Visiting the Johor set of American-British series "Strike Back"
Writer: Florey DM
The sixth season of "Strike Back" was filmed fully in Malaysia.
Before this, we shared our little chat with Warren Brown and Daniel MacPherson, the leading men of American-British series "Strike Back". This time, we'll explain a bit more on the series and share with you what we saw and heard on our day trip to the series' set in Johor.
Some explanation on the season numbering: Why Season 6 instead of 7?
We also spoke to the leading ladies of "Strike Back", so keep reading to find out what they have to say about the series and filming in the Southeast Asian country.
First off, let's talk numbers. The season numbering does get a little confusing. While most viewers would probably call the current season as the sixth, there are some (UK viewers, mostly) who will consider it the seventh.
This is because the first 6-episode "Strike Back" launched in May 2010 but only on British pay television channel Sky One. The second season "Strike Back: Project Dawn" was picked up and co-produced by American pay cable Cinemax (which continues co-producing until now) and became known as the first season to American viewers.
Hence the reason why until now UK viewers will always be one season ahead when referring to the current season. We'll henceforth refer to it as Season 6 since that is what it is officially numbered as by Cinemax.
Do the seasons only go by numbers or do they have titles too?
If the numbering still sounds too confounding, viewers can otherwise refer to the series by its title "Strike Back: Revolution".
Some background on "Strike Back Season 6"
Here are the older titles for reference: "Strike Back" (Season 1 for UK), 2011's "Strike Back: Project Dawn", 2012's "Strike Back: Vengeance", 2013's "Strike Back: Shadow Warfare", 2015's "Strike Back: Legacy", and 2017-2018's "Strike Back: Retribution".
Who are the cast and director of "Strike Back Season 6"?
Alin Sumarwata, Warren Brown and Daniel MacPherson reprise their respective roles as covert special-ops soldiers of Section 20: Lance Corporal Gracie Novin, Sergeant Thomas "Mac" McAllister, Sergeant Samuel Wyatt.
What is "Strike Back Season 6" about?
Newcomer Yasemin Allen plays Captain Katrina Zarkova while Jamie Bamber also joins the cast as Colonel Alexander Coltrane.
Bill Eagles and Paul Wilmshurst, both who've helmed the series before, are back as the directors.
In Season 6, Mac, Samuel and Gracie are tasked by new commanding officer, Colonel Coltrane, with pursuing the stolen contents of a Russian bomber that crashed in the South China Sea. On their mission, they cross paths with Katrina, a rogue Russian operative with questionable loyalties.
Where was "Strike Back Season 6" filmed?
While working with the Malaysian police to shut down a triad gang in its capital city Kuala Lumpur, uncovering a plot by a wealthy Indian businesswoman running for parliament and finding themselves fighting against mercenary drug agents and terrifying warlords in Myanmar's Golden Triangle, they also have to uncover a conspiracy threatening to push the world to the brink of global conflict.
For the first time ever, the high-octane drama series is filmed entirely in Malaysia. Aside from appearing as itself in the series, the Southeast Asian country also serves as the stand-in for other countries such as Myanmar, India and Russia.
Meeting the "Strike Back" cast in Johor
The filming locations in Malaysia include Penang in the Northwest coast of Peninsular Malaysia (which MacPherson revealed was set up as Goa), the nation's capital city Kuala Lumpur (where Brown happily admitted they had "a few free helicopter rides" while filming their scenes) and the Southern state Johor (where they filmed at a palm plantation about an hour out from its capital city, Johor Bahru).
Talking to the male stars on set
Talking to the female stars at the hotel
As we walked uphill towards where the filming was taking place in the palm plantation, we could hear gun fires and voices shouting. We had to occasionally stop, following the crew's signals, and continued our journey towards the set whenever there was break in between takes. Trying to be as light-footed as we could, we walked past the cast and crew and cameras, and went down to the tent prepared for the media, where we could observe the filming on two screens set up there. Every time the filming started, we had to put our earplugs in because even from the distance where we were sitting, the gun shots were deafening.
Originally, we were only there to observe and interviews were to be held at the hotel afterwards. However, since there were a few scenes being shot that didn't involve MacPherson and Brown, the duo happily ventured down to the media tent to do their interview with us there.
With loud explosives and gun shots occasionally puncturing the conversations, the actors talked to us about filming the movie in Malaysia. They said that they had been hoping to see a snake or two in the wilderness but they were met with disappointment every day. That is, until the day the local fire department (they had to be around to ensure safety and make sure no fire spread during the filming) finally told them they found a snake – and it was no teeny, tiny snake.
As it turned out, a 12 feet python had been sleeping underneath one of the trucks down by the cast tent. On the set visit day, the python was still in the safety crew's care, being tended to away from the set. Talk about having a wish come true – with a bang.
There was a scene that involved blowing up a tower on set, unfortunately, due to time constraint, we didn't get to watch it and we had to be ushered back to the hotel to prepare for our interview with Sumarwata and Allen.
Both were busy filming their scenes while we were visiting the set in the afternoon, so it was only later that evening that we managed to have a chat with Sumarwata and Allen. Unlike their male co-stars, they had a chance to change out of their costume and slip into more comfortable casual attire.
About stunts and dying
Sumarwata was singing praises of Allen, who is doing an action series for the first time and only had two weeks to prepare, yet managed to catch up just fine with the rest of the "Strike Back" cast. Already well-versed in both Turkish and English (as well as having studied some Japanese in her high school years), Allen had no problem picking up Russian for her role, on top of learning all the fight choreography (which she admitted was the trickiest part for her). Additionally, she had to binge watch the whole series when she got the role since she lives in Turkey and was not familiar with the program.
Of course, Sumarwata deserves praises of her own. The mother of two just had her second child when she auditioned for the role. To get back in shape, she took up kickboxing again (which she used to do during her college years) and used that as part of her audition to get the role. She said that while last season her character Gracie Novin had to do a lot of killing, this season it was more of an emotional journey as Novin explores her motivations and copes with loss.
When asked about how it has been filming in Malaysia, both replied, "Hot". Still, the two enjoyed their time in the country, Yasmine even taking the time to visit some "sexy" islands (as Sumarwata described them) on her days off.
Let's explain the dying part
And now the stunts, which the cast mostly does themselves
Oh no, we don't mean the stunts cause any death. It's just that the series is well known for being realistic in the sense that people die, it doesn't matter how big or small the characters are, they get killed off.
"We got told very early when we first got this job, there's a bullet with everybody's name on it," MacPherson told us on set. "In this cast, you just never know when it's gonna get you, so you enjoy every moment and this is a job like no other."
Sumarwata also said that whole bullet thing was the first thing she remembered executive producer M.J. Bassett, who also directed past seasons, telling them.
So don't get too attached to any character, is what we're saying.
Cinema Online, 23 February 2019
Also, being a series with such high (onscreen) body count, naturally it means that it's highly action-packed, full of intense and non-stop adrenaline-filled action scenes.
The cast does most of their stunts themselves, they're so hands-on that MacPherson admitted they have "not only the most incredible stunt department but one of the most underutilised stunt departments".
Brown said that they wanted to do as much of the action scenes themselves since the stunt team did a bang up job of not only setting the stunts and fights but also training them for these.
Now don't think for a second that only the male cast does their own stunts, Sumarwata and Allen also do their own fight scenes. As Allen admitted, some of the more dangerous stunts – like falling out of windows and getting hit by cars – are done by their doubles but they do all the fighting scenes themselves, despite not having that much time to rehearse. Sumarwata added that it was lucky if the cast had one week to rehearse because sometimes they had to learn the fight choreography the night before or even on the spot.
Interestingly, the two ladies revealed that even though they do have some martial arts background, mostly in kickboxing, they had to abandon most of the techniques since onscreen fight choreography is more "dance-like", as Sumarwata described it. "It's not how hard you hit but how big you hit".
See the cast's cool stunts (and guess who'll get the bullet?) in "Strike Back Season 6", now available on HBO On Demand. "Strike Back Season 6" premiered on Cinemax (Astro Ch 412) Saturday, 26 January at 12 noon. New episodes air same time as the U.S on Saturdays at 12 noon on Cinemax.