I first noticed Andre Braugher when he played the role of Thomas, one of the soldiers assembled to form the first black regiment during the Civil War, in “Glory.” The dignity in his performance played perfectly off of the angry resentment of Denzel Washington’s contributing, I have no doubt, to Washington winning the Oscar for his performance.
Probably best known for his Emmy Award winning work on NBC’s “Homicide,” the Chicago born Braugher has also done fine work in such films as “Duets,” “Striking Distance” and “Salt” and has had recurring roles in such popular television shows as “House,” “Law and Order: SVU” and “Men of a Certain Age.” This season Braugher stars as Captain Marcus Chaplin in “Last Resort”, skipper of a U.S. Submarine whose crew is now being targeted by the government for not obeying what Chaplin deemed an illegal order to fire their weapons. While promoting the second half of the season Braugher spoke with Media Mikes about what brought him to the role and what to expect later this season.
Mike Smith: Thank you for taking the time to talk this afternoon. It’s taken me 23 years but finally I get to tell you how brilliantly moving your performance was in “Glory.”
Andre Braugher: Really? Wow, thank you.
MS: After everything that has happened so far, how tough is it do you think for Chaplin to enter into negotiations with the government?
AB: Well at this point I think it’s what Chaplin wants. I mean, I have – he has a crew of sailors, very few of which truly understand what happened on the con and what the ramifications of being considered treasonous or renegades or mutineers of some kind. And so he wants to give his crew as well as his officers an opportunity to surrender the ship and not be held accountable for what Marcus and Sam did, you know, back in the pilot in terms of firing a missile on the United States. So it’s quite important because at this point it seems as though this is a crew that’s held together by the belief we ought to stick together long enough so that we can make it back home and these negotiations really are a way to get back home. Because in essence we’re not equipped to be traitors. We’re patriots and it’s of the utmost importance that we defend ourselves.
MS: Was there one factor that drew you to the series, the writing or the story line, that made you want to do the show?
AB: No it really wasn’t one factor. I mean, this is a show with a very ambitious premise and it could easily 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. So that’s one consideration and 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.
MS: How much more tense will the situation get between Chaplin and Prosser as the season goes on? (NOTE: Robert Patrick co-stars on “Last Resort” as Master Chief Joseph Prosser)
AB: Well this is – well, you know, Robert is a very intense guy so this is what happens I think when patriots clash. We’re both very passionate about what it is that we’re doing and we’re both supremely concerned about the health and welfare of our crew. I would have to say that Chaplin needs Prosser very much not only because he exercises discipline over the crew but it’s because he is a touchstone for the crew. If the chief of the boat thinks that it’s right then the guys have a tendency to fall in line. And so Prosser is very important to Chaplin and is very important that – for Chaplin – that Prosser understands that our whole goal here is to get back home and to get back home in safety. And after last week’s episode in which the Secretary of Defense basically said to blow the boat under water and to kill all of these sailors, I think we understand that going home in this state would be perilous and we’re looking for the opportunity to go home safely and stand trial. And this week’s episode, “Skeleton Crew,” is really about our opportunity to negotiate, an opportunity to go home and stand trial, more so for the officers than it is for the enlisted men because ultimately officers are the ones who are responsible for the conduct of the ship. Prosser and Imay disagree but I think we do understand that the whole point is to get back home.
MS: What is it about Chaplin that you relate to and like the most?
AB: 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 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, and every weapon at our disposal is brought to bear to make these negotiations fruitful. The thing that’s fascinating is that when I go back to the pilot 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 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.
MS: Have you or the other cast members heard from military people about the characters you’re playing and more importantly the premise and how provocative it is?
AB: Well it’s provocative as well as being farfetched. And they comment on that as well. I think 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. 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 the action every week. And basically giving 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.