The biggest selling points for “The Last Ship” start with the United States Navy and its structure of goodness and power and discipline and civil order. These are the things that break down when you have an apocalyptic event such as we portray, and I think the honor that we show and the respect that we show to the United States Navy and to the other armed services is a huge selling point. I think there’s a huge appetite for that around the world. These are men and women that put their lives on the line and sacrifice years from their families and loved ones to basically allow you and me and the rest of us to make TV shows about it. So we try to portray that as best we can.

Plus, Eric Dane is a powerful, powerful captain as our lead. It’s always important to have someone in the leading role who is a kind and stern and reliable leading man. And Rhona Mitra is a powerful and strong, beautiful leading lady. And I’m just happy to be along for the ride to help support those guys and make this show exciting. It’s scary, it’s sexy, it’s – boom.

Given all the array of things that you’ve done in your career and that your IMDB bio goes on and on forever, how do you decide when you want to work on a specific project and where do you plan on going in the future?

Adam Baldwin: My good friend Nathan Fillion, who’s the star of “Castle” over on another network — he said recently, “I don’t so much as choose the jobs. They choose me.” And that still holds true. I can say no to going in on meeting or something, but this was something that just jumped out at me. This is one of those ones where you almost do it for free, although that would make my wife uncomfortable.

So – and where do I see myself going in the future? I don’t know. I’ve been blessed to have been working this long, thirty-five years now — or thirty-six, going on — and I’m just grateful for the opportunity to have fun on camera and to work with wonderful, talented people. The one thing I learned from Stanley Kubrick when I worked on Full Metal Jacket many years ago was to be patient and to appreciate the work that you’re doing right now. And people say, “What’s your favorite project that you ever worked on?” Well, I have a few mile markers, but my favorite one is the one I’m currently working on, which is “The Last Ship.” So I appreciate it in the here and the now.

What it was like filming on the Navy carrier?

Adam Baldwin: We film mostly aboard the Navy-guided missile destroyer Halsey – the USS Halsey during the pilot. And then we switched over to the Dewey for the run of the series and we also had some stages built at a local soundstage studio.

For the most part when we were aboard the ship – well, I can only speak for myself. Personally, I felt that I was in the way of an operating Navy ship, so I would try to stand aside as much as I could unless I was granted the room to actually be on camera while we were filming the scene. Although the captain and the crew were excited and they loved having us aboard, it’s a functioning Navy ship that has business to take care of. So in that regard there could be – I just wanted to respect where I was standing. So that’s the way I approached it. And the crew, they did as well. I’m just trying to personalize it as much as I can. It was exciting. We got to see guns fired while the ship was on maneuvers out across the horizon. All I can say is I’m glad they’re on our side after seeing what I’ve seen.

You’ve been in lots of different series where you play the burly, hunk agent or a lieutenant or colonel or second command in general. I’m just wondering if you feel typecast and if you enjoy playing these characters like Slattery.

Adam Baldwin: You have to remember that the root of typecast is “cast.” It’s work and I can’t deny my physicality. I am 6’4”. I am 245. I’m just a large guy and so those roles naturally fall to, I guess, just the appearance. So I don’t ever run away from it. Would I like to play the softer, gentler, kinder Adam Baldwin? Sure. But in the meantime, I’m having fun kicking ass.

You mentioned that the roles that you play choose you, and I’ve noticed that you do tend to do a lot of Sci-Fi roles. Do you find that you yourself might be gravitating towards that or do you enjoy those kinds of roles?

Adam Baldwin: I definitely enjoy those kinds of roles. I first fell into that in a big way when “X Files” came along, and that led directly into “Firefly.” And so those exploded – obviously “X Files” was already huge, but “Firefly” exploded into the Sci-Fi world. Although it didn’t last very long on television, it’s still very popular after twelve years later.

What’s interesting to me about working in Sci-Fi or in these big films is that you can find the humanity while still in this extraordinary world. I find that the drama of someone’s life can be brought to bear twhile still having fun and chewing popcorn. I like that. Those are the kind of movies I grew up with, although more the Western and “shoot-em-up” vein that my dad called them — the Dirty Harry’s, the Wild Punch’s, The Good, Bad, and the Ugly’s — movies like that. I like Westerns in space. I just love the individual siding against the odds and that’s what The Last Ship brings you. You have a crew of individuals that must come together to fight against a common foe through teamwork.

You’re always on the ship. Is that a different sort of dynamic to play as an actor to stay in one location and still help further the plot or do you miss having a few more action scenes?

Adam Baldwin: Well, there is something – I don’t want to give anything too much away. He’s not always there. You’ve begun the taste of the first few episodes. I’m not really at liberty to go beyond those. It’s challenging in that you are constrained within the bridge or the command and control center or the Helo Bay or wherever it is. So in that sense, you have to find things to busy yourself with or – you asked me if I want to go off the ship and kick ass? Yes. The answer is yes. And do I? I can’t say.

What’s your favorite part overall about the experience so far?

Adam Baldwin: “The Last Ship” – my favorite part? There’s so many. My favorite part is my friendship with Eric Dane. We’ve become fast friends and colleagues and we trust each other and that’s so important when you’re working on a project of this long term nature. First, the captain and the second in command — they need a good working relationship and because Eric is such a cool dude and so am I, it worked out great. So that’s my favorite, that relationship.

The experience itself overall — and I think Eric would probably echo that — is the opportunity we’ve had to walk aboard these ships in and amongst real sailors and have them welcome us and show us their equipment from the engine room on up to the bridge and for them to trust us. To be trusted by the Navy with depicting their branch of the service in an honorable way while still finding the flaws in human nature, which makes drama interesting over time, is a chance of a lifetime. I don’t know if that answers you question, but those are just my visceral reactions.

From My Bodyguard, Independence Day and now The Last Ship, there’s been a thread that you’re really drawn to the hero, the guy who wants to do good. For you personally, was there someone or something that draws you to those characters?

Adam Baldwin: James Mason, the great English actor — he once said, “I never played a villain.” And I try to maintain that ethos. So whether the guy is actually scripted as doing something not necessarily heroic or good, he plays it as such because that’s his thing. I just think good is good. I like that. The question is what do you do? Jayne Cobb, for instance, in “Firefly” from before — he wasn’t necessarily thought of as good but he did have a good streak in there somewhere. There was an honor among his thievery. While Slattery is a completely different character, I’m still me and I’m still going to stand tall and be as strong as I can and I just fortunately have the benefit of being – working for the US Navy, which I consider to be all good. Well, almost all good.

There are so many different types of acting processes, but they all seem to fall between the method and Olivier’s — it’s all just pretend. And I’m wondering where would your process fall on that scale and how did that work specifically in developing Slattery?

Adam Baldwin: Well, it’s important to do as much homework as you can and load up with as much information as you can. Obviously, I haven’t had the benefit of going to basic training and rising up through the ranks over the course of many years, so it all has to be in a sped up, accelerated fashion. But as far as method or it’s all just pretend goes — yes, I’d probably fall somewhere in between. Hopefully you reach a state of reality while the camera’s rolling and that can come across. But it’s a portrayal of a heightened reality and I try not to get too caught up in it because I live in Realville.

There are a couple of inner monologues that I always try to play, or mantras, and one is “help me help you” and “I’m on to you.” You’re not supposed to give away secrets, but these aren’t really secrets. Anybody’s that’s studied any acting knows that’s a way to play it for good conflict, yet play the positive. So I try to play the positive, “I’m onto you,” and “help me help you” as an undercurrent for whatever the scene may be. And if two actors or three actors do that in the same scene, it becomes very interesting, in my opinion.

Did you always want to work in this industry while you were growing up, or did you have other professions in mind?

Adam Baldwin: Well, when I was young I was a hockey player and I was a pretty good one because I was big and strong and fast and skated a lot since I was maybe 3 or 4 years old. But then came a bit of a family problem that short-circuited my going to hockey camp when my buddies would go to hockey camp. So when they came back after two summers of hockey camp in Canada, I couldn’t really compete with them at the highest level I wanted to so I had to find another group to hang with.

And the theater department where I grew up was very well-organized, great teachers. It was well funded and it’s this misfit collection of – see what I love so much about the theater is that you have this welcoming home for misfits. You have tall, short, fat, skinny, straight, gay, black, white, and up and down, square round — all these different pegs in this one little – go in the theater and all you’re trying to do is make each other laugh.

And so from a young age, I got to meet this diverse culture of people and all we were trying to do is make each other laugh. And I think that’s such a valuable thing for kids and I’m sad to see schools lose their budgets that they can’t afford that. Music is so important, too. My kids — they do music and I did theater and it’s been such a blessing for me that I just feel very lucky.

Were there any particular acting challenges while filming?

Adam Baldwin: Well there’s always acting challenges. You just have to solve the problem. Generally, the most difficult things to do in my mind are when you have technical speak that needs to be rattled off in a coherent fashion. It’s important, it’s expository, but it’s still storytelling. So those under the pressure of the production schedule are very challenging. There are some people that are very, very good at it. I’m pretty darn good at it and it takes those – it’s a challenge though because I learn more rhythmically, musically. So if there’s time to run it over and work it, great. If there’s little time for that, then it gets to be a bit of a struggle. But you just get it done. There are always challenges.

You seem to talk so passionately about the relationship between Slattery and Chandler. I was wondering — how did you work on developing that with Eric Dane?

Adam Baldwin: Well, again, Eric is a grizzled professional. He’s a dedicated pro and I think the mutual respect that we had, we both operate that way. We remain calm in the tempest that can be production because time is money and we’ve got to get it done. And as long as you remain calm in there, you can stay focused. And he’s very good at doing that and I consider myself pretty damn good at it too, so I think that mutual respect grew from that.

And then, we just hung out and played cards together and talked in our breaks. We’d play some cards and talk about family. He’s got young kids. My kids are grown pretty much. So we were able to – we had that in common. We both have beautiful wives and we had that in common. And so it grew from there.

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