Michelle Lukes on ‘Strike Back’

Strike Back” is a manly man’s show, but there’s always room for a tough girl. Michelle Lukes is original tough girl of Cinemax’s incarnation of the British series.

Lukes’ character, Sgt. Julia Richmond has been there from the beginning, and this season she even got into the field. We got to chat with Lukes by phone for our own private debrief on Sgt. Richmond’s upcoming missions and her dossier of qualifications for the show.

Photo Credit: HBO / David Bloomer

CraveOnline: What's coming up for Julia Richmond?

Michelle Lukes: Oh, some exciting stuff. Gosh it is really difficult without giving too much away. There’s some really cool stuff coming up for her. I think you get to really get inside her head in the next sort of two to three episodes. You get to know more about her loyalties and her relationships and she has tough judgment calls which that sort of stuff is more interesting than perhaps we’ve a chance in the past. You see another layer I guess which has been brilliant for me to play, just great stuff and sort of real emotional stuff which is fantastic.

So I hope people will enjoy seeing this side to her because we have already seen this season sort of the Julia in the field which has also been a lovely, lovely change for the character. But I think as we go further on into the series there is more twists and turns and yeah, you get to see yet another side to her. So hopefully people enjoy it. I think they will so fingers crossed we will see.

CraveOnline: Have you been waiting a long time to develop this side of her?

Michelle Lukes: Oh totally, totally, totally. I mean, this year just in terms of the physicality and the action has just been such a gift for me. I was so jealous last year when the boys were out and they had all this training and it just seemed like super, super fun and I was always kind of really keen to get involved with that but wasn't sure whether that was the direction my character would ever go.

And so coming back this year and having that alone has just been amazing. Physically, I have really enjoyed the new challenges but also the emotional challenges that are coming up or that you will see coming up have also been a real gift too because I guess it is just the characters evolving. And I think the last series you really got to know who she is and you do start to get to know who she is this year and it is just wonderful.

It is wonderful for me to discover as an actor, I hope really wonderful for fans and the viewers to sort of get to know her too. So it is really exciting, super exciting and I am very pleased with how it is sort of panning out for Julia.

CraveOnline: I like seeing you in the field too but is that control room fun also?

Michelle Lukes: Do you mean when the cameras are rolling or when the cameras are off? Inside Section 20 in the remote command, I have to say just sort of from an actor's perspective those scenes are always super, super fun because usually all the team are together and it is just, I don't know if I should say this but it is just a great sort of chance for us to all get together and there is a lot of sort of fun, there is a lot of games and it is just a really lovely working environment.

It is a great sort of mix between work and play and it is not often that we all get to do scenes together. I think each of us really sort of cherish those few moments because we are all very fond of each other in our little unit. Those scenes in Section 20 are a lot of fun to do together. So yay.

CraveOnline: Did you have any special training for the show?

Michelle Lukes: Yeah, we had a huge amount. It never feels like enough but I am so, so grateful for what we had. We went out to South Africa and we had almost a month of training prior to the shoot. We had various sorts of counter terrorism and military advisors that took us through the training and it was an incredible experience.

And I guess I am really pleased that we had that made available to us. I mean, on a personal level as an actor to have gone through that before stepping on set is just brilliant because hopefully it just sort of informs the performance in such a way that you just wouldn't be able to do without having that knowledge. Also we feel like we have a certain responsibility to the people, the men and women that do this job for real and I would hate to be responsible for maybe trivializing it or not giving it the sort of gravitas and the respect it deserves.

I think that going through the training will hopefully help us to do that. I mean, my dad is in the military so I had a sort of very, very basic knowledge of what was involved in terms of lifestyle and training but nothing compares to when you go through it yourself. I think it is as close to reality as it gets. I mean they didn't treat us like actors at all. We were squadees and we were there to work hard and be soldiers and it was just brilliant. We did defense techniques and combat strategy, weapons training, reconnaissance and I guess even just the physical fitness was just insane.

By the end of the month I think I probably felt the best I have ever felt, just physically felt brilliant. I felt like a machine. But unfortunately you can't maintain that once you stop but to have that, you know, preparation was just brilliant. And also brilliant for us actors to spend four weeks together sitting in full camo in boiling heat in bunkers eating like really, really sh*t food out of foil bags. And it is just a real great sort of bonding experience. So yes the training was awesome and it was really fun as well. It was brilliant, absolutely brilliant.

CraveOnline: How does it feel to fire a gun?

Michelle Lukes: I really liked it. I don't know if that is good to say or not. I surprised myself actually. I was quite nervous beforehand just for really sort of girly reasons like the noise alone. And once I had sort of done it the first couple of times, I really got into it and I am quite the perfectionist as well so I, you know, I would do something, they would tell me I am doing it wrong, I would go back to again, we filmed everything so we could watch ourselves and it was just really fun.

Practice, practice, practice and have the luxury of practice to try and get things right. All the training was just so exhilarating and not just the sort of weapons training but even the unarmed combat and the sort of the knife fighting is great sort of learning.

I mean those sorts of fights like dances almost. So much choreography. I got to do things that I would never do in reality, absolutely never do. I mean I hadn't even gone to paintball or anything beforehand so it was just real sort of new experience for me and brilliant, again just brilliant.


CraveOnline: When Rhona Mitra joined the cast was it nice to have another woman in the cast?

Michelle Lukes: It is always brilliant when a woman comes in. And I love the boys. I love boys, but it is just so much testosterone around set and stuff it is just a real joy to sort of have another female energy and sometimes do girly things and go to dinner and, have our nails painted and stuff and just sort of be girls because it is such a masculine environment and the job is very, very masculine.

It is just great to have that sort of that release almost. So yes, I love it when all the girls come on set. It is just a joy and, you know, every block is new group of girls and it is quite nice. We all kind of stick together and do our thing.I am still friends with actually a lot of the girls that have come and gone on the show. So yes, it is great to get new girls on.

CraveOnline: So even the villain girls bond with you.

Michelle Lukes: Yeah, totally, totally, even the villains. I don't know it is funny, I don't know if it is just the nature of the show but I found in last season and especially this season we were all thrown together and it just felt like a sorority. I don't know, I don't know it is strange but yes good guys, bad guys, it is just really nice actually going to work and just know that you have a girl there watching your back. It’s awesome. It’s always such a treat to get the girls on.

CraveOnline: Did you beat other tough girls for the role of Julia?

Michelle Lukes: I don't know who else was seen for the role. Of course it was a very, very, very quick process. I have a feeling they sort of rethought the part of Julia quite close to the beginning of filming and thought perhaps that she was a role that they might want to develop in the future. So I think various decisions were made quite close to the time of production.

Brilliantly I got a phone call out of the blue from the casting director who had seen me in other stuff before but never had the opportunity to call me in. He called and he said, “I have got this part and you are perfect for it. Would you like to come in and meet me? I haven't seen you for a while.” So I went in. He gave me the first four Eps of last season. I had a quick read and the next day I had a screen test. Then a week later they said, “Can you be on a plane to South Africa in three days?”

It was mental. It was absolutely bonkers. But I totally owe him this job and it was I guess hopefully the right decision for everyone. It is weird because I am so protective over her now. I just can't imagine anyone else doing it.

CraveOnline: Well you made your debut in Alexander. How did that come about for you and how long had you been auditioning and acting before then?

Michelle Lukes: I hadn't really been acting at all. I was trained as a dancer and I had done this professionally for quite a while. And somebody, a friend of mine had asked whether I would be interested in being sort of a movement supervisor dance captain on the film because there were a lot of dances, a lot of movement. And Rosario [Dawson] who is the lead had to do some dancing and I was sort of brought in initially to sort of coach her and rehearse her and then as it happens they said "do you want to do it as well?"

And I was like "okay, why not?" So I kind of appeared in the film that way rather than sort of traditional way of going to an audition and trying to sell your wares but a great opportunity and a fantastic experience.  It was my first experience of being on a massive film set and I remember going down onto set on the first day. We had been rehearsing for about three or four weeks and I went down to see Oliver [Stone] because he needed to okay my costume.

I remember walking onto set which was on the Atlas Mountains and my jaw like literally dropping open. I was so overwhelmed. I mean, it was bonkers. There were hundreds and hundreds of supporting artists. There were panthers in cages, bears and music and it was such a vibrant, exciting place. I though yeah I could get involved with this. This is something I could do. It was just a really, really inspiring experience. So another opportunity that I am really grateful for. And I guess helps me to get to where I am today.

CraveOnline: Yes so you got the bug from that?

Michelle Lukes: I did. I think I got the bug much earlier but I wasn't brave enough to perhaps to perhaps pursue it until later. I guess that is what it was.

CraveOnline: Are you working on anything else or is it all “Strike Back” right now?

Michelle Lukes: It is a bit “Strike Back.” I have my finger in a few pies but at that early stage where I can't really talk about anything at the moment. But I am still 100% committed to “Strike Back” and God willing we will get to see more of Julia in the future. So fingers crossed.