On his first day of shooting the pilot for Banshee, New Zealander Antony Starr was running through a fight scene on set in North Carolina when a fellow actor forgot the choreographed moves and smashed into his lip. It took six stitches to repair the damage that time, but by the time filming for the first episode had wrapped, Starr had amassed an injury inventory which had also included torn hamstrings and a "busted elbow".
"I had no idea of what I was in for," he says, talking about the physicality required for his character in the new HBO/Cinemax action-drama series. "I knew it was going to be very challenging physically but I didn't realise that we would be used for the stunts as much as we were. I figured it would be like other things I've done where you tag out and the stunt guy comes in and does all the dangerous stuff."
Such physicality definitely fits with his character, Lucas Hood, an expert ex-con who, after 15 years in prison, is searching for his sweetheart and dodging and fighting the gangsters he ripped off before going behind bars - all while hiding out with an assumed identity in the Amish community of Banshee.
The injuries also hint at what you can expect from the Allan Ball-produced show. The man who brought us True Blood and Six Feet Under has made his mark on Banshee, making it slick, sexy, violent and good to look at by using a hand-held camera throughout with great background scenery, and creating a script which combines drama with big budget action (check out the car chase in episode one).
Last month, Starr, who was home from the States for Christmas, described the show as different from anything else on television.
"It works very hard not to be put in a box," he says, "and it's pretty exciting to be involved in a project that feels like that. It feels very fresh."
He says it has a "sort of pulp element to it" but it isn't shot in a traditional pulpy way and, although the story's premise is heightened, it's played realistically.
This is evidenced in the many action scenes featuring Starr's character, Lucas. Starr is muscular and attractive with bright, striking eyes but he is not a big guy and, as he points out, many of his onscreen opponents are either enormous or come at him in gangs.
Rather than opt for the classic tough guy he says the scriptwriters tried to make his character more of a struggle where "strength of spirit perseveres and eventually wins the day as opposed to just some brawny hero coming in and wiping the floor".
Starr describes Lucas "as a guy who feels like he has been wronged by the world - and probably has a good case to make on that point", and says he is "extremely self-motivated, driven and tenacious" .
At the start of the series, fresh out of prison, he searches for the love of his life and the spoils from their last con-job which he believes she still has. On the way he witnesses the murder of the as-yet-unappointed sheriff of Banshee and assumes his identity, setting up camp in the small Amish town in Pennsylvania.
Starr is probably best known in New Zealand for his roles as Van and Jethro West on Outrageous Fortune. He left the country when it finished, finding work in Australia, and getting a Los Angeles-based agent to look out for interesting projects.
Banshee was the first one that he really wanted to be involved with.
The material was well written - "a drama with a lot of action all around it", as he describes it and having Allan Ball as a producer was a drawcard.
"He's Hollywood royalty so as soon as you hear his name is attached to something it's a no-brainer that you want to be involved. He's been a fantastic support for the project."
Banshee, SoHo, Tuesdays from January 15, 8.30pm
- © Fairfax NZ News
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