As the critically-acclaimed creator of such iconic series as The Shield, The Unit
and The Chicago Code,
executive producer Shawn Ryan instinctively knew he wanted to tackle a whole new genre for his next television project. When he was approached by writer Karl Gadjusek with the premise of a rogue American submarine that gets itself caught smack dab in the middle of a massive conspiracy theory, Ryan leapt at the chance to develop the show -- which would ultimately become the new action/thriller series Last Resort.
"I jumped on the idea pretty quickly, because I thought it was an incredible concept -- and one of the things I pride myself on is never repeating myself," the 45-year-old, Emmy-nominated (The Shield
) writer/producer explains. "I don't want any one show I do to feel like I'm trending the same territory as another. Last Resort
was an opportunity that touched on certain ideas in my wheelhouse, namely, a group of dynamic people in a dangerous situation, but with a concept and a scope that I've never done before. I like the idea that this was a big huge epic kind of show. When it started to come together, I was like, 'Wow, I'd really like to see a show like that. And, if the only way I can see it is to help make, then I guess I'll have to do that.'"
In Last Resort
, five hundred feet beneath the ocean’s surface, the crew of the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine named the Colorado -- the most powerful nuclear submarine ever built -- receive their orders to fire nuclear weapons at the country of Pakistan. But, the orders have been transmitted over a communications channel designed only to be used if the U.S. homeland has been wiped out. Captain Marcus Chaplin (Andre Braugher) demands confirmation of the orders to fire, only to be unceremoniously relieved of duty. XO Sam Kendal (Scott Speedman) finds himself suddenly in charge of the submarine and facing the same difficult decision. When he also demands confirmation of the orders, the Colorado is fired upon and hit by a fellow American vessel. The submarine and its crew, who are actually honorable patriots, now find themselves crippled on the ocean floor and declared rogue enemies of their own country. With nowhere left to turn, Chaplin and Kendal take the sub on the run and bring the men and women of the Colorado to an exotic but dangerous island. There they will find refuge, romance and a chance at a new life, even as they try to clear their names and get back home.
Ryan would develop the idea for Last Resort
with veteran writer Karl Gajdusek (Trespass, Dead Like Me
), who confesses he has always been intrigued with the subject of submarines. "Before working on Last Resort
, I had a love of submarine stories from early on," admits Gajdusek, who also serves as an executive producer on Last Resort
. "My father had HUGO books and books about subs in the South Pacific all over our library at home. So, I always loved the submarine genre, especially some of those great films like The Hunt for Red October
and Crimson Tide
-- those kind of fantastic, tension-filled sub movies. So, as I started to think about what the show could be about it, it would take in that sort of tension of the sub genre. I thought more about what the modern day holistic missile submarine is; a realization that one of these submarines is such a powerful weaponry; a piece of machinery that anyone who owns one really could plant a flag and say, 'Hey, I am new, small, nuclear-armed first world nation.'
"That was sort of the gem of the idea," Gajdusek remembers. "Once I sort of said, 'Okay, that's the premise,' is about thesame time that I went to Shawn and we said, 'Can we make a show about this?' And we started to come up with who the principal characters would be and what would the story be. What would separate a machine like this -- and the people who command a machine like this -- from their homeland? One of the things that was really important to us, as we developed the show, was the section at the middle of the pilot -- where the captain questions the order he receives to fire because the last thing in the world he wanted to do -- because we didn't want to do a show about a group of military people who've sworn an oath to push that button, and when the time comes, they go, ‘Okay, well, on this day, I just didn't feel like it’ or they had a crisis of conscience. So, we worked very vigilantly to make sure that the plot points around that section, and would hold water, and it would be something where even military people would say, ‘You know what? I might question that order as well.’”
Generally, when a motion picture or a television series about any branch of the U.S. armed services goes into production, the producers try to enlist the assistance and expertise of representatives of the Navy, Army or Air Force. Ryan jokingly admits that wasn’t really an option for a show like Last Resort.
“First of all, there are two kinds of shows or movies when you're dealing with the military,” the Illinois-born Ryan says. "There are those that get full cooperation and those that don't seek it. Given the nature of our show, I just assumed that we weren't going to do the kind of show that the Navy was going to embrace. But it does raise an important question. I have a great respect for the U.S. Navy and for the Military General, and we write about a fictional situation that leads to this event. You know, to be clear, the Navy has nothing to do with this show. They don't endorse it or denounce it -- as far as I know. We're on our own in that regard. Plus, we're dealing with a vessel that is very top secret. It’s not easy, nor should it be, to get photographs inside a nuclear submarine. So, in many ways, we have to use our imagination, and that frees us up a little bit and allows us to take a few liberties. We're never going to be 100% authentic because so much of this stuff is classified and yet we try to find the whole freedom in that to make sure that we can tell the stories that we tell.”
Unable to film in a real U.S. submarine, Ryan built a massive set that houses the inner workings of the show’s nuclear submarine used in Last Resort.
The set is massive and, indeed, impressive, but when one walks onto the soundstage they immediately begin to develop an anxiety-filled case of claustrophobia. “A lot of people get that feeling, but no one in the cast and crew has admitted that, probably because they like to keep their jobs,“ Ryan says with a laugh. “Our set looks pretty claustrophobic on screen, but it is actually a little bit bigger than it is in real life. One of the things I did was consult a lot of former members of the Navy about the set, and they told us our set is definitely roomier than the real thing. They even said that they wished real subs were that roomy. Of course, we've got to fit cameras and various things in it, in a way that they don't have to in a real submarine. But, no one has admitted claustrophobia. I imagine if they have it that they're keeping it to themselves for, you know, job security purposes.”
The impressive cast for Last Resort
features, as mentioned, Andre Braugher (Homicide: Life on the Streets
) as Captain Marcus Chaplin and Scott Speedman (Underworld
franchise) as XO Sam Kendal. The main cast is rounded out by Daisy Betts (Sea Patrol
) as Lieutenant Grace Shepard, Dichen Lachman (Being Human
) as Tani Tumrenjack, Daniel Lissing (Crownies
) as SEAL Officer James King, Sahr Ngaujah (House of Payne
) as Mayor Julian Serrat, Camille de Pazzis (The First Day of the Rest of Your Life
) as Sophie Gerard, Autumn Reeser (Hawaii Five-O
) as Kylie Sinclair, Jessy Schram (Once Upon a Time
) as Christine Kendal and Robert Patrick (The Unit
) as Master Chief Joseph Prosser. However, Last Resort
really belongs to its two leading men -- Braugher and Speedman. Although the roles weren’t specifically for the two actors, the pair are a perfect fit in their roles.
In fact, Gadjusek has been particularly impressed with Braugher’s character research and his actual embodiment of Captain Chaplin. “Andre is a remarkable actor, and he does his research -- I mean, in depth,” Gadjusek explains. “Shortly after we cast Andre, we had a series of conversations -- telling him what we loved about him and he talked about what he responded to in a script. After we cast him, he immediately started reading troves of books, both fictional and non-fiction, and just researching the role. He's a researcher. As as an actor, he is someone who backs himself up with interviewing people who've been there, researching books, everything. He's a studied actor. We couldn’t have found anyone better. He is the Captain."
While Last Resort
is, most of the time, a tension-filled thriller, it also has its tender moments -- filled with several love stories and intimate relationships. One such romance involves Scott Speedman’s character, XO Sam Kendall, and his wife, Christine (Jessy Schram), who is back in the States waiting for her old man. However, at one point, she is led to believe her husband is dead. The charmingly handsome -- often shirtless -- Speedman, the former star of Felicity
and the Underworld
film franchise, is sure to help in pushing up the ratings and demo numbers among female viewers of Last Resort
, with his touching story of a man who just wants to get back home to his wife -- half around the world.
“We love that romantic situation in the show,” Ryan confesses. “One of the things that we spoke about when we first started talking about the show was the idea of Odysseus in The Odyssey
and him trying to get back home to Penelope, but separated by a task and by an adventure. Scott Speedman’s character is alone on an island with beautiful women all around him -- who might be too easy, so that adds a little emotional tension. What's probably best about the sort of sexy side of our show is that it's unfulfilled, very often. It's about the moral problem of yearning for what you can't have. We talk about the show as people in a time of war and not a show about war -- that can mean people separated by war. So Scott, or Sam, and his wife are separated by war and they're part of it. It can also be that you get pressed together with strange bed fellows. There are characters that, all of a sudden, he can't be around -- attractive characters, he can't not be around. It can lead to the edge of temptation, and we sort of think that's probably the best situation to play those such stories in.”
Since the crew of the Colorado spend a great deal of their time on an exotic, tropical island, comparisons to the cult series Lost
have been inevitable. Ryan laments that he was ready for "the Lost
fallout." "I'm very sensitive to the comparisons to Lost
," admits Ryan, who is good friends with the creators of the former hit series. "There are some thematic things that are similar. We are filming in Hawaii, like they did. We are a group of people who are on a vessel who end up on this island. I see the similarities there. But, my job is to make sure that the similarities kind of stopped there. I'm kind of like the Lost
police in the writer's room. When an idea comes up, I'll be the one that says, 'Well, they did something kind of similar to that in Lost
, so we can't do it.' So I've frustrated some of our writers by being tough in that regard. So hopefully, there's enough of a similarity that's evocative of that great big hit on ABC, while still being different enough that we can stand outside the shadow of a giant like that show and try to make it our own way."
With Last Resort
making its debut during a presidential election year and given the current political climate, how does the hit-making executive producer ensure he has created a show that will appeal to everyone? "To get to the heart of your question, who knows how to appeal to everyone?," Ryan answers, rhetorically . "I don't think any show does appeal to everyone, but we do hope that the show has a mass appeal. I would say that one of the main things we are doing on the show is that we're really focusing on the characters in the situation. We're not focusing on a political agenda. We're not naming political parties in this show. For example, the president who seems to be going off the rails in our pilot, we're not identifying as one side or the other. And really, this isn't a show that's about Democrat versus Republican. It's more a show about power versus the less powerful and investigating those dynamics. In that way, anyone, no matter what side of the political aisle they're on, whether they're all the way over to the Tea Party side or whether they are from the other side. I think both sides share a certain distrust of certain government institutions and the belief that things could be better. There's a sense that a lot of people feel like many things are kind of off the rails in our country at the moment. And they have the idea of, 'I could do better.'
"In our pilot for Last Resort,
we sort of touch on that with Captain Marcus, at the end, where he goes, 'Hey, maybe we could do better right here, right now,'" Ryan continues, "and yet the show, I think, as it gets past the pilot and gets in the future episodes, will deal with the difficulty of that. It's easier to think that you can do better than the guy in the office or the guy running for office. But the realities are much more difficult than that. So, I think Last Resort
is just touching on things that are human as opposed to things that are partisan, if that makes sense? I think that's how we're going to appeal to everyone."
Last Resort launches on Thursday, September 27, 2012 at 8:00pmET/7:00pmCT on the ABC network and will air Thursday nights at 8:00pmET/PT. (Check local listings)
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