Strike Back is a British/American action and military television series, based on a novel of the same name by novelist and former Special Air Service (SAS) soldier Chris Ryan. The series follows the actions of special forces soldiers who work for an elite part of MI6, only known as Section 20., a secretive branch of the British Defence Intelligence service (DI), who operate several high risk, priority missions throughout the globe.
He's SAS when the story starts and he has a wife and daughter. He's been through the ranks and I'd describe him as a kind of killing machine who's discovered quite a serious flaw whereby compassion kicks in and he allows his heart to rule his head. I think he has a conflict between operating within the theatre of war and then returning home to his family.
Preparing for the role...
I try to create a biography for every character I play. In the book, but not in the script, Porter has a problem with alcohol, so I've used that much earlier in his life. I wanted Porter's father to be military, and this period of delinquency comes from Porter being absent when his father died. So his route into the military was to do with atonement for his father's death and honouring his memory.
It's a difficult one. He was absent when Alexandra was born, and for a lot of her childhood, and his marriage to Diane is pulled apart by his job. But as much as there's a difficult relationship between father and daughter, there's actually an incredible relationship there. As she gets older you see that she's a phenomenal girl. She really challenges Porter, she presses his moral buttons and he likes the fact that she's bolshie. She's also confrontational about what he does and that's a problem he carries with him, he's always thinking, "How would she judge me?".
I've done a fair bit of combat and I've used handguns on Spooks, but for this we had two weeks of intensive arms and tactical training with three guys who are all ex-SAS. They've been around on set too and they have eyes like hawks'. If we're doing something not exactly right they'll immediately jump on us.
Boys with toys...
There is an element of that to filming this, definitely. When you first pull off some rounds, you can't help but grin. And when you see a guest artist come in they're the same. Shaun Parkes, who plays Felix Masuku, had the biggest smile on his face when they handed him a gun. And it's really embarrassing because you're smiling when you're pretending to kill. But it isn't the killing you're smiling at; it's the feeling of this machine in your hand that has this capability. It's power.
I always want to get involved. This show's brought out the competitive edge in me, particularly with Andrew Lincoln. If he's going to jump a foot, I'll jump a foot and a half!
There's a big cliff jump in episode three which I really wanted to do, but wasn't allowed because it was too dangerous - it was about 30 metres down. I would have been scared to do it, but if I'd stood on the edge of the cliff and they'd said, "3, 2, 1 action," I would have jumped. I wouldn't have been able to do it without a camera there though.
I couldn't work out why we were coming here, but when we started filming I suddenly got it. We've been shooting in some amazing places, there's so much scope out here. When we were in Pretoria, we had two units and one was supposed to be Harare and one was Iraq. So we'd be on one unit and say, "I'm just going to Harare, I'll be back in Iraq in 20 minutes."
Why Strike Back...
I wanted to take this character, which reads as an action hero, and turn him into something else. The challenge is to make him appealing to people who don't necessarily like this genre of film and television. Trying to mine something new from this and trying to put a human being inside this type of character is what attracted me to it.
The boldness of the project...
It's an ambitious project for television. Essentially we're making three feature films on a TV budget and schedule. But these three feature films are all linked together through a really interesting character arc. American television has been making series like this for a while now and it's great that we're being brave and stepping into that area.
When you work on an action series you already know who is likely to watch it, so we have to go for the other audience. There are perhaps two-thirds of the viewing audience who wouldn't tune into an action piece because they don't like violence, but there's something else here that's well worth watching. This series isn't what it says on the tin; there's something electrifying stirring in these characters.
And the subject matters are so current. In episodes three and four we're tackling Zimbabwe and Robert Mugabe. It's daring and dangerous - he may not even be alive by the time this airs.
John Porter Photos
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