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Commanding 'The Last Ship'

Jun. 14, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Eric Dane — left, with co-star Rhona Mitra — said 'The Last Ship' stays true to Navy regulations in most cases, but not always to uniform wear rules, such as when a sailor should wear his cover.
Eric Dane — left, with co-star Rhona Mitra — said 'The Last Ship' stays true to Navy regulations in most cases, but not always to uniform wear rules, such as when a sailor should wear his cover. (TNT photos)
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Bonus Fact

The fictional destroyer’s embedded SEAL team has a pet German shepherd named Admiral Halsey, after William “Bull” Halsey, one of four World War II-era naval officers to reach the five-star rank of fleet admiral.

A lot can happen while you’re away on deployment, but you probably don’t expect the world to end.

That’s the premise of “The Last Ship,” a new drama from TNT, premiering June 22.

Four months into a deployment — during which the crew has no contact with home — Cmdr. Tom Chandler and the fictional destroyer Nathan James turn their communications back on to check in with the Pentagon. What they find is that the world has devolved into chaos, thanks to a virus that has killed or sickened 80 percent of the planet’s population.

The catch? The unexposed Nathan James could be humanity’s last hope.

The show, based on a 1988 novel with the same name by William Brinkley (in that case, nuclear war had devastated the Earth), is executive-produced by action movie legend Michael Bay and stars Eric Dane, best known for his role as Dr. Mark “McSteamy” Sloan on “Grey’s Anatomy.”

Military Times spoke to Dane in April about choosing the role, working with the Navy, and why he thinks service members should watch. Questions and answers have been edited for brevity.

Q. Your father was in the Navy. Did you ever think you’d play a military role?

A. My whole father’s side of the family is military. My father fought in the Vietnam War, along with his brother, my uncle Albert, who flew Hueys. I believe Uncle Albert was in the Army. That whole side of the family is military. I knew eventually I would. You figure, you grow up wanting to be so many different things. If you’re an actor, you can be all of those things. You just fake it a little bit.

Q. Did you study for the part?

A. We couldn’t have made this show without the Navy’s help. And I didn’t need to do too much studying on the Navy because we were in it the second we hit that ship. All the costumes are real and the ship is very real. We went underway with the [destroyer] Halsey for three days. The commanding officer was [Cmdr.] Mike Weeldreyer: I didn’t craft my character after him, per se, but I got to see him. They were ... putting the ship through its paces, and I got do see him do his job. I also kind of ripped off a couple things that he would do, just in his demeanor and his stature, and how he dealt with his crew.

Q. What was it like to film on a ship?

A. I just felt happy that it wasn’t a submarine. Physically, it was a little challenging because the spaces were so tight. The geography of setting up the scene and blocking it, where you had to put your camera, got a little bit challenging. But the biggest obstacle for the actors, I think, was to keep the body language loose and not too stilted. Because, you know, you’re in tight spaces, immediately what you want to do is, you want to tighten up. So for me personally, the challenge was to stay comfortable in an uncomfortable situation.

Q. Do you think the show portrays the Navy accurately?

A. We tried to uphold the standards and the traditions that the men and women of the United States Navy hold every day. We did as much as we could; we depicted it as accurately as we could. We had military advisers on set with us saying, you know, if you’re outside, if you’re underway, you have the cover on. If you’re on the bridge, you wouldn’t have the cover on. At the end of the day, we had to keep in mind, look, we’re making a TV show. So we tried to keep it as accurate as we could but, you know, you have to see the guy’s face. So if the cover was a distraction, we took it off.

Q. Do you think sailors will buy it?

A. The only thing that I don’t think is believable — I think people would balk at, maybe, the circumstances. But you know, 30 years ago this would have been science fiction. Now it’s highly probable, this set of circumstances that we’ve fallen upon. But I think everybody in the Navy will sort of feel like this is pretty accurately depicted. My hope is that anybody in the Navy watching would say, yes, under these circumstances, this is how we would react and this is how we would behave.

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