Hank Steinberg the co-creator, executive producer, and a writer for the thrilling TV series The Last Ship discussed his new show. With great characters and plots the show has the crew of a US naval destroyer forced to confront the reality of a new existence when a pandemic kills off most of the earth’s population. The blackfive.net interview with Hank Steinberg is below.
Elise Cooper: Rumor has it you will be attending the Military Book Fair (www.militarybookfair.org) in San Diego on November 8th at the USS Midway. True?
Hank Steinberg: I’ve had the pleasure of working on the San Diego Navy Base extensively with the Commanders and crews of the USS Halsey and USS Dewey during production of “The Last Ship.” We created characters in the show based on the real-life dedication and strength of leadership that we have seen first hand. I am happy to be a part of the Military Book Fair events and book signings on Nov 8th as a way to recognize and thank our active military, veterans, and their families for their incredible service.
EC: The show is based on the novel of the same title by William Brinkley. Did you read it?
HS: Yes. I brainstormed with Steven Kane about the storyline. This book was written in the 1980s about the Cold War era. The concept has a nuclear war destroying much of civilization with the only survivors being those on board this one ship. Both the show and the book are about survival.
EC: Why did you decide to come up with this premise?
HS: I was asked to come on board after the rights to the book were bought. I was always attracted to apocalyptic ideas and how it challenges characters. One of my favorite books in high school was On The Beach by Nevil Shute. There is something primal existential about these worlds. I was always drawn to these stories.
EC: What changes did you make from the book?
HS: We needed to modernize it yet keep the central idea of the lone ship. We wondered what could wipe out the majority of the planet in this day and age. The idea of the plague felt much more current and provided more material for the story. The book and the series does not have a ready antidote. The key to the series is having someone, a doctor, on the ship potentially coming up with a cure.
EC: What is the theme of the show?
HS: How does the crew stay together through adversity and the challenges they need to overcome? How does it manage when the Navy does not exist anymore and the only thing holding them together in this chaotic world is the Captain’s moral authority, military discipline, their belief in each other, and the hope for the future?
EC: Is this art imitating real life?
HS: We decided to have a rogue Russian bad guy before Putin became somewhat of an enemy once again. Unfortunately the Ebola outbreak made our show feel more grimly realistic. The fear of flus and pandemics has always been out there. This new strain and being in the headlines along with a Russian bad guy makes our show seem more relevant.
EC: It’s a nice change that the good guys come out ahead. Was that intentional?
HS: I have always been attracted to having heroes in a story. It is interesting to watch how these people deal with impossible circumstances and find the strength and courage within themselves. For me, I am interested in the ongoing struggle and how they evolve to become noble people, without making them too old-fashioned because we do give them flaws. The main characters are trying to do the right thing and are up against incredible odds. Every time they have a win it is painted with some kind of sacrifice or loss. This is what makes the show have a bittersweet feeling about it and adds a complexity. The good characters are noble, trying to do the right thing, generous with their crew, and are upstanding people.
EC: Can you discuss the bad guys since they are based on the real bad guys of today?
HS: We are not trying to make political statements. It felt right to go to Guantanamo Bay and have it deserted except for a few terrorists. We had the ship in the Arctic so it followed that the bad guys should be Russian.
EC: Why did you start the show off in the Arctic Sea?
HS: We needed the ship away from the mainstream world for months. We wanted them to remain radio silent because they needed to avoid the Russians knowing they were there. From that followed the Russian decision to attack them.
EC: Did you consult with the military?
HS: Yes. There are many military advisors on the set who are former SEALs. They tell us how to do the action stuff. We also have people from the Navy who arrange things logistically from being able to film on the ship to providing help with the dialogue, the way people move, and how they act. We want to be as realistic as possible.
EC: Do you have scientific advisors as well that work with Rhona Mitra, Dr. Rachel Scott?
HS: We have several. Some come to the set to make sure we have the correct props and equipment. They work with Rhona to teach her how to use the equipment. Rhona is a very dedicated actress and she is deep into the character. She has done a lot of research about Virology. She asks a lot of questions from the advisors about viruses. It is important to her that when she is saying her lines she understands what they mean, where they come from, and why her character is saying it.
EC: Did you film on a real navy ship?
HS: In LA we built a set that mirrors what is on the ship. We also go to the ship several times a year to shoot other things we could not afford to build on the set. All the exteriors are shot on a naval ship in San Diego. We use visual effects to show the ship as moving.
EC: Did you film in the actual ocean?
HS: The actors are in big water tanks and we have the water move like the ocean. For some of the wider shots we have a double in the real ocean.
EC: Can you give a heads up about Season 2?
HS: It will be back next summer with thirteen episodes. Next season viewers will understand what a big job it is for the crew to save the world, and the complications that will come with that. There will be a big twist at the end of Season 1, which propels Season 2, although the trajectory does not change. There is the possibility of a threat when some of the crew wonders why they have to take orders anymore.
EC: Will there be any romantic relationships since that kiss between the Captain and the doctor seemed very real?
HS: The relationship between the two lieutenants will evolve. If you sensed that there is something between the Captain and the doctor it is probably true.
EC: What do you want the viewers to get out of it?
HS: We live somewhat vicariously through the characters. I want people to think about what would I do, and how would I react in that situation. Sitting on their couch but feeling as if they are there.