Andre Braugher as Captain Marcus Chaplin in Last Resort
In 1989, actor Andre Braugher made his big screen debut and delivered an unforgettable performance as Thomas Searles in Glory. He subsequently spent six seasons playing Detective Frank Pemberton on the long-running TV drama Homicide: Life on the Street. The actor’s work garnered him Television Critics Association Awards for individual achievement in drama in 1997 and 1998. Braugher was nominated for an Emmy for best actor in a drama series in 1996 and then again in 1998, the latter of which he won.
City of Angels, Poseidon and Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer are among the actor’s other film credits. In addition to various made-for-TV movies, miniseries and guest-spots on TV shows, Braugher appeared as a series regular in Gideon’s Crossing, Hack and Men of a Certain Age. The actor can be seen in the recurring role of defense attorney Bayard Ellis in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.
Currently, the award-winning stage and screen actor stars as Captain Marcus Chaplin in the hit ABC series Last Resort. In the show’s pilot episode, the captain and his crew of the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine Colorado - the most powerful nuclear submarine ever built - are ordered to fire nuclear weapons at a foreign country. When Chaplin demands confirmation of the order, he is relieved of command. His XO (Executive Officer) Sam Kendal (Scott Speedman) is ordered to take over command, but when he, too, refuses to comply without confirmation, the Colorado is fired upon and hit.
Suddenly, these brave Navy men and woman end up on the run and must find a way to clear their names and return home safely. In a recent episode, “Skeleton Crew,” supposed negotiations to get the Colorado and its crew home did not play out quite as planned. Meanwhile, in last week’s “Another Fine Navy Day,” Chaplin and his people found themselves under attack yet again and from an unknown source.
Braugher recently took some time out of his busy day to speak with me as well as other journalists about his work on Last Resort. The following is an edited version of that Q & A. Enjoy!
After everything that has happened so far, how tough is it do you think for Chaplin to enter into negotiations with the government?
Andre Braugher: At this point I think it’s what Chaplin wants. I mean, he has a crew of sailors, very few of whom truly understand what happened on the con and the ramifications of being considered treasonous, renegades or mutineers of some kind. He wants to give his crew as well as his officers an opportunity to surrender the ship and not be held accountable for what he and Sam did 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 crew is being held together by the belief that they should stick together long enough to make it back home, and these negotiations really are a way to do just that. In essence, they’re not equipped to be traitors. They’re patriots and it’s of the utmost importance that they defend themselves.
There are a number of relationships in the series that impact patriotism. How does that challenge you as an actor when playing that aspect of the story?
AB: Well, I think all the roles I’ve played have really focused on either the great conflict or how the great conflict affects the people who my character loves. When I look back at any of the miniseries or TV series I’ve done, the heart and soul of the show has always revolved around how those we love are affected by our decisions.
I’m often cast as a hardnosed, hyper-confident type of guy, so the main consideration always seems to be how to help the people who my character loves live with the decisions that are necessary for our survival. It’s a challenge that I’ve taken on before and it doesn’t change all that much.
Was there one factor, writing or story-wise, that made you want to come do Last Resort?
AB: There really wasn’t one factor. This is a show with a very ambitious premise and it could easily evolve into something kind of silly, you know? However, (series co-creator/executive producer) Shawn Ryan has a knack for making very interesting, provocative television, and his abilities are apparent.
So that’s one consideration; the script was another one. Martin Campbell (executive producer/director), who I’ve worked with before and admire a great deal, was a third consideration. So it was a confluence thing. No one thing would have made it possible, but all three of them together made it a very attractive prospect to be a part of this show.
How hard is it for a very serious drama like yours to pull in viewers when it’s surrounded by a number of crazy comedies?
AB: That question can probably be answered best by the people over at ABC as well as our show runners, all of whom can really talk about the intricacies of scheduling and such. I feel, though, that our show is strong enough to stand up against the comedies as well as Thursday Night Football.
Last Resort seems to be something that has peaked peoples’ curiosity and that they seem to be really attuned to. The series gets stronger and stronger every week and that shows in our numbers, which are getting better every week.
We didn’t expect the pilot to make a big pop and really the question becomes what happens after that. However, as each episode comes along, it seems more and more people are interested. Thankfully, the DVR numbers are being considered, whereas before they weren’t always taken into account. When those DVR numbers come in it’s very heartening to see that the show is gaining in strength as well as in viewers. So regardless of the competition, I think we’re in a good position.
How much more tense will the situation get between Chaplin and Prosser (Robert Patrick) as the season goes on?
AB: Robert Patrick is an intense guy, and this is what happens, I think, when patriots clash. Both characters are very passionate about what it is that they’re doing and they’re both supremely concerned about the health and welfare of their crew.
I would have to say that Chaplin needs Prosser very much, not only because he exercises discipline over the crew, but also that he’s become 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. So Prosser is very important to Chaplin and it’s important to my character that Prosser understands that their whole goal is to get back home and do so safely.
Of course, after the episode [“Voluntold”) in which the Secretary of Defense basically said to blow up the boat and kill all the sailors, I think they all understand that going home in such a state would be perilous and, again, they’re looking for the opportunity to return safely and stand trial.
The following episode, “Skeleton Crew,” is really about negotiating the opportunity to go home and stand trial, more so for the officers than for the enlisted men, because ultimately officers are the ones who are responsible for the conduct onboard ship. My character asks Prosser to make sure that they get home safely, and Chaplin believes he’s following through on that. They may disagree, but I think they do understand that the whole point is to get back home.
What is it about Chaplin that you relate to and like the most?
AB: I like the fact that he’s thinking ahead, you know? It’s the strategic part of Chaplin that’s interesting to me, and the fact that the next step may seem like the right one, but when you think several steps further out, it turns out to be a misstep. So the negotiations are an important piece of theatre, and every weapon at their disposal is brought to bear to make those negotiations fruitful.
There’s a scene in the pilot after they discover the bombers are coming to make a strike on their position and everyone is scrambling back to the boat. Everyone is thinking, “We have to get the hell out of here. We’ve got to submerge; we’ve got to run,” In that 10 minute scramble back to the boat, Chaplin is thinking, “We’ve got to fire. We’ve got to play this enormous game of chicken.”
Even after they back down from this enormous game of chicken, they’ve got to go even further. They have to put the fear of God out there, otherwise their position really isn’t tenable.
What sticks out most in your mind about working on the pilot episode of Last Resort and initially stepping into the Chaplin role?
AB: What was going through my mind was the fact that we were doing serialized television, and this really was an opportunity to explore a world that you usually don’t in procedural dramas.
Procedurals always stand alone and every episode is essentially the same. That’s true of Homicide. The episode opens with someone dead, and the characters are going to avenge that person. That happens again and again and is typical of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit or the other cop shows that I’ve been on.
To absolutely do a serial means you’re going to go forward and progress the characters as well as the story. Shawn Ryan did that brilliantly with The Shield, so I thought, “I’m going to take a shot and take on the challenge of living and breathing this character and growing with it. He’s going to be transformed and I want to be there for every step of the way.” Rather than developing a character and then freezing it, it’s much more exciting to live in this guy’s skin and go through the changes that he goes through.
So that’s what interested me when I looked at the pilot. That and Martin Campbell along with the pedigree of all the people involved as well as the provocative nature of the scripts. All that made the show something I wanted to be a part of.
How have you seen Marcus’ and Sam’s relationship grow and develop and what do you enjoy most about that relationship?
AB: Here’s the thing, Scott Speedman is stepping into his own right now. Just in terms of being 37 years old, he’s at his physical and energetic prime, and he’s maturing as an actor. So it’s quite a pleasure to work with him and to see him growing right before my very eyes.
When it comes to Marcus and Sam, it’s a relationship of admiration. It was hinted at in the pilot that my character recommended that Sam go to Washington, DC and get behind a desk. Chaplin felt that he was a superior officer and would best serve the Navy as a commander from ashore as opposed to an XO.
Part of that storyline is Sam’s unwillingness to go back to shore because he feels like he owes Chaplin something because of what happened in North Korea. However, for my character, that’s what he does to protect his men. It has nothing to do with being repaid.
So it’s a mentor relationship, it’s a father/son relationship, and it’s a relationship with two men who I think admire each other and want the best for one another. That’s what we’re working on from a character as well as actor level. It seems like a good thing and I’m looking forward to exploring that relationship for as long as we go this season and then hopefully next year, too.
Have you and/or the other cast members heard from military people about the characters you’re playing and, more importantly, the show’s premise and how provocative it is?
AB: Well, it’s provocative as well as being farfetched. They comment on that as well. In all the comments that I’ve heard, though, what they really like is that we’re getting inside the heads 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, it’s one thing to have an ambitious premise, but it’s another thing to drift off into a kind of fantasyland behind that premise. I think what we’re dedicated to is making sure that, again, it’s honest, raw, down-to-earth and compelling.
So far that has worked and that’s our greatest goal; that and delivering the action every week and giving the broadcast television audience a “movie” every week. 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.
If this show is lucky enough to get five seasons, do you think Chaplin and the others will ever get off the island and back to Washington, DC and try to continue the story from there?
AB: I anticipate surfacing in the Chesapeake and Chaplin taking a drive down the Beltway to DC where he can surrender himself honorably for his court martial, but that’s far off in the future. Right now it really is a question of survival. There is basically a world war beginning, and after the bombing of Pakistan, this has become the most dangerous time, the start of the war.
Our characters are looking for a lot of different things. They’re looking for breathing room, for food and water, for peace on the island and on the boat, and for a great patron who can protect and shield them from the United States. They’re also looking to get to the heart of this mystery so that they can clear their names and return home. After all, they’re patriots and they’re destined to return home, not to be devious or traitors or pirates on the high seas.
Please note, all Last Resort photos copyright of ABC.