Philip Winchester
Philip Winchester

Philip Winchester: The player on end of ‘Strike Back’

Philip Winchester thought he had put Sgt. Michael Stonebridge to bed before he started filming his NBC series “The Player.” But as fans of “Strike Back” know, you can’t keep a good Section 20 operative down.

While filming “The Player” pilot, director Bharat Nalluri challenged Winchester, saying he was mishandling his weapon.

“He was like, ‘You can’t be that good. That’s fucking outrageous how good you are,’ ” Winchester told me at San Diego Comic-Con International in July.

The Montana native had to drop some of the skills he picked up playing the highly trained Stonebridge for four seasons on Cinemax’s “Strike Back.” Alex Kane, his character in “The Player,” is an FBI- and Navy SEAL-trained former government operative who has killed while working covert ops. But he isn’t the military man Stonebridge is, Winchester said.

“He’s not that good. It’s not in his bones,” he told me as he referenced Bruce Willis’s “Die Hard” character. “He’s good because he’s tenacious and he’s good because he is a John McClane.” 

After leaving the service, Kane became a security expert in Las Vegas—until he met Cassandra (Charity Wakefield) and Mr. Johnson (Wesley Snipes) in the series premiere. Now Kane works as the player in a high stakes game in which the world’s most wealthy people bet on him or the criminals he’s been tasked to stop.

Mr. Johnson and Cassandra are part of a shadowy organization that has been around for so long it has tentacles in every possible government agency, bank or major institution. The society, through Cassandra and Mr. Johnson, runs the game that was created to prevent those super wealthy folks from wrecking havoc on the world. (Apparently they caused World War I.)

“There’s a lot of hidden stuff in this story,” Winchester said. (I’ve added the NBC video “History of the Game” below to help explain all this.)

With all this knowledge at their fingertips, Cassandra can help Winchester on his missions as long as they follow the rules of the game.

The gamblers may not follow the rules as closely as the House, Winchester said, teasing that Kane may battle more people than the criminals he supposed to stop.

“They’re so rich that they can’t lose enough, so they start to weigh the odds,” he said. “They start to bring in their own players to try and counter the player. … They think they can influence the game.”

Related: Philip Winchester: Boxers or briefs?

Winchester’s third mission as Alex Kane airs at 9 p.m. Oct. 8 on NBC, a day before the series finale of “Strike Back.” A “Strike Back” movie is now in the works, but this summer Winchester got emotional when talking about the end of the series. (Watch the video at the top of this story.)

And although it didn’t end the way he wanted—there probably wouldn’t be a movie if it had—he said he’s happy with the finale, which will air at 9 p.m. Oct. 9 on Cinemax.

“We ended in a good place,” he said. “We caught the bomb. We saved the world several times but we didn’t jump the shark.”

Philip Winchester on transitioning from ‘Strike Back’ to ‘The Player’

Philip Winchester explains ‘The Player’