SOLDIER OF FORTUNE. No matter what role he’s taking on—action hero, plotter in a Shakespearean tragedy, or father in real-life—Philip Winchester soldiers on with incredible perseverance
Philip Winchester was only 14 years old when he was casted in his first role in 1998’s “The Patriot” starring Steven Seagal (not the one from 2000 with Mel Gibson). Since then, he has appeared in various large screen titles as well as TV shows, playing a wide range of characters—although plenty of his most memorable roles are of him playing active-duty service members or retired soldiers who somehow find themselves back in the thick of action. There’s the new “The Player,” for instance, as well as fan-favorite “Strike Back” that is now in its fifth season and still going strong. In a way, the man-at-arms archetype might actually be the perfect way to describe Winchester himself: A man of action who is hardworking and loyal, with just the right amount of rebelliousness for that extra ounce of roguish charm.
DA MAN: Hi Philip, how are you doing these days?
Philip Winchester: I’m fine, thank you. It’s nice to have some time off.
DA MAN: Since we’re nearing the end of the year, the obvious questions is: Do you have any big plans for 2016? Are there any upcoming movie or TV roles that you can tell us about?
Philip Winchester: There is a possibility of doing a “Strike Back” movie. I’m very excited about that, of course. Otherwise, I’m enjoying being a dad and hanging out with my little family.
DA MAN: Do you have any predictions or hopes for the film industry in the year to come?
Philip Winchester: It would be great to see the bigger companies make more small films and introduce new young actors rather than a few big-budget films with a-list slam-dunk stars attached.
DA MAN: Going back to 2015; what do you think has been the highlight of your career this year?
Philip Winchester: This year? Certainly surviving “The Player.” It’s a beast of a show, and the crew and I were hanging on most of the time!
Sweater by G-Star Raw
DA MAN: Speaking of “The Player,” how would you describe the series?
Philip Winchester: It was a thrill ride both on and off the floor. We were shooting 80-hour weeks and pulling off things in eight days that most shows couldn’t do in ten. It was a survival of the fittest project with a brutal learning curve, and I was very pleased to be a part of it.
DA MAN: Thriller/drama shows featuring ex-intelligence men and mysterious behind-the-scenes billionaires aren’t exactly rare. What is it that sets “The Player” apart from similar series?
Philip Winchester: The mythology being the house and the “game” is very complex and well thought out. Our show runner and creator John Rogers made sure of that. It’s clever stuff.
DA MAN: What was the most enjoyable part of filming this particular TV show?
Philip Winchester: For me it always comes down to the relationships that I develop on set. We had a great cast and a strong and talented crew. I enjoy showing up to work and getting things done with friends.
DA MAN: Earlier this year, you appeared in the fifth and final season—which would be the fourth for you, right?—of “Strike Back,” and the preceding seasons are now airing in asia. In hindsight, is there anything you miss from being on the series?
Philip Winchester: I miss “Strike Back” every day. It became this incredible family. We faced so many challenges together and overcame so many problems, that to not be able to continue all that with the same group and story felt really uncomfortable. We became very accustomed to how we all worked together and how we all thought through things. It became a brilliant story delivery device.
DA MAN: Through the years, “Strike Back” has amassed quite a following. What, in your opinion, are the main reasons behind the show’s continued success?
Philip Winchester: It sounds very obvious but any great story needs even better characters. You can watch “Strike Back” and think about the relationship between everyone involved. There was Richmond, Sinclair, Kate, Baxter, Colonel Grant, Martinez, Dalton, Locke and, of course, Scott and Mikey. One of the smartest things the show did and continued to do was hire incredible guest roles. Our baddies were fantastic at making us look good because they were so brilliant at what they did.
“If I can look at my wife and daughter and know I did things the right way, I can go to bed happy”
DA MAN: There’s been a lot of coverage about the military training you guys had to go through in preparation for “Strike Back,” especially on how hard it was. Do you think it was all worth it? Both for the series and on a more personal level.
Philip Winchester: It was 100 percent worth it. I can’t think of a better way to prepare for a role than diving in like we did on “Strike Back.” The privilege of being taken in by the men and women who actually did what we were only pretending to do was huge. I remember thinking very early on in training that if we could get that stuff right, we may have a good show on our hands.
DA MAN: Can you tell us a bit about your time at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA)?
Philip Winchester: Drama school was a mixed bag for me. For starters, I was a bit of a loose cannon and I didn’t adhere to the training very well. Mind you, our whole class had that attitude. We certainly had our own way of working. For us, it was obvious, but, for others, it was outside the box. There were a handful of teachers at LAMDA who saw what we were like and saw the potential. We were fortunate enough to get smart people who knew how to tap into our anti-establishment energy and use it to tell stories. It was that, plus Guinness. An awful lot of Guinness. [Laughs]
DA MAN: At that time, how did you imagine your career would unfold?
Philip Winchester: I was talking to some final year film students last weekend and I remember telling them something that has helped me over the years. I told them to find their own definition of success and then chase it. For me, when I was just coming out of drama school, my definition of success was to pay the bills (food, a roof over my head, etc.) by just being an actor. I have been lucky enough to do that, and I continue to remind myself of that truth in my life. Keep it simple and don’t lose sight of the truth.
“My wife and daughter motivate me to chase the things I see as important, in a way that is honest”
DA MAN: When the average person hears “British drama school,” most would think about period pieces, Shakespeare plays, and so on. And you famously played in the 2007 production of “King Lear”. Is this a genre you’ll someday revisit?
Philip Winchester: I would really like to get to do “Hamlet” one day soon. The play is obviously incredible, but having the opportunity to spend a chunk of time with friends and peers to do something of that magnitude sounds brilliant.
DA MAN: Looking at your better-known works, though, it appears that your biggest success lies in war drama and action thrillers. There’s “Flyboys” for the former, and for the latter there’s obviously “Strike Back,” “The Player,” and before that “24: Live Another Day.” Have you ever been worried about being typecast as the spy/soldier type?
Philip Winchester: Not yet. And even if i have started to be put into those types of roles, then so be it. I enjoy the action
element so much that if i can stay in that zone for a while, then bring it on. I joke with my wife that I will only do action roles while my knees are good … And so far i’m ok. [Giggles]
DA MAN: On a related note, what has been the most challenging, out-of-the-box role that you’ve ever taken on so far?
Philip Winchester: Being a father. It’s completely changed my life. It’s quite simply the best and hardest thing I have ever done. It is the biggest game changer and the great leveler. Next to getting married, it’s the most real thing I have ever done.
DA MAN: Is there anything you miss from your old life before showbiz?
Philip Winchester: Gas being 99 cents a gallon. [Laughs]
DA MAN: What keeps you motivated to continue working and creating? On a related note, how do you keep things balanced between your personal life and your professional career?
Philip Winchester: My wife and daughter constantly motivate me to chase the things I see as important. They also challenge me to do it in a way that is honest. If I can look at my wife and daughter and know I did things the right way, I can go to bed happy and try again the next day. This business is tough, and I’ve been very fortunate. I always assume the job I finish is my last job—it’s just a thing I can’t shake. It keeps me hungry for my next gig.