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Rhona Mitra talks the launch of her new series 'The Last Ship'

Rhona Mitra as virologist Dr. Rachel Scott on "The Last Ship."
Rhona Mitra as virologist Dr. Rachel Scott on "The Last Ship."
TNT/Karen Ballard, with permission

Summer is the perfect time to launch a series about saving mankind. And that is just what TNT is doing with the premiere of "The Last Ship," debuting this Sunday.

"The Last Ship" is the story of a worldwide pandemic that has killed the majority of the population on planet earth. But the USS Nathan James, which has been at sea, mainly in the Arctic for the past four months, has a virologist on board -- Dr. Rachel Scott (Rhona Mitra) -- who may just be able to produce a vaccine to save the survivors.

As the story plays out the Nathan James' Captain Tom Chandler (Eric Dane) discovers what Rachel has really been doing -- instead of pretending to be doing a study on birds she has been looking for the source of the infection -- and it then becomes his job is to protect Rachel and her assistant Dr. Quincy Tophet (Sam Spruell) from the foreign powers who want the cure for themselves.

In this interview to promote the launch of "The Last Ship," Mitra talks about who she gets chosen to play resilient women, how she isn't a girly girl, what people can take away from "The Last Ship" in addition to the fun of all the action, and more.

Your role in "Strike Back" was quite the powerful woman, both smart and physically capable. Now, you're playing another smart woman in "The Last Ship." How enjoyable is it for you to be offered these kinds of roles?

It's one of those things that you wonder, and it's interesting that somebody actually has a perspective on that. because I wonder whether that's in my own little incubated, mad mind that I keep on playing what I get dubbed as "badass chicks." But they're not really. They're just strong, and people, I think, write about them and say that's what she is. And it's really nice in this role to actually be in a much stronger, very masculine world and be more cerebral for a change, as much as the task at hand involves being strong and having all of those skills. But I feel that I sometimes try to beat down the door of being the more gentle, vulnerable, and it just wasn't the way I was raised. I think that I was born with a pair of army boots on, and a task is in hand, and I get it done. So maybe I perceived it as being a hindrance for a while, and apparently, it's more to my help than it is anything else.

What does it mean to be born with army boots on?

From what I was told, I came out fighting. I was born between two brothers so I have a natural tendency to lean towards fight or flight, really in my life. It's given me coping mechanisms in my personal life and my professional life, to be able to tread both sides of being able to be masculine when I need to be, and be feminine, which I've had to work on more as I've gotten older. The masculine was very pervasive.

What's the unique challenge with working on a project like this?

Working on a naval destroyer on a physical level was incredibly taxing because none of us have worked on a ship like this. So physically, it was restricting, and also because time-wise, we had to work with its schedule. But as the only sort of zoologist or scientist in a very stark military, very full family if you will, being the unwanted orphan child, as it turns out for a moment, it was quite difficult because it's like being the child on the playground that no one wants to play with.

But at the end of day when you have a mission which is far greater and eclipses anything that anyone could possibly imagine, it becomes actually a very easy task because you're left with the solo understanding that you have the human race and its existence in your hands. So you run with that bone.

We haven't had a pandemic of this nature to deal with in real life thank goodness. But does the doing of this show and the research that you did impress upon you how fragile we are?

I already knew how fragile we were before I started shooting this show. So the show didn't impose that knowledge upon me. I already was aware of the state that we are in as a race and the fragility of our planet. So, I came fairly well equipped with an abundant amount of knowledge as to where we're at.

And so I find this to be an extraordinary channel to be able to expose some of that information and share some of the possibilities of how we can tackle the solutions for a possible pandemic like this.

First and foremost, people will watch "The Last Ship" because of the big explosions and lots of action, but I gather that you're hoping that there's something more that people can take away from it. What do you most hope that people will take away from watching it?

It has human beings deal with a situation of this magnitude, and how we come together as a unified force. It really doesn't matter whether you're from a military background or a scientific background, what it boils down to is who you are as a human being and how you show up.

Rachel and the captain get off on the wrong foot, but quickly learn they have to work together. Can you discuss that dynamic?

It's completely expected to have more than a little bit of tension when you're dealing with the fate of the human race and two very steadfast people with very different backgrounds, neither of which understand each other.

There's the motivation that the captain of a ship has is to take care of his crew and be on mission. And when he's not exposed to the mission, which is a much greater mission than his own, which is one that one woman is harboring, it's hard to not think of one person as being an albatross to his ship.

So it's about working around and having the ship and the captain realize that you're the dove and not the albatross. So it's a lovely dance that we play out really with one goal, which is a unified goal which cannot be about ego. It can't be about government. It can't be about what everyone has learned before and your credentials and your stripes and your credits.

Out of the whole experience, what's been your favorite part overall?

My favorite part has been talking with the scientists, the virologists and the paleomicrobiologists about the truth of the situation and digging in deep to connecting to the reality of story versus the reality of what’s happening on our planet, and connecting to that as a human being, as a woman, and making sure that umbilical cord is connected and the through line is joined and that it doesn't seem like some sci-fi, far off, extraordinary possibility.

"The Last Ship" premieres Sunday, June 22 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on TNT.

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