Behind the Scenes with Philip Winchester, Part III, the final chapter in what turned out to be a much more extensive conversation than anticipated! The questions are a bit more random and at times more serious.
Hopefully this series has answered some of your questions and given you a glimpse of this actor’s life outside of his roles. If you’re like me, it definitely creates even more questions, so send them in. If we’re lucky we just might get the chance to ask them!
Part III, picks right up…
You mentioned Megan’s dad being your baseball coach earlier. Was that in high school? Did you play sports in high school?
Yes, in high school I played golf, I didn’t play baseball. I was scrawny and tiny in high school! [laughing] I grew maybe six inches between my junior year and my senior year. I finally hit that spurt that everyone said would come, and I was like, “I’m sure hope it does, man!” [laughing]
So I was just lanky and thin…I was a buck-45 soaking wet! I started lifting weights and training, during my freshman year actually. But nothing happened! Twenty years ago it wasn’t like you were taking anything. They had supplements and they had protein, but it wasn’t as prolific as it is now. Now you can walk into CVS and buy sugar free, 20 gram protein shake this, that and everything. [laughing]
So I was just lanky and thin…I was a buck-45 soaking wet! I started lifting weights and training, during my freshman year actually. But nothing happened! Twenty years ago it wasn’t like you were taking anything. They had supplements and they had protein, but it wasn’t as prolific as it is now. Now you can walk into CVS and buy sugar free, 20 gram protein shake this, that and everything. [laughing]
Seriously! You can walk into the “gas and sip” and buy protein anything! [laughing]
Right! You can buy alcoholic protein drinks, for crying out loud. It’s just bizarre. [laughing]
Exactly, with a shot of 400 grams of sugar free caffeine! [laughing]
Yeah. Oh, God, with taurine, caffeine, booze, and protein. [laughing] But, that was it, golf. In my own time, I skied. I skied on the freestyle team my freshman year. I skied bumps for a little bit, and then I just straight up couldn’t afford to do that for much longer. So for three years I free skied with buddies.
We had a “rule” that if it snowed more than 12 inches, it was a snow day! If it snowed more than 12 inches, not down in the valley but up in mountains, you went skiing. And sometimes you didn’t tell mom and dad, you just went skiing. We had a few of those growing up, which was fun. [laughing]
Did you guys actually get ski “opening day” of the local ski area off from school? Was that a legit day off from school?
I think it was for some people, it depended for us. We had some crummy years, and then there were some really good years. It wasn’t for our family. But I knew people who were on the alpine team since they were eight. I grew up with them. They were just the most amazing skiers, and for them it was “Yep, ski season is open. Let’s go.”
I mean, these people, they were badasses! [laughing] I wanted to be, but I just didn’t have the resources, you know?
Oh yeah, it’s money, serious money!
It is. Skiing is an expensive sport.
In this area, the first day that the ski areas are open is an excused absence from school – Ski Opener. Kids can go skiing and it’s a legit excused absence.
And it’s called Ski Opener? That’s so great! We’ve got to implement that here in Bozeman. [laughing]
You can take Ski Opener and Deer Opener* off too. [first day of deer hunting season*]
Oh, that’s so good! When I was in high school, you’d go hunting in the morning and you’d leave your rifles in your truck. Everything changed after Columbine, but it was still that small of a town growing up.
Same here, whatever the season, you go hunting and in the winter ice fishing before school.
Did you have a nickname growing up?
Not that I can remember. Did I have a nickname growing up? No, I don’t remember it. Once this comes out, I’ll get phone calls from my buddies going, “Yes, you did.” But I don’t remember one. [laughing]
Ha! “No you didn’t know about it dude, but you so had one!” [laughing]
Yeah, that’s exactly right, that’s funny. Lex Shrapnel on Thunderbirds always called me “Winch.” When we were filming Thunderbirds, he always called me Winch. Then Sully…well, Sully’s Australian, so he had several specific…he had several inappropriate nicknames for me; but, so did I for him. [laughing]
That’s hysterical! You know, that’s going to be the one question I get – what were the nicknames?! We’ll just leave them guessing. [laughing]
Yeah, exactly! [laughing]
Is there anything in high school that you regret doing, or wish you could make amends for?
It’s funny, we talked about that play last time. Possibly I would have done Inherit the Wind. I definitely would have been more involved. I think I just would have done more. I remember talking about just being so social. I was so concerned about being social and so concerned about my friendships, which ultimately paid off, because I still have the group of guys I went to school with. We’re still best friends to this day.
But I would have thrown myself at the work more. I think an 18 year old guy feels like he’s invincible, and you feel like you know everything. Both are completely wrong, completely not true. [chuckling.] Classically, I wish I knew then what I know now. I would be more present in my classes. I wish I would have studied French harder. I would love to be fluent in a foreign language. That’s a big regret.
Well, you still can be.
Well, exactly, and I still can. You’re right. Maybe one of my little girls will start learning, and then we can work together. [laughing]
There you go! That’s the perfect way to do it.
That would be perfect.
On the flip side of that, what are two of your best memories from high school?
Hmm, two best memories from high school? It’s so long ago, Deb! [laughing] It’s 20 years ago this summer! Let’s see; oh my gosh.
Well, clearly properly starting to hang out and date my now wife, Megan. That is a really, really good memory. That summer and spring with her, before I went to London, was so much fun. We just had so much fun hiking and hanging around, and just being together. Obviously it stuck. That was a really special time you know? Young love man, it’s a powerful thing. [laughing]
I don’t know if I can really pinpoint a specific moment. Obviously we were all too young to drink in high school. After every choir concert, we would go to this truck stop called Bears Truck Stop. The group of guys who were in choir, so all four or five of us, the girlfriend’s and friends, and a lot of other people from choir and family, we would all go to Bears Truck Stop. We would drink coffee and play Kino, and hang out at Bears Truck Stop after a choir concert for hours. We’d get absolutely jacked on coffee and nachos and french fries! We just hung out and laughed, and told stories and jokes. We felt so grown up. [laughing]
When we left high school, we all still wanted to meet up after and we were still too young to go to the bars when we would come home. So, we started meeting at Bears on Christmas Eve. Every Christmas Eve we would meet at Bears Truck Stop, whoever was in town would just be there around 9 or 10 o’clock on Christmas Eve, and to this day it’s still happening.
I’ve actually got pictures of buddies who have just been in town by themselves and gone to Bears, and just sent a selfie – “Hey, just hanging out at Bears Truck Stop!” [laughing] Every year someone usually floats it. If it’s not a few of us, it’s one of us for sure. So that’s a neat ritual and ceremony, a really cool memory from high school.
That is an awesome tradition! You mentioned it was 20 years this summer. Do you go to your school reunions?
I went to this one, yeah. I couldn’t go to my 10 year because I was in Vancouver shooting Alice, but this year I was home and I was off. It was great! This is the first full summer I’ve had in Montana since I graduated. [high school]
No, I’ve either been in London or working, or in L.A. so this is the first time I’ve been back in Montana for a full summer since I left 20 years ago. It’s been really nice.
How was the reunion?
It was great! It’s so funny, because we all know inside that we’ve changed; and yet, when you see people, you see them for who you remember them to be. Not for who they are.
It is such a bizarre dynamic, because you’re talking to people thinking, “I know you’re different. I know you’ve got so much more under your belt…but I just remember you being “this guy” or “this gal.” It was really neat. It was neat to show up. It was out in the country, our class president actually had it out at his folks’ place. It was just lovely.
It was a beautiful night. All the guys, my group of guys, were back in town. We all went out there and then we all came back to my house and sat around and fire and told stories. It was a really good night – a lot of memories and a lot of laughs. [laughing]
Those are the best class reunions. That’s pretty much how they are here too, being out in the country. Always at someone’s home or farm, just hanging by the fire, having drinks and shooting off fireworks.
Just watching that redneck TV, watching that fire and telling stories. [laughing]
Exactly, good times! [laughing] Several fans were interested in whether you have a hobby?
I’m an incredibly amateur woodworker. [laughing] But I enjoy it. I enjoy building things and mucking around in the yard like that. Growing up on the farm in England, we had a wood shop in the back. Like an actual workshop that they built stuff for companies and different pieces. I would always tinker around with them so I learned a few bits and pieces.
All my uncles were in the trade of some kind – carpentry or house building or “jack of all trades” kind of stuff. I was always around that growing up, and always tinkered. So that’s sort of a hobby of mine. I’ll fix stuff up around the house and make little bits and pieces.
We have a sliding barn door in the basement that I refurbished off of the ranch that I grew up working on here in Bozeman. It was getting torn down, so I refurbished it, hung it on “sliding barn door” hardware, and put it up in the basement. So little, fun projects that when I’m really getting bored or need to do something, I’ll just go out in the shop and tinker. I say the shop, it’s the garage. I move my wife’s car out and then it becomes a shop. [laughing]
I wondered about that when you mentioned trying to keep Megan from clearing your truck in the snow when she was near Jaymes’ due date. [from a previous conversation] I couldn’t believe you didn’t have a garage. [laughing]
Well she’s got the garage, so my truck parks outside. [laughing] We only have a one car garage. In the winter it’s that’s it. I get to go warm that truck up. [laughing] We didn’t have one when we bought this house. So we built this. It’s kind of fun. It’s a garage with an office, which is where I’m sitting now.
I have a big sliding barn door that opens up into the garage. I wanted it to be like an art studio. My shop desk has wheels on it so I can wheel it into the office and build stuff, work on stuff, and then wheel it back in there. It’s a neat kind of multifunctional space.
Ooh that is cool. So you guys bought the house. Was it a new build or one you rehabbed?
It wasn’t fully finished. We bought the house in 2012. It was a local architect’s who had tried to be both architect and builder, which was just a massive fail, as is the case sometimes. [laughing] There were so many things that needed to be redone in the house. So just little by little we’ve chipped away at those things. I think next year we may be doing a remodel on the house, because now we’re out of space. [laughing]
It was only a two bedroom house, so with all the kiddos it’s getting tight. We want to stay in town, because we’re next to a great school and we have family. Later, down the road, I think we’d like to move out of town.
It’s so funny, I remember the [SVU] crew, you know, when I’d be rushing to get a plane after doing a scene over in New York, they’d be like, “Are you going back to the ranch?” I’d be like, “Yeah, that’s right.” [laughing] You know, I’m like in the middle of fucking town! I have neighbors on all sides of me. It’s not a ranch by any terms. [laughing] But it’s home and it’s beautiful.
[Laughing] Ha! I get the exact opposite, everyone thinking I live in Times Square. Nope, I live in that massive piece of farmland and mountains attached to NY City. But hey, Bozeman is a very cool little city.
It is great, and it’s blowing up! I mean, it’s crazy now. The secret is out for sure. [chuckling]
Have you ever investigated your family’s genealogy?
I have two schools of thought on that. Yes, I have. One of my cousins in the U.K., she’s really great at that. She’s doing lots of family tree stuff, specifically with the British side of the family. She’s doing it all through books and going through archives, and bits and pieces.
The other part of that is my total “growing up in Montana, leave me alone” kind of thing. [laughing] I would love to do something like “23andMe™ but I don’t want some company owning my DNA. I would love to know a lot more about what’s going on with me, where I come from, my genealogy and things like that.
The fact that they’re like, “Oh, no, we can’t sell this to insurance companies. We won’t do this.” Uh yeah… until you do! So as much as I do want to do that, that little bit of that “Montana Guy” in the back of my head is just going, “oh that’s big government…yeah, careful with that one, buddy.” [laughing]
Definitely not an irrational position. You’d be amazed at how much you can get done just going through archives and records. My father has worked with a couple of different people doing the same thing, and I cannot believe how far back he’s gone with our Irish family.
Pretty incredible, right?
Yeah. He’s made it back into the 1400s. Are you kidding me?!
Yeah? That’s amazing. It’s amazing. I would love to know. Like, I would love to know genetics and predispositions, and all those things. But I don’t think it’s worth it yet. Because, all these tech companies have time and time again proven that they’re not trustworthy.
Absolutely. You could do it privately through your doctor maybe?
Oh yeah, that’s true. That’s a good idea.
Well, back to real time. We’ve talked a little bit about this, what are some family traditions that you want to carry over from each of your families?
That’s kind of neat. Marrying into Megan’s family, they celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve. They do gifts on Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day is very chill. Everyone just hangs out. With my family, we would do one gift on Christmas Eve, and then it was Christmas Day with stockings and gifts, kind of a madhouse on Christmas Day. [laughing]
It’s been fun to blend those two worlds and come up with our own traditions. I’ve really enjoyed that because I think Megan’s family would do stockings, but like food and sweets and things like that. So, Megan and I will do really personal stockings for each other on Christmas Eve, and that’s it. We’ll do presents for the kiddos and do stockings for the kids on Christmas morning.
My family traditions…getting together and eating a meal, the Sunday roast, my grandma did that so often. I really want that to carry over in our family.Thursday was “fish day” at the pub. You would go to the pub, have a couple of pints and the fish lady would come. You would buy salmon from her or whatever she had, whatever was freshly caught, and then you would go home and cook it. It was just great. Then Sundays was always “Sunday roast at grandma’s house,” no matter what, right?
Whoever was in town would come by. She would do a leg of lamb, or a chicken or something. Somehow there was always enough, no matter who was or wasn’t there, you know? It was like Jesus and the loaves of bread. I was like, “Grandma, what are you doing to this?” [laughing] It’s amazing. So, anything that keeps us together and anything that keeps those stories flowing. That’s important to me.
It’s so important and irreplaceable. I’ll tell you, if there are any recipes that you particularly like of hers, make sure you ask her for them, because…
Oh yeah, yes. I never thought of that!
Man, I would kill for my Nan’s mashed potatoes! Nobody has ever been able to make them the same way. [laughing]
Oh, no! [laughing]
I remember whining “Mom, how do you not know how Nan made mashed potatoes?” For years she’d swear “I’m making them the same way!” “Noooo, they’re not the same!” [laughing]
“They’re not! They’re not, exactly.” That’s so funny. When in doubt with that generation, more butter right? That was the thing. [laughing]
“More butter aaand… uh, more butter please.” It was just, like, “Grandma, what are you doing?!” [laughing]
Oh man, cherish the time. Okay…what was the best Christmas present you’ve ever received?
[laughing] My goodness me…when I was, I think I was 10, my grandpa did one of those “Christmas was over and… ‘oh, well what’s this’?”
He got me a BB gun, and I remember that blowing me away!
Are you sure you’re just not confusing it with “A Christmas Story”? [laughing]
Ha! No, it was a genuine Copperhead 10 pump BB and pellet gun. I was like, “Oh My God, I have arrived!” [laughing]
That’s awesome! [laughing] This is a similar question, but is there a particular memory or feeling from when you were a little kid that you would really like for Charlie and Jaymes to experience?
I remember the coziness of winters, and the closeness of what that was like, the change of seasons and everything that brought. It’s bigger than that, it was obviously the people. But there was something about winter in Montana and how close everybody was. We would be out collecting firewood or doing something outside, and then we would all come inside together, warm up, refuel, and go out and do it again.
I really want the girls to feel like they’re a part of something. You know, the family vibe, and it’s a gift. Not everybody has a family.
I do know and I know exactly what you mean by that “winter closeness.”
I remember when I moved to London, being blown away at how many broken families there were in the group of people that I was working with. I thought, “wow, I’ve totally taken my family for granted.” I am so fortunate. I have a mother and a father. I have that, and their families are together. I was really fortunate in that sense. Just passing on how important family is, and passing on how important getting together is.
99% of life is just showing up, right?
That is right, just be there!
It’s so easy to say “no, I’m busy, or I’m this or I’m that.” But just do it, just show up, you know? I remember friendships, just hanging out, some of the best times were just the last minute, “hey, what’s up? Nothing. You want to do this? Yeah, let’s go…” And you grab a coffee or you grab a beer with someone, and it’s great. It’s just showing up! Nothing needs to happen, but you’re together.
Absolutely, there doesn’t always have to be a plan. Just show up, be together.
Something will happen, that’s right.
Even if it’s “nothing”, like just watching “Saturday Night Live” together or whatever. Those always end up being the best times.
That’s right. That’s right!
So speaking of grabbing a beer, which of the characters you’ve played would you want to share a pint with, and what would you talk about?
Oh my goodness. Oh my gosh, how much fun would it be? I don’t know…I’d love to share a pint with… well, that’s really difficult because you’re sharing a pint with yourself. [laughing] But if all the walls of imagination were dropped, it would be great to have a pint with a Thunderbird.
It would be great if they could pick you up, I mean, that would be fun! Scott could pick me up and we could go to Tracy Island, and I could then have a pint with Leontes [Camelot] and learn some history. That would be great! I would appreciate that. [laughing]
Oh that’s going to make our Thunderbirds fans so happy! We have a core group of “Thunderbirds” fans who are just the nicest people!
They are great, right? And they’re real fans! Yeah, it’s awesome.
What would you say is the most misunderstood thing about you?
Oh man…most misunderstood thing about me? I think that people assume that I easily step into leadership positions. Maybe because of the jobs that I do? But I find it really hard. I find it really satisfying once I get past that fear, but it’s not easy. It’s not easy for me to do that stuff.
My work, it takes a lot of effort to make my work look easy. It doesn’t come easily for me. I have to work my ass off.
Besides all these questions, one thing that makes you tongue tied?
10 pints of Guinness. [laughing]
That makes you tongue tied?[laughing]
Yeah, that’s right, duh! [laughing]
Usually it’s the opposite way around there bud! [laughing] What is the question from your kids that you’re dreading the most?
[laughing] Oh my goodness! Well, with having girls, I think they’re going to be, “Well, dad, when did you start dating?” I’ll be like, “When I was 30. I met your mom when I was 30.” [laughing]
And it was an arranged marriage and I never dated anybody else!
That’s right! I knew from the moment I met her. Just go, lead with that. [laughing]
[laughing] What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received?
I don’t know if it was the best, but definitely one of the most memorable, I remember being in Vegas with Sully at the Pacquiao fight. I was leaving the restroom, and this big guy came in and was like, “Yo, Michael Stonebridge, right?” He said, “I’m part of an SF team [Special Forces] in Iraq and Afghanistan. You guys make it look like we do.” I just remember being, like, “Man, I can’t tell you how much that means to me!”
Wow. I’d say that’s a pretty damned good compliment!
I went and found Sully and was like “Sully, Sully!” I think we ran into the guy later on. It was really neat, you know? Whether he was blowing smoke up my ass, I don’t know; but at the time, I was pretty bowled over! That was the whole ethos going into that show, let’s not take the piss. This isn’t an action movie. It is, but let’s represent as well as we can and not actually be soldiers.
Well, you know I work with soldiers, and that’s a big part of why they are so devoted to the show. You guys, you got it right.
No, that’s a big one. I really appreciate that one.
What do you think are your three best qualities?
Oh, jeez! I’m hardworking. I think I’m honest to a fault [laughing]; and, I try to operate out of as much integrity as I possibly can, no matter what I do. Whether I’m working on a job that’s going to take care of my girls in the future, or I’m doing a job for free. I feel like the work that is involved to get there is the same. I treat every job the same.
And my faith plays a big part of this. I feel like this was, not be super spiritual, but I feel like this was what I was called to do, for lack of a better term. I haven’t been asked to do anything else, so I’m not going to disobey that.
You know, despite my best effort as a young man to try and mess it up [laughing] I keep getting bumped back! So that gives me peace, and hope for the future, whatever it’s going to be.
I’m glad you brought up your faith because several fans have asked about it if you’re open to talking about it?
Sure yeah, 100%.
In some of your previous interviews, when you were younger, you talked about having a real moment of spiritual “awakening” while you were in LAMDA. That’s a common age or time for people to start investigating or questioning “faith” – if they believe, what they really believe and if they’ll continue to believe it. What role did faith play before that time for you, and how has that changed as you’ve gotten older?
That’s certainly a part of what has been going on for me recently, as well. I think for lack of a better word, and I don’t think this is being mean, but I think I grew up with a very “Western” opinion of Christianity: “this is good, this is bad, you wear these clothes, you go to church, you say these things – everything is going to be fine.” And quite frankly, I reached a place where I thought that is the most ridiculous way to live your life. I actually can’t think of anything fucking worse!
Part of the stuff that I was going through in school, part of that rebellion certainly, was that I was holding a hand out to that stuff and saying, “this doesn’t make any sense, and you all know it too. That’s the problem. The problem is, you’re all pretending, all of you. And it’s hideous!”
There was always that still, quiet voice that was outside of the…what do you want to call it – the spirit of religion, or religiosity, or the dogma? Outside of all that, there is that still, quiet voice, which I was fortunate enough to hear on more than one occasion.
And honestly, that has been a daily struggle and a daily awakening ever since then. That was my last year of drama school, 2001, so I was 21 years old. And every day it’s been that question of, “okay, if it’s not that, then what is it?
I had an amazing group of guys that got together in Los Angeles, and we just hashed it out, right? We got into the nitty-gritty of it all. They were, for lack of a better word, they were my church. They were my community, they were my accountability, they were everything in Los Angeles. Like my life line, right? And it was great.
In that group of men, we were able to be so vulnerable and open. That’s when I realized “Okay, if this is anything – if this so-called belief is anything, it’s this – because this feels real.” This doesn’t feel like “dress this way, say these things, don’t you ever do that, or look at that, or just pretend you don’t do those things”… because everyone knows we all do that!
This was guys saying “Oh yeah, I do that and I do that too. And can we talk about that? And can we figure out how we’re not going to do that again? Or can you just sit with me in this, because this hurts. Can you walk with me through this? I just lost a friend, I lost a father, I lost a mother, and this is what’s happening in my life. I’m struggling with this.” And I thought “Wow, okay, this is real.”
The meaning of life is relationships, right? We’ve talked about that before. It was in that place I saw the truth of that. It’s been an everyday struggle and an everyday, I don’t know, not awakening. I’ve struggled with that, and wrestled with that, dealt with that every day since then.
I think that’s what you’re supposed to do because then, in the midst of that, there is the faith. There is “God, I can’t do this. I can’t do this. I’m done. I can’t do this anymore.” And then, somehow, you do.
And it’s always in that stillness. It’s always in those quiet times, for me anyway.
It’s an ongoing walk of faith every single day. And there are days when I revert back to being a kid and I think “This is bullshit, it is fairy dust!” And then there are days when I’m on my knees, weeping, going, “I’m so sorry, I can’t do this.” That’s certainly been my journey, but I think that’s a human condition, that wrestle with faith.
If it’s a struggle daily, then what is the positive that you’re getting from it? I was raised a Catholic, all struggle and I feel guilty about everything! [laughing]
But see, that’s where I don’t mind it because I think the struggle can be any number of things. I’ve got a buddy named Don Williams and he’s coined this wonderful phrase, We are here to live in the tension. And I fucking love that. I love that expression! “We’re here to live in the tension…and we’re here to live in the tension together.” So the tension and the struggle is together. It’s meant to be together. It’s meant to be with your partner, your husband, or your wife. It’s meant to be with your kid. We’re meant to do this together.
The whole idea of Christianity being about perfection – perfect people, shiny smiles, perfect lives – that is just bullshit. It’s just not true. It’s not the Christian story. It’s not in the story of Jesus, you know? And it’s not the story of this man picking up this ragtag group of guys and saying, “Leave everything and come with me. I can promise you pain and suffering.” [laughing] The gift of this life, the gift in life, is the struggle together.
Don also has another phrase, “When you isolate, you’re sick.” That’s the part of the struggle that we need…that I need to be better at identifying. I need to be better at realizing “Okay, I’m pulling away again. I’m pulling off course here…” And then through quiet time, and reflection, and through God’s grace, through family, through community, someone bumps you back onto the track. Hopefully.
Sometimes it doesn’t, though. Sometimes you fall off the track, and you crash and burn. And then what, Do you lose everything? Well hopefully not – but that’s part of the struggle too. Life is brutal, right? Life is tough. You see that every day. And I’m lucky. I know I’ve been incredibly fortunate with the way my life has panned out. I have lost people close to me but I have a healthy family. I have two healthy young girls, I’m healthy, my wife is healthy, my family…my direct family in every direction, we’re all healthy. It’s amazing.
So, it’s not a darkness, the struggle isn’t dark. It’s, again, problem-solving. How are we going to figure this out today? I like that; and, I like that I know that I’m not alone in that. That makes it digestible because there are some times in life, not just in this business, that it doesn’t go well and “that’s life.” Again, that human condition, where man it can get lonely, right? And if you know that you’re not alone, it helps.
Congratulations, that’s the end of the speed round questions!
Except for this last one – do you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert?
I don’t know; it always changes. I used to think I was an extrovert, but now I think I’m more of an introvert. Possibly because now being a dad, being a little more introspective and wanting more time just to be at home with them. I enjoy smaller groups now, having quality time with people rather than just being out at big bashes or things like that. So I think I’ve changed as I’ve gotten older to being more of an introvert.
Do you think that’s really been a change, or do you think you’ve just relaxed into who you really are?
Okay yeah, I think that is a better way of putting it. Growing up, I always had this burst of unbridled energy. I think I can now diagnose that as really stress maybe. I didn’t know what it was, so I masked it as energy. As I’ve grown up I’ve been able to say, “I just don’t like that”, and that be okay. So, instead of taking that energy into the room and letting it just go off the rails, I’ve stepped away and learned to put the lid on it.
Yeah, that was a really great question, and that’s a great point. I do just know who I am now. Or the flip side of that, I also don’t care as much what other people think about me.
Yes! I asked the introvert/extrovert question because we’ve talked a few times now, and there have been a few topics or themes that have come up each time we’ve talked. Being an actor, an artist, you have to expose so much of yourself and make yourself so vulnerable. It was becoming clear to me through our conversations that you are much more of an introvert which can be tough in such a publicly demanding profession. I was really interested to find out whether you actually think of yourself that way or not.
That’s interesting and I really like that bump in the right direction too. Growing up, I think I wanted to be an extrovert because I thought that was more fun. That whole area of wrestling with identity in high school, of thinking I need to be this. If I’m an actor, I need to be that actor because I want to do comedy. I want to do big, brash things. Not being able to accept the fact that there were all these other levels to it because I was afraid of them, or because I was embarrassed.
It wasn’t overnight, but when I turned thirty, those years around turning thirty, there was so much liberation and self awareness. Realizing, “wow, I guess this is who I am.” And it’s okay to not apologize for not being a certain way and to not apologize for being yourself. That’s a really big place to get to.
It’s incredibly big. I was actually shocked when I learned that I’m an off the charts introvert because I believed the common misconception that it had to do with shyness or being socially reclusive, lacking confidence etc.
[Introversion 101: Everyone is a blend of introversion and extroversion. It’s not a measure of social skills but of how people manage energy. You may be surprised to find that some of the people you see as very extroverted are actually introverts. Extroverts are energized by other people and social settings. Introverts in the same situations are being drained of energy. A person who is more introverted needs quiet and solitude or limited interaction to re-energize. There is a real energy deficit being created whenever introverts are “out in the world” whether it’s for work or fun. It’s still fun but it is, literally exhausting.]
It didn’t add up for me. I was always also very much the gregarious one in groups, public speaking came easily, performance came easily etc., so I never understood why I also dreaded those situations and had a compulsion to be alone. Not lonely. That’s grown stronger and stronger as I’ve gotten older. I’m not sure I’m explaining that well but do you know what I’m getting at?
No, I totally do. That need for peace and quiet, and the creativity that happens in your head when you’re in that space too.
Exactly, yes and I could hear that same struggle for you coming out in our conversations.
That’s something that I had missed, or I was afraid of, in high school. Because I thought, “I need to be with these people to show them I love them; I need to be with these people just so they don’t forget about me.” But I also really need my alone time. I really need my alone time.
That goes back to the amateur woodworking. I don’t think I enjoy woodworking as much as I enjoy just letting my mind go, and the woodworking is sort of the conduit that allows me that. I’m able to just daydream a little bit.
Exactly, a lot of it is repetitive almost meditative work, like the sanding. You can relax and think freely while you’re doing something.
That’s great. Yeah, I definitely do.
Once I started really understanding and respecting that energy balance, it was a real game changer. You’ve brought up that need for alone time and recovery time in almost an apologetic manner and I just thought, I hope he’s aware of how normal that is and that it’s okay. It’s not always understood by others, or ourselves, so it can be challenging.
I appreciate that. It has been a challenge in my marriage, because we’ve had to figure that out with each other. When someone says, “I need to be alone,” it’s not, “I don’t want to be with you.” It’s really that I just need to be “alone,” and they are two completely different things.
I’ve actually had a really great summer, because over the summer I’ve had the space to learn about some of this stuff that I haven’t had before. I have just been flat out for so many years. That’s a gift in itself, but the gift of this time since May has been just the stillness.
And we have been vitriolic in protecting it. When stuff has come up, we’ve just said “nope.” I’ve stayed home most of this time. I’ve manicured my lawn like a 60 year old [laughing] and I’m like just hermitted up in my house! I’m just hanging out with my girls. We’re getting out and hiking and doing things, but we’re doing it ourselves. I’ve loved it.
I also found that I’m actually an early morning guy. Again, I didn’t know that because of the work that I do. When I work, it is so exhausting. But over the course of this summer, I get up every morning probably between 4:45 and 5:00 am so I’m at the gym at about quarter past 5:00. I work out for an hour and a bit, then I have a soak in the sauna, and I just daydream. I get home and I’m a better husband, I’m a better father. The requirement is that I get up early, but that’s a small price to pay for what it gives me in return. I had to have this time to learn that.
We’ve talked about this before, about your not trusting your ability to work with that stillness, and the lack of the physicality. I told you that for every character that you’ve played, that is my favorite part of your performance, the quiet. That’s what made Strike Back. The action was awesome, but it was the quiet moments that really made the show.
You had those great moments with Leontes in Camelot, and with Crusoe, and you said you didn’t trust that in you, your ability in that. Do you look at that differently now? Do you appreciate it more? Are there other parts of your acting that you have a similar discomfort with still?
I feel like it kind of loops back to the question of whether I think I’m an introvert or an extrovert? For the longest time, not only did I feel like I was an extrovert, I wanted to be an extrovert, and I wanted to prove that I was one. So, having moments of stillness on camera, whether they felt genuine or forced wasn’t the question. I felt like I spent so much time trying not to be that person that I couldn’t be honest in front of the camera.
So whether I had some tricks up my sleeve that I learned at drama school, or just the repetition of being in front of a camera so much, I don’t think that makes me a good actor. I think it made me a good technician. What I’m learning to do now is to feel more comfortable about whatever happens.
Damon Gupton [The Player, now in Black Lightening] posted something the other day…
Yes, I saw that! We both reposted it. [laughing]
Oh my god. I mean, it was so beautiful. And it’s that search for what this is, you know? I think we live in a world of so many definitions. We ask ourselves so many defining questions. Am I a great actor? Am I a good actor? Am I am okay actor? Am I better at this than that? Do I do this well, do I not do that well? Instead of just, you know what? I’m a fucking actor. I’m an actor, period. And then leave it. Just leave it.
I’m learning to just leave it. I’m learning to stop asking myself, do you think you’ll ever be an action actor again? Do you think you forfeited great action roles in the future because worked in this [non-action] world? Do you think you were better at one or the other? It sort of doesn’t matter. Are you an actor, Philip? Yes. I can answer that. I can say honestly, I’m an actor. And I can say it without remorse or ego. It’s what I do. It’s what I’ve been fortunate enough to do.
So what was the question again? I’m going to bring it back. [laughing]
[laughing] The second part of the question was whether there other areas within your acting that you still feel a discomfort with or…
Yes, that’s right. So I’m learning everyone has that, I think. Everyone has that bit of discomfort about tackling something that’s unknown, or not being prepared enough even though you gave it your best shot. So I’m learning to live as comfortably as possible in those moments of discomfort. To just let it be what it is. Actually, that happened a lot on SVU and Justice because, “this guy” you’re talking to is not a lawyer by any stretch of the imagination. [laughing]
I mean, that stuff wrecked me. I was constantly online looking stuff up and figuring out definitions, and doing bits and pieces. I would say, the stillness almost came as “I need to have something that I hide behind while I’m thinking.” So the stillness was a product of thinking. It was genuine thinking on my part, thinking “okay, where are we at? What is that person saying to me?” Genuinely, what is that person saying to me? [laughing]
Some of the stuff was written clear enough that I could make sense of it, but some of it was incredibly difficult to me. So yes, there are things about my acting that I go into, and I have, like, this siren go off in my head that says, “that’s just cheese! Or, that’s just hokum.”
I’m learning to get to a point where I can say, “so what?” Let your director tell you that. Let the people you’re working with who are in positions to watch that and tell you, let them do that. Just do what you think you need to do. Do what that character that you’ve built before you got here would do. Trust that work. Trust the work.
That’s been a really liberating thing that came out of being a father. I haven’t had time to be so concerned about stuff, because I want to get home. When I’m home, I want to learn those lines as fast as I can, because I want to be a dad and I want to be a husband. So that’s a really neat side effect of being a husband and being a father, is the use of my time has become more practical.
What do you do to continue learning as an actor? Do you take classes? Do you work with a coach? Are you trusting the director, trusting your costars, your cast mates, to be honest with you and keep you challenged?
Well, working in television over the last, man, since the beginning of Strike Back, really…so for the last seven or eight years, I haven’t had time to work with a coach or do things like classes. I think a lot of actors would say, “Bullshit! You know, work can with them on the weekends or do this…” But, again, my time has been divided; it’s important for me to be a father and a husband too.
But working on network TV was an acting class every single day. We would have guest stars come in and just wipe the floor with us! I would sit there and go, “How come we don’t know you? How come nobody knows you? How come you’re not the lead on this show?” [laughing]
I remember multiple times on Justice, looking over at Monica [Barbaro] and just being like, “Wow. Did you see that? Did you just watch that take?” We’d just be blown away! Some of the performances on the stand were just so beautiful and so vulnerable, so honest. Then they would do it time and time again. That is television acting at its finest.
So I was getting acting lessons every day, you know? And I was also learning to give myself a little credit, too. I was learning to acknowledge that “hey, you’re keeping this thing floating on your end too. You’ve got to give yourself a little bit of credit. That takes a little bit of work and a little bit of gravity too.”
Knowing when to work and when not to work, knowing when to back off. This time since leaving SVU, it was time to not worry about that stuff. It was time to be a dad and it was time to mess around in the wood shop. It was time to fix the sidewalk on the side of the house and run up in the mountains, and go to the range with my buddy and get up at 5:00 and go to the gym. It was time for those things in my life, and those things will make me a better actor the next time I get back on set.
I will periodically check-in with tutors that I had from LAMDA, and it’s not to do an acting class. Sometimes it’s just to reminiscence, and in that reminiscing you realize, “You know what? I am growing, or I am seeking to grow. I’m not stagnating.” I’m certainly not going, “oh, I’ve got all of my shit sorted out.” I totally don’t. I totally don’t! [laughing]
There are scenes sometimes where I’m just thinking “huh, how are we going to do this?” That’s become almost my favorite part about it I think. Especially for camera, and especially with an ensemble, how are we going to do this together? Rather than “how am I going to make this great?” That’s not interesting to me anymore. How are we going to do this? That’s really interesting to me.
You’ve touched on that before each time we talked as well – how important the approach of an ensemble, and working together and problem solving together is to you. Not just the actors, but the teamwork of the cast, the crew, the writers, directors, producers. You’ve also talked about your role as a teacher or a mentor with younger actors. Is that something you’re going to be really intentional about at some point in life? Do you see yourself becoming a teacher?
Yeah, it’s funny. I asked Megan the same thing Wednesday night. I know that I’ve learned some things, and I know that I can share some things. I think it’s frightening for me to say yes to that question because I feel like once I do, it pokes a hole in it, and then the water gets in and it starts to become its own thing. But I think the truth is, yes, I love teaching. I think I’ve learned a few things over the years, and I want to be able to share that. Otherwise, there’s no point.
Especially with kids, kids are so ready and willing to learn. I’ve done just one class in the valley here in Bozeman, and it was just brilliant! I had the kids prepare a modern monologue and a classical monologue. We did a big movement class. I worked it with a friend of mine, who I grew up with here. We had a ball. By the end of the class we were just thinking “this is great!” There were 2 or 3 of them out of probably 15 or 16 kids, I guess, who were just brilliant.
Everyone was really good, but there were some you were thinking, “wow, you’ve got to be a part of it!” When you see that as a teacher, oh my gosh! Maybe there’s some ego involved with that too. You know, there are so many bullshit things. Beliefs like “those who can’t, teach.” That’s just totally bullshit!
It’s just total bullshit. If I look back on directions in my life that were cranked and put on a path, it was because of teachers.
Exactly! [Preach it!]
It was in third and fourth grade – Mrs. Iverson and Mrs. Phillips – cranked. All through middle school and high school – Mr. Mace, my choir teacher, cranked. At drama school we had a movement teacher named Marc Bell, and Rodney Cottier who is the head of drama. They grabbed me and they said, “You do what you do.” Yeah. I mean, there you go – half a dozen people who changed my life. All teachers.
I recognize that now. So yeah, I think the truth is, I go there wanting to teach something, and I walk away completely fed. You know, that’s how it works, right?
Yes, I do know. That’s how it feels when it fits!
So this is right, this is the right thing then. Another long way of saying, I think it certainly will be. I’m just trying to figure out how.
I think a neat way to stay involved in film and television, and to be a teacher, is to be a director. But it requires starting over, and that’s frightening…but not impossible.
Maybe not completely starting over, because you’re making connections now that are invaluable. You’d need some mentoring and maybe a little bit of some technical knowledge, but the instincts and the ability to see the whole are there. Well, those are my observations anyway. [laughing]
Yeah, yeah that’s true. There are definitely a lot of things I don’t see that go on behind the scenes, because I’m working on my own stuff behind the scenes. But there’s definitely…everyone thinks the director is the one doing all of the shots, and that’s not true. There’s more to it, more people involved. But there would be opportunities to work with that next generation, and that’s really interesting to me.
Actors are just fascinating to me. I say it almost from the outside looking in, you know? It’s why being on set is just so comfortable to me, because I’ve spent my whole life around actors. It just feels like home. Watching them create stuff out of nothing is just fascinating to me.
So is becoming a director more of a reality in your mind now, or are you still fighting that?
I’m still wrestling with it a little bit…because then I have to do what I keep telling other people to do, which is, you know, hilarious, right? [laughing] The younger generation is “well, if you’ve got an iPhone, go direct!” [laughing]
But I keep thinking “that’s hokey.” Do I really want to start over, and this and that…? But really Philip, you can’t say it and not do it. If you want do it, then just to it! [laughing]
I’ve got a few little shorts [films] knocking around that I’ve wanted to shoot for years with some friends of mine. They are sort of fantasy-based shorts that would be fun. Yeah, yes, I would love to do that so we’ll see. Perhaps if it’s necessary in this time off to do something creative. We’ll see what happens.
Well, you could always do that Shakespeare play you wanted to knock around in a barn.
Yeah, that’s right. That’s right! [laughing]
That’s always fun! And if you’re ever up for Henry V, I’ll be happy to stage manage for you!
Okay great! There’s so much good material out there, isn’t there?
Ok, last question. One of the things that always comes through so strongly is your reverence for the words. It all comes down to the words.
So, do you write?
I do write. I keep a journal for myself and have since I was young. I also keep a journal for my daughters in case something happens to me. It’s the journey of watching them grow up, that kind of thing. If, God willing, nothing happens to me, it’ll be a gift on their 18th birthdays, or something like that. So my writing is not story based, I don’t write scripts or anything like that.
Well, you might be. You could have a hell of a story going in those, you just don’t know it yet. It’s just not in that form yet.
Hey, maybe! I just don’t know it yet. So we’ll see!
So what’s the next big adventure? Stay tuned to this station, there is definitely exciting news coming…
Thanks to Grainne Nugent @emeraldisleedit for her beautiful cover images!
As always, enormous gratitude to Philip Winchester for his generosity of spirit.
I will be forever grateful to Dan Macpherson for the spark!