The Player’s Alex Kane has become one of the best characters on TV. He’s tough, smart, charismatic and saving the day. That’s no surprise given that he’s played by Philip Winchester, who’s basically made ass-kicking his day job over the last five years. Heading into tonight’s final episode, Philip talked to Strike Back Examiner about the exhaustive journey Alex has taken.
When we left Alex in “Downtown Odds,” he was ten seconds away from murdering a drug dealer. Given everything he’s been through over the past eight episodes – from constantly chasing his missing ex-wife to getting beaten up on a regular basis and being lied to at almost every turn – is our hero finally at the end of his rope? We asked if there’s anyone left that he trusts as it all comes to a head.
“I think when we get to that point, we were kind of systematically breaking everyone down in the whole story, it was on purpose,” Philip told us. “No one trusted anybody; everyone was breaking down. When we lose the relationship between Cal [Damon Gupton] and Alex, that’s when stuff really starts to hit the fan and I think that’s on purpose and it was setting us up for [episode] ten and all the things that were going to happen in ten.
“I think Alex trusts Cal; he’s just done hurting him. Cal’s never given him a reason to not trust him, but he just can’t hurt him anymore,” he said of that floundering bond, which has been on a downward slide since the pilot and reaches a breaking point tonight. “So when Cal says to him I’m done, man, I’m done with this, I think that’s the final straw for Alex. To lose Cal for him is to lose the most significant friendship in his life, and I think he’s just completely done at that point.”
But that’s not the only thing that’s been taken away from him. Alex has spent the entire season trying to locate his ex-wife Ginny Lee (Daisy Betts), and all he’s found is a mounting pile of evidence that she’s at best a liar and at worst involved with some terrible people. Yet none of this has seemed to make a dent in his desire to find her. Is any of the truth sinking in?
“He’s totally in denial,” Philip said, telling us that even he didn’t know half the information that was revealed and that it made him re-evaluate his character. “I’m like, come on Alex, Ginny is obviously not who she said she was,” he continued. “My opinion about him, just his determinedness and his bullheadedness and the way he had to face the world, had to change a little bit.
“I thought something’s wrong in there, because he must be a hopeless romantic in there somewhere, otherwise he would completely see what’s in front of him. His job is to see what’s in front of him. He’s a security expert, he’s ex-Special Forces. He has to see what’s in front of him, so something is fogging him. The feelings are getting in the way.
“That was fun to explore, how through this hopeless romantic that Ginny had brought out in him and the fact she had saved his life with what she’d done in the Middle East and saved his soul, literally, that was completely blinding him to the fact that she was not who she said she was,” he continued. “That was coming out week by week and it was fun to see that.”
That’s what separates Alex from the pack. There’s no shortage of characters out there fighting crime, with police procedurals and a whole spate of superheroes on TV. But there’s an emotional journey Alex is taking that is so compelling to watch. At the same time that you want him to do well and you want him to get what he wants, you’re baffled that he can’t see the warning signs about someone so important to him.
You also want to dive into what makes this man tick and how he became our hero. It’s been laid in, since the first episode, that Alex has had a long and complicated and not always above-board history. The Player is as much an exploration of who he is as it is about what he’s going through. That’s why Philip was absolutely perfect for the role. He is a master at digging deep into characters and laying them all out on the table; no one develops a hero better than he does.
Many of the qualities that make Alex so endearing – his heart, his outgoing personality, his sense of humor in the face of some heavy stuff – are directly from Philip. He wouldn’t be such a memorable and fleshed-out character if anyone else was playing him. And that then really becomes the core of the series, watching this man who had everything in place and it’s all falling down, but he’s still going to do everything that he can not only to stop it, but to save other people along the way.
Yet while Alex’s relationships with the people he always had in his life have been crashing and burning, one that’s developed over the last eight episode is the unlikely alliance he’s made with Cassandra (Charity Wakefield). Though he doesn’t know that she knew Ginny, she might be the closest thing to a support system he has left.
“I also really dug the way they were writing my relationship with Cassandra,” Philip reflected. “Charity is like Damon; she’s just a dream, she’s an absolute pleasure to work with. She’s just so damned good and she gives and gives and gives and then on top of it, like the feather in the cap, she’s just a kick-ass person.
“We would figure stuff out; we would just kind of hash out scenes together. Stuff we were shooting at three AM in the morning and we had half an hour to shoot it, and we’d still take the time to go what the heck are we doing? We need to figure out what this is and who we are. She was always on board for doing that. I had such a ball working with her.”
That chemistry, for him, is the hardest aspect of saying goodbye to The Player. Not just with the cast, but also with the crew, there’s a match here that you don’t find every day. “It was just a really tough show and what was amazing was because of those people, because of our crew, it was a lot easier than it should have been,” he explained. “It was still brutal, it was still tough on us, but because of those people, all the stuff we did manage to get was possible.
“I’m grateful for them, I’m grateful for my time on NBC and I’m hoping that I get the opportunity to work with as talented a group of people as was on that show, because that was the saddest part of it was the crew and the cast, that mix, that kind of casting is tough to do and I hope that happens again.”
“I think my view of network TV has changed,” Philip concluded. “I wasn’t really sure what network television was going to be like. I look at a lot of things that are on network TV now and regardless of whether I like the product or not, I can look at it and go, I know how hard these people working, and it’s a grind. It’s brutal.
“What they’re trying to put out, what they’re trying to do under the limitations of network TV and the limitations of storytelling that are unfortunately are sort of there when you have to put stuff out on primetime, I respect it immensely. I respect the people around it, all the ways they’re trying to tell a story or the ways they’re trying to get a good story across, that’s tough to do.
“Also, one of the things I thought was, we did Strike Back for four years, we had a ball, it was a tight little show and yet the visibility of it wasn’t huge,” he added. “Then all of a sudden, with Sully [Sullivan Stapleton] and I being on NBC, our visibility just skyrocketed. Network TV was so damned good at that. They just put you out there and they put you everywhere.”
Hopefully that means more people will take notice of how talented Philip is. The Player has really been his showcase, whether it’s crashing through a hotel window or breaking down his character. In this one role he’s done everything that you could possibly ask an actor to do, in addition to being the gold standard of what a TV leading man should be. After tonight, there’ll be no doubt that he’s left it all on the table. The only regret is that he would’ve continued being just as brilliant if Alex had been able to keep going after the truth.
One thing we’ll never get an answer to? How everyone keeps getting into Alex’s apartment. “I said to them, some security expert,” Philip laughed. “Alex Kane’s a terrible security expert. At least put a camera at the bottom of your elevator for crying out loud. At least lock the door, put a lock on the gate. I’ve had mother-in-laws, serial killers, Johnson, just about every episode someone was ending up in my place. I was like for crying out loud, just put a lock on the door, man!'”
The Player airs tonight at 10 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.