Philip Winchester on how ‘Rogue’ gives female action leads a chance to rule

Lions and tigers and bears—oh my! But instead of all three, one group of a mercenary unit of soldiers on a mission to rescue the daughter of a governor held hostage by a militant faction just encounter the first. “Rogue” is director MJ Bassett’s latest film starring Megan Fox (Samantha), Jessica Sutton (Asilia) and Philip Winchester (Joey). The story takes place in Africa, mostly on the land of a lion sanctuary where female predators and other dangers lay ahead for the unit. 

Philip Winchester, who has worked for a good chunk of his career in Africa jumped at the opportunity to return to his ‘second home’ to make a film that not only brings him back to his adventurous roots after bouts in the Dick Wolf Chicago universe and Law & Order: SVU, but also showcases that women can lead an action movie just fine.

Winchester sat down with Metro to discuss more on what went into making “Rogue.”

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Initially, what was it about this particular role or project that made you want to sign on?

Well, MJ Bassett and I go back quite a long ways and she reached out to me and said, hey, I wrote a new film, it’s going to be really quick and dirty and we’re going to go to Africa to shoot it. Both MJ and I have a lot of history in Africa, and she said after all that, “oh and I wrote the Joey for you, so have a look at it”— that’s kind of an actor’s dream come true. She sent me the script, I read it, and after coming from “SVU” I thought what a better way to jump back into what I knew which was running around and getting dirty, so I said yes.

Aside from having one written for you, what typically does draw you to roles? You seem to wear many different hats.

You know, a lot of the time I say yes to different projects because I like to work, and I think that work breeds work. Every job I do, I learn something new. I definitely have an affinity for the action stuff and the adventure stuff, it’s kind of in my wheelhouse and I enjoy it. Then Dick Wolf came a couple of years ago and said what about playing an ADA in Chicago and then popping over to New York for a while, and it was just a different type of adventure for me. I think each script and each story and each chance opens up a door to a new director and new relationships on-set, and that’s the big stuff for me. The work is great, but it’s also the relationships you make and the opportunities to travel the world and meet new people. That’s the dream, I really enjoy that part of it too.

What is it about these action and adventure type of roles that really suits you so well?

I think it’s because I was raised between Montana and London and so, there was a deep sense of storytelling and history with my British heritage and there was a very real sense of adventure and hard work with my Montana upbringing. My mother had a ranch and I grew up on that ranch, so, those two worlds collided and you know, I grew up around theater, I grew up around actors and that’s what people did. So, that penchant to tell stories but with a bit of sweat on your brow always intrigued me.

How was it working in Africa? It seemed as though you guys had plenty to shoot at night as well, how was that?

You’re definitely right, yeah, it was a five-week shoot and four weeks of it were night shoots. I lucked out because when I came over from the states and I only had about four or five days of working in the daytime and then all night shoots and that matched up with my schedule. But yeah, there was a lot of elements to deal with, we were shooting right outside of Johannesburg. All the critters would come out at night, the spiders and the beetles, and the different kinds of insects were flying around. Every once in a while we would stop a take from when a beetle would land on someone’s shoulder or MJ would get distracted because she found a new bug. But it all added to the texture of the film. The night was definitely tough, but honestly, Megan Fox dealt with most of it because she was in it so much and she carried the movie. So, the rest of us got through it.

How was it working with everyone in the cast and crew?

I love Africa and one of my favorite parts about Africa is the cast and the crews that they have out there. They’re so hardworking, both the cast and the crew they come prepared, they come ready to play and then after you’re done we enjoy hanging out together. So it’s a good group of people. Africa is also sort of my second home, I’ve done a lot of work out there and getting the opportunity to go back to Africa and work with such great people, I always jump at it.

Your character in particular, especially since he was written for you, how would you describe him?

Well, I don’t know if this meant to be offensive since he was written for me, but Joey is a little loose and a little quick and dirty. The back story is we find Joey in a bar and he gets called to this mission and he says “yeah, okay, I’ll do it one last time just for a crack.” He’s got a real sense of gallows humor that I think can keep your head above the water when he’s on these missions, and he tries to find the levity in everything that he does. I think the gallows humor is what keeps his head screwed on, but he was a fun role to play. The most military that I get involved in is serious, my character Michael Stonebridge in “Strikeback” was very serious—so, Joey was a lot more fun and cavalier about his approach to work and it was fun to find that.

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Are there any scenes that stand out to you in particular from filming?

We had a day where we jump off this cliff and swim in these rapids and then we climb out and we’re at this lion sanctuary. The scenes with the rapids were really tough, we had so much material to shoot, we were in that water until 7 in the morning and we didn’t get out until we wrapped at 7 at night. So, just twelve hours treading water in full gear and everyone was just completely whooped by the end of the day. Then, when you see it on screen, it takes three minutes or whatever it is. But that day, in particular, was tough but also fun because everyone jumped in and everyone was encouraging each other. Then, quickly we transitioned into the night and it was kind of surviving the night and getting through the sillies in the morning when they would hit at 2,3 in the morning. But, there was a good morale onset, everybody came ready to play and everybody was willing to get dirty and jump in, so I think that’s the only reason a film like this gets made. There were a lot of one takes in there [as well], that’s something MJ likes to do. If we run a scene and it looks like we can play it out in one without breaks, and the actors want to try it, we’ll always give it a shot. There were a few of those in the movie, and they just really crank up the energy.

Overall what do you hope audiences take away from the film?

I think what’s fun about is this film, is yes, it’s a Friday night film and everybody needs some escapism right now, but also there are some strong and kickass female leads in it. Megan Fox, Jessica Sutton just bring it, we’ve also got the female lions, so I think there’s definitely a powerful moment of saying look, females can lead action movies too. I think this is a really great example of that.

“Rogue” is On Demand and Digital August 28th and on DVD and Blu-ray September 1st

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