WASHINGTON — Cast members, producers, hundreds of sailors and even a few Coasties gathered here Wednesday night to attend the premiere of “The Last Ship,” a TV show in which the crew of the fictional destroyer Nathan James attempts to save the world from a deadly virus.
The stars walked the blue carpet at the Newseum in downtown Washington, D.C., while sailors mingled at a reception in the lobby to music from a Navy band to celebrate the opening of a drama where the U.S. Navy is the world’s last, best hope.
The Navy’s Office of Information-West played a key role in the show’s creation, producer Steve Kane told Navy Times, and he was happy to see it all finally come together.
“A lot of the last ship is really a meditation on leadership,” he said. “It’s a story about a captain trying to keep a ship together, and it’s a story about the sailors, trying to figure this thing out.”
The cast was able to spend time with real sailors and officers to learn about shipboard life, and when it came time to shoot the pilot, the Navy offered up the destroyer Halsey as the show’s set. The cast and crew spent three weeks filming in port in San Diego and another three days underway with the ship.
“We were able to talk to real ship captains about what they would do, and also real sailors about their life at sea,” he said. “Our goal was to, in a kind of super dramatic story, ground it in the reality of the Navy.”
Actor Adam Baldwin, who plays Nathan James’ executive officer Cmdr. Mike Slattery, said he’s pleased with the feedback he’s gotten from sailors. He was able to attend a screening of the pilot in the mess on the dock landing ship Oak Hill during New York’s fleet week in May.
“You couldn’t really hear too well, people were still clanking around with their food, but at a certain point, the crew was able to key in on the story itself and there were a few things, little nitpicky things they were able to see,” he said. “If we can win over sailors, then we’ve succeeded. You are our core audience.”
Baldwin said his co-starring relationship with Eric Dane, who plays ship commanding officer Cmdr. Tom Chandler, is a lot like the CO-XO relationship they act out on film.
“The XO and captain relationship is something that I was unaware of before I stepped onto this ship,” he said. “And what I’ve learned is that it’s an equal-among-peers relationship, with the captain having the final say. That’s my role as a supporting actor and that’s my role as the XO.”
Dane told Navy Times that the two have a running gin rummy game they began at the beginning of the season.
“We’re going to carry it on with the same two decks of cards as long as the show runs,” he said. “God willing, it’s five seasons, and we’ll have a ratty deck of cards at the end of the run.”
And what would a Navy show be without a SEAL and a love story? Actor Travis Van Winkle plays Lt. Dan Green, whose embedded team handles much of the dirty work as the ship’s crew tries to survive. Like his castmates, Van Winkle spent time with special operators to get a feel for their bearing.
“And what I found out is, these guys, they’re so soft, they’re so gentle,” he said. “They’re so creative and they’re so articulate. I expected them to be these hardened war veterans who had seen all this action, and they really surprised me with their grace.”
He also picked up what he described as a “look of knowing” that SEALs have, “knowing that at any second they could do whatever they wanted to you. I tried to just breathe that in as much as I could.”
Van Winkle’s Lt. Green is also tied up in a love affair with a female lieutenant junior grade on board. He took to heart the idea that their relationship had much wider implications than their feelings.
“One thing that happens is, how much do my personal matters get in the way of my service?” he said. “And I think when it comes to their service, that’s the big issue. They’re there to serve their country. In the show, I’m there to help do what I can do save the world. So whatever gets in the way of that, I need to choose what I focus on wisely.”
Despite the technical challenges of fictionalizing the Navy, producer Hank Steinberg said he wasn’t nervous at all about showing the pilot to a theater full of men and women in uniform.
“I think it shows the Navy in an incredibly flattering, heroic light,” he said. “I know because we’ve been working with the Navy all along, and they’ll tell us when they’re not happy. And they’re happy.”
The Last Ship premieres on TNT at 9 p.m. on June 22. Click here to see the trailer.