Sullivan Stapleton: Takes Aim With Strike Back

August 20, 2016
With the fourth season of his breakthrough international TV series, Strike Back, just released on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital, we chat to Aussie actor, Sullivan Stapleton, about slimming down, nuding up, and playing the skin flute.

You had to slim down for your breakthrough role in the movie, 300: Rise Of An Empire, while you were working on your action series, Strike Back. How gruelling was all the training? “It’s easier for me to get bigger than lose weight, because I like food. I was still doing Strike Back in South Africa, so they sent a trainer over twelve weeks before we got to Bulgaria to shoot 300. I did my ten hours a day on the show, and then worked out three hours a day for the movie, for the first month. It was an hour-and-a-half with swords, then an hour-and-a-half in the gym. When I landed in Bulgaria, I basically went straight to the gym. I wish that I was joking, but I’m not. It was good fun, though. I found out that there’s a six-pack under there. The six-pack is gone now, though. I kept it, actually, for longer than I thought.”

You had a pretty feisty sex scene with Eva Green in 300: Rise Of An Empire. How long did it take to shoot that? “I paid the director, so we kept doing take after take. No, we spent a couple of days doing it. It was choreographed. Sex scenes are funny things to shoot. It was a half-naked fight, really, with a much better looking enemy than most of my usual opponents. Sex scenes can be hard, and I guess it depends on your co-star, but we got along really well, and it was easy to work with Eva. Doing those scenes might be harder for the women, but she was great. She kicked the shit out of me. She’s tough.”

Sullivan Stapleton and Philip Winchester in Strike Back

Sullivan Stapleton and Philip Winchester in Strike Back

But you must have been pretty used to sex scenes seeing as there are so many of them in Strike Back. “Yeah, somehow I ended up being the ‘nude dude’ in that show.”

So how come you’re the only lucky bugger who gets to root the chicks in Strike Back? “I do not know. It just worked out like that. When I started the show, the first scene was a sex scene, then it turned into a naked fight with two stunties, and I was like, ‘Right, so that’s how it’s going to go.’ So after that, I was alright with sex scenes. Literally, I had to sleep with this girl, and we’re in bed, and then two terrorists come storming through the hotel and burst through our door and I jump up and fight them. It was harder on the stunties, because I don’t think they told them that I wasn’t going to be dressed. I had to reassure them that we were just fighting…we’re not getting into anything else!”

When did you decide to be an actor? “I never set out to get to this level…I never thought that this would happen. I joined an agency when I was young, and just did commercials. It beat a paper round. Then, when I was a teenager, I started doing short films, and on Miss Taurus, the director [Graeme Wood] took me aside and asked me if I was enjoying it, and I was. I had fun. I was playing roles that weren’t that far from myself, and the stories were about underage drinking and boys being naughty, and all that. So he said that I should consider doing it properly, but told me, ‘Don’t go to acting school.’ I didn’t really like school, so I listened to him. I didn’t want to go down that path. I got lucky. I got roles, and I kept going. I’d hate to be starting out as an actor now. In Australia, there are a lot of actors, and it’s a small industry. It was around the time of Animal Kingdom that I was actually thinking of quitting and becoming a grip or a full-time builder. Thank god that Animal Kingdom happened, because it’s a hard industry.”

Philip Winchester, Rhona Mitra and Sullivan Stapleton in Strike Back

Philip Winchester, Rhona Mitra and Sullivan Stapleton in Strike Back

Did you get your first big break on Neighbours? “Shit. Ah, no. I only worked on that for six weeks, so it sucks that that keeps coming up. I wanted to be the Aussie actor that didn’t do Neighbours, and I nearly made it. But I had my car stolen, and I was almost evicted from a derelict house. My agent rang and said, ‘I pretty much know that you’re gonna say ‘no’ but I’ve gotta ask because it’s an offer. They’re gonna offer you this much per week to do six weeks,’ and I said, ‘Nup. Tell them to double it, and I’ll think about it.’ And she rang back instantly and said, ‘Yeah, fine,’ and I said, ‘For fuck’s sake!’ I didn’t think that’d be the reaction, but I did it. I don’t want to put the show down, but I didn’t have much fun there. It’s not my kind of place. It’s been going for too long, and there are some old, bitter and twisted people who should have gotten out of the industry, and then young kids who have got far too much money and a lot of attitude. You just go, ‘Wow!’”

How did you make the transition from Australia to the States? “It was Animal Kingdom. It went to Sundance in 2010, and it was a huge success. I came back to Los Angeles thinking that I might be able to get an agent. My mum had lent me enough money that I could stay here for a couple of weeks. I landed and got an agent, and two days later, I auditioned for a TV pilot called The Odds. Unfortunately, it didn’t get picked up. Well, things happen for a reason. I stayed here for a while, and then went home to Melbourne for Christmas. Just as I left, I auditioned for Strike Back. I walked out of there thinking, ‘No fucking way’, because all the others were huge dudes, like proper American Marines. But I turned my coming home drinks very quickly into going away drinks, because I had to fly to London for another audition, and got the role.”

Sullivan Stapleton in Animal Kingdom

Sullivan Stapleton in Animal Kingdom

And you got a role on 2013’s Gangster Squad too? “That was my first American film, and I was shitting myself. I got chucked in at the deep end. To work with actors like Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone and Josh Brolin was fantastic. They made it easy, especially Ryan. He’s a fantastic bloke. I didn’t get to work that much with Sean Penn. These are ones when you sit there and go, ‘I really didn’t expect that to happen.’”

What does that tattoo on your inner arm read? “It says ‘Animal Kingdom’ in Thai script. I love Thailand. I was covered in animal tattoos for the film, and when I was thinking of getting a real one, I wanted an Asian one, but a snake or a dragon just seemed too cliché.”

Do you have any hidden talents? “I love cooking, especially Italian food, which is not great for the diet. I do a really good spaghetti bolognese, which in turn becomes a lasagna, of course.”

But if you hosted Saturday Night Live, would you bust out the tap shoes, or play a musical instrument? “I can play the flesh flute. Really well. Nah! You didn’t expect that one, did ya?”

Strike Back: Season 4, The Final Season is available now on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital.


  1. Mark Mickle

    You r truly a great great actor I enjoy ur style and passion for what u do and how u approach the characters u play an handle urself..

Leave a Comment