Robert Patrick understands why he often gets typecast as the bad guy. After all, the 53-year-old actor shot to worldwide fame by tangling with Arnold Schwarzenegger as the liquid-metal killing machine T-1000 in "Terminator 2." And with dozens of film and TV roles to his credit (including stints on "The X-Files" and "The Sopranos"), Patrick is now co-starring on ABC's new submarine thriller "Last Resort" as iron-willed Chief of Boat Joseph Prosser, who clashes with Andre Braugher's Captain Marcus Chaplin when the captain defies orders and goes rogue. But don't be too quick to label Prosser the bad guy.
"Early on, people have coined me as the villain," Patrick told us on the "Last Resort" set. "And you know, that's just baggage because I played one of the greatest villains of all time. It kind of follows you around. Obviously, that's not how I see this guy. I don't think he's a villain. What the f--- did he do?" Patrick went on to tell us (in colorful language) about his personal history with the military, why he actually views Prosser as "Last Resort's" protagonist, and why the rest of the Colorado's crew should be worried about Prosser.
Tell us about your character, Chief of Boat Joseph Prosser.
Joe Prosser is a career military man; he's an elite military man. A very small percentage of Navy people can make it into submarines, let alone an enlisted man becoming the Chief of Boat. So he's very proud of his accomplishment. He did it without college. That's one of the reasons he didn't make it to captain; he didn't have those four years of college. He's from a poor background. He got into the military, really, because he had no options.
And he takes it very, very seriously. He believes in America. He's the standard-bearer for protocol. That's why he's so outraged and personally offended by the treasonous act that Captain Chaplin has taken. He does not back the captain. He does not back the XO [executive officer]. He does not back the lieutenant. But he's a powerful and imposing force on the sub, as he should be, because all of the enlisted men look up to him for leadership and protocol. Chief of Boat is a very crucial part of any submarine. He believes in who he is. He believes in America. And he's there to follow orders.
It sounds like you did a lot of military research before taking this role. Or were you already familiar with that kind of thing?
I was familiar with the military because I've played a lot of military parts. You know, I've been doing this for 28 years and I think I've covered just about every branch of the military. And I come from a military background. I have uncles that were in the military; my grandfather served in four wars. I'm Scots-Irish American. My family's been here since before this was a country. So America means a lot to me. I believe in it. I believe it's the greatest nation on earth, as does Joe Prosser.
You know, I don't follow blindly. I do believe the military should be used only as a last resort -- no pun intended -- but if we do use the military, we should come in with a full can of whoop-ass. That's what I believe, and I think that's what Joe Prosser believes. And [creator] Shawn [Ryan] and I, having worked together before [on CBS's "The Unit"], I think that's why he thought of me for this role.
One of the interesting things about "Last Resort" is the moral ambiguity. Like your character: He comes off as the antagonist in a lot of ways, but you can see where he's coming from at the same time.
I actually think he's the protagonist. But that's how I look at it. You've gotta be totally committed to your character, and it's very easy for me to commit to this guy. And as you said, there lies the interest in this show. That's what gripped me as a reader. It's like, Jesus Christ, who are you pulling for? To me, Prosser is the most interesting character. Because he's got friendships, loyalties, brotherhood with Chaplin, but he's got an incredible allegiance to the United States of America.
So if the arc on this character is that I'm going to be crestfallen and find out that my country has betrayed me, it's going to be devastating. It will just destroy me. It will be equivalent to what the Vietnam veteran felt like when he was abandoned by his country at the end of Vietnam. That's the devastation that Joe Prosser is being set up for. In a lot of ways, this show could be about Joe Prosser, with him as the protagonist. But early on, people have coined me as the villain. And you know, that's just baggage because I played one of the greatest villains of all time. It kind of follows you around. Obviously, that's not how I see this guy. I don't think he's a villain. What the f--- did he do? But maybe that's one of the reasons why Shawn cast me. People just assume that I have to be the bad guy.
See Robert Patrick in action as Chief of Boat Joseph Prosser in this "Last Resort" clip:
But going back to Prosser's motivation, the U.S. military does end up firing on the Colorado in the pilot. Does that shake his faith at all?
No, he totally thinks it's justified. I actually have a line in the pilot where I say, "What the f--- do you expect when you don't obey orders?" Of course they're going to fire on you. You're a captain that's taken a nuclear submarine and you've gone rogue? What do you expect? They fired on you because you didn't follow orders. And that's how Prosser deals with it. Take us out! If anything, people should be worried about: Is Joe Prosser just gonna go ballistic one day? And say, "You know what? F--- you. I'm blowing us up." Because I've got nothing to live for. I don't have a wife and kids. I don't have anything to go back to. I've got the Navy. I'd just as soon throw myself on a grenade for my brothers and sisters in the military, and go out that way. If I've gotta ride the sub down, I'll ride it down. So that's where Prosser's at.
It's a great character to play. It's especially wonderful for me because I've spent a lot of time doing USO tours, going to Baghdad, going to Afghanistan, meeting the men and women of the armed forces. And that's the stock they are. They are so elite. They're the best that we have to offer. People say Olympians are the best we have to offer. No, no, no. It's the military. That's the best we have to offer. These are the people that are willing to lay it on the line. You're free because of these people. I'm free because of these people. That's one of the reasons why I wanted to play this part, to make sure it's played correctly. Because this part played by somebody else could, uh… could suck it up. [Laughs]
So what's Prosser's role now that the crew of the Colorado is off the boat and on this island?
He's still got a role of great power. That goes back to the fact that he is the Chief of Boat. There are two people who are not in training on the boat: the captain, and the Chief of Boat. The XO, they're in training. The lieutenant, they're in training. But the Chief of Boat's not in training. So he is looked upon as the standard-bearer. His job is to make sure there isn't any anarchy among the enlisted men. Make sure that they keep in check, and maintain the protocol, and all the procedures involved in running this boat. That's his duty. That's what he's been asked to do, and that's what he's going to try to fulfill.
Now you will see him challenged about that in subsequent episodes. But one of the great lines I have is, "You may not respect and believe in your captain, but you will respect and believe in the Chief of Boat. You will carry out your duties for the Chief of f---ing Boat." That's the service I'm providing to Marcus. He's asked me to come in and help him, and I gave him my word: "I'll help you. I will not sabotage the boat. But I'll see your ass in for treason. You and the XO and the lieutenant. I'll make sure you all go f---ing stand trial." So that's his commitment. That's where Prosser's head is right now. He's going to do everything he can to make it happen.
"Last Resort" airs Thursdays at 8 PM on ABC.