Q&A: Andre Braugher Talks About the Now Canceled ‘Last Resort’, Show Research and Advice to Actors
I love Andre Braugher. For me, the guy is one of the best actors around. I met him when I was working on the NBC show, Homicide and he was in full on work mode; intense and commanding. But after we wrapped, he was as nice as could be.
Up until last week, he was the star of the new Shawn Ryan show, Last Resort, playing Captain Marcus Chaplain, who lead a crew of renegade U.S. servicemen after they refused a direct order to fire a nuclear weapon on Pakistan. I liked the show a lot but ABC, citing poor ratings, canceled it but they will be airing the remaining episodes.
Braugher recently did a press call to talk about the show but since I was on vacation, I wasn’t able to post it until today unfortunately. He’s got some great things to say about his research for the show, working with the local Hawaiian talent and, even better, his advice to actors.
Last Resort will continue to air on ABC on Thursdays at 8 for the next several weeks.
Since there is a unique type of conflict in the series that’s also tied to patriotism, how does that challenge you as an actor?
Andre Braugher: Well I think all the roles I’ve played are really – they really center around either the great conflict or how the great conflict affects the people that I love. So when I go back to any of the miniseries I’ve done or the series I’ve done, you know, the heart and soul of the show always centers around how the people that we love are affected by our decisions.
You know, and I have a tendency to play – I’ve been cast often time as a hardnosed, you know, hyper confident kind of guy and so this seems always to be the main consideration, how to help the people that I love live with the decisions that are necessary for our survival. So it’s a challenge that I’ve taken on before and so it doesn’t (unintelligible).
Was there one factor that drew you to the series, writing or story wise that made you want to come into the show?
Andre Braugher: No it really wasn’t one factor. I mean, this is a show with a very ambitious premise and it could easily be (unintelligible) or evolve into something kind of silly, you know. But Shawn Ryan has a craft for making very interesting, provocative television and, you know, his abilities are apparent. Terriers and Chicago Code in terms of them not making (unintelligible) it’s a very good show.
So that’s one consideration, the script was another consideration. Melvin Campbell, and I’ve worked with him before and admire him a lot was another consideration. So it was a confluence thing. No one would have made it possible but all three of them together made it a very attractive prospect to be a part of the show.
Every week I look at the time slot you’re in and there so many comedies and I see this very serious drama. How hard is it for a very serious drama like yours to pull in people in this time slot with these crazy comedies all around you?
Andre Braugher: You know, I mean, this question can I think probably be answered best by the people over at ABC as well as our show runners, you know, who can really talk about the intricacies of scheduling and such. But I feel that our show is strong enough to stand up against the comedies as well as Thursday Night Football.
It seems to be something that has peaked the curiosity of the audience and something that people seem to be really attuned to. The show gets stronger and stronger every week and it shows with people who are coming, numbers get better every week.
And so we didn’t expect the pilot to make a big pop and really the question becomes what is going to happen after that. And so as each episode comes through it seems as people are more interested in the numbers.
And thankfully the DVR numbers have been considered whereas they weren’t always being considered so that we can see the people are watching our show and the numbers grow very strong after you include the DVR numbers.
So that’s the nature of television viewing these days, that a lot of television maybe more, you know, people watch the show but (unintelligible) and so confluently when those DVR numbers come in it’s very heartening to see that the show is gaining in strength and gaining in audience. So I think we’re in a good position. Regardless of the competition, I think we’re in a good position.
In the last couple of years you’ve gone from playing Owen Thoreau on Men of a Certain Age to the Captain on Last Resort. They’re two very different roles although I don’t think the Navy would have accepted Owen in the shape he was in.. Did you undergo a lot of training and how intensive was it to become Navy ready for Last Resort?
Andre Braugher: Well I don’t know whether it was – because I think all of the training I could really do was to maintain my health, you know. I’m not the spring chicken I used to be so that was, you know, just to (unintelligible). I don’t know. But yes, so I work out with a trainer and I try to run a couple of times a week.
So the physical training was not so intense but in terms of the scholarship, you know, necessary to really get into the piece, that’s where it proved most challenging. I’ve done a lot of reading and a lot of talking to Naval officers. And it’s that part that seems most challenging, not so much, you know, the, you know, physical transformation as much.
What is it about Chaplin that you relate to and like the most?
Andre Braugher: What is it about Chaplin that I relate to and like the most? Well I like the fact that he’s thinking ahead, you know. It’s the strategic part of Chaplin that’s fascinating to me. The fact that, you know, the next step may seem the next right one but when you think several steps out further it turns out to be a misstep, you know.
So the negotiations are important, an important piece of theater, you know, and every, you know, weapon at our disposal is, you know, brought to bear to make these negotiations fruitful.
You know, it’s that – the thing that’s fascinating is that when I go back to the pilot, you know, it’s something I read the very first time I read the script. So after they discover the bombers are coming to make a strike on their position, you know, and everyone is scrambling back to the boat.
During that time when everyone is saying to themselves we’ve got to get the hell out of here, we’ve got to submerge the boat, we’ve got to run, it’s at that point that Chaplin was thinking, you know, in that ten minute scramble back to the boat where Chaplin was thinking we’ve got to fire, you know what I mean. We’ve got to play this enormous game of chicken, you know what I mean.
And after they backed down from this enormous game of chicken we’ve got to go even further, you know what I mean. We’ve got to put the fear of God into them, you know what I mean, so they understand. Otherwise our position really isn’t tenable, I mean, it’s (unintelligible).
Have you and the other cast members heard from military people about the characters you’re playing and more importantly the premise and how provocative it is?
Andre Braugher: Well it’s provocative as well as being farfetched. And, you know, we’re – they comment on that as well. I think, you know, in all the comments that I’ve heard is that what they really like is the fact that we are getting inside the head of Navy men and women and exploring the issues that are important to them.
The premise is ambitious to say the least and our job every week really is to fill in that ambitious premise with some very down to earth, honest, raw, detailed kind of acting and storytelling, you know. And it’s one thing to have an ambitious premise, but it’s another thing to drift off into a kind of fantasy land behind that premise. And I think what we’re dedicated to is making sure that it’s honest and it’s raw, it’s down to earth, and it’s compelling.
And so far that has worked and that’s our great goal. That and delivering, you know, the action every week, you know, and basically giving, you know, the television, the broadcast television audience a movie every week. And that’s a tall order but so far we’ve succeeded and we’re really looking forward to seeing how far we can go with this thing.
What are some of your current favorites TV Shows?
Andre Braugher: You know, I don’t watch a lot of TV I have to say. You know, the schedule that we keep down here is ambitious working 12 to 14 hours a day. So I don’t watch a lot of TV while I’m working. I usually go back in iTunes or Hulu some of the previous seasons of shows that I do like.
But once again it’s a Breaking Bad thing for me, that’s one of my favorite shows. Bryan Cranston is the only guy on television whose role I want. And then I’m looking forward to watching the first season of Homeland.
One of the things that I’ve been hearing for several weeks now from actors here in Hawaii is how many of them are getting work on the show they way they describe it as being very different from shows in the past because they’re getting more regular roles there, series regulars.
I don’t know how much interaction you have with them but I’m wondering if you do, if you could describe what it has been like to work with the folks here who are getting by all accounts a greater involvement than they normally do.
Andre Braugher: Well I’m an admirer of the local Hawaii actors. I think the talent pool is – I think it’s wide and I think it’s deep and I look forward to seeing, you know, more of it.
You know, the story moves in a variety of different ways and, you know, there may be four guest stars of various sizes on every show. So there’s more people that we can draw from in the Hawaii area to work on these roles.
But right now I’ve been very satisfied, you know, with the quality of the acting and the professionalism and the participation, the enthusiasm. So right now it’s a very good thing and we really look forward to continuing the relationship and hoping that it grows.
What’s your advice to actors?
Andre Braugher: It’s the same as I have for football players which is, you know, be prepared, you know, so that when the coach gives you the ball you don’t fumble it, you know. And that seems simple, you know what I mean, but it’s the hardest thing in the world is to stay prepared in anticipation of the opportunity.
But that’s what I would say. You know, get trained and stay prepared and opportunity which is not every day is going to come your way and good things will follow on.
You’re well known for your ability to have long monologues with lots of layers and tones in your character. How do you train that specialty?
Andre Braugher: A monologue? I was classically trained so, you know, it follows I think hard on the heels of my Shakespeare training. So I think that was the anticipation of it.
You know, that’s – Shakespeare monologues and TV don’t go well together because, you know, it’s hard to sustain that kind of monologue on a television. So the stakes are very high and the subject matter is very compelling. You know, there is really no place for monologues so most of the monologues that we get in Last Resort are really about, you know, real things that are real compelling.
So once again, you know, talking Brannan off the con with his grenade, that’s where those long speeches come in handy. You know, defending our actions to the world, that’s where those speeches come in handy.
But generally, you know, television is a back and forth medium so, you know, so they aren’t as prevalent as they – they aren’t a common feature of television period. But that’s where my training comes from.