One of the posters advertising ABC's new action show "Last Resort" shows a hunky Scott Speedman emerging from the water, an American flag in his hand.
Being a poster boy is fine with the actor, who is returning to television full time for the first time since he was a heartthrob on "Felicity" more than a decade ago. Since then, he has been in films as diverse as the vampire franchise "Underworld" and acclaimed indies such as "Barney's Version."
Water, coincidentally is a natural medium for Speedman, who went to a high school for gifted athletes in Toronto where he trained to become a long-distance swimmer. His Olympic dreams ended when he was 16, however, due to injury. He still occasionally suffers from "dead arm," he says, because
he pushed himself too much at a young age.
The school, though, also specialized in the arts, and he soon found a new calling in acting.
On "Last Resort," he plays Executive Officer Sam Kendal, the second in command on the state-of-the art submarine USS Colorado who thus has the second key needed to launch the warship's nuclear missiles. The vessel is seemingly on a routine mission when it's ordered to fire on Pakistan. Though there are heightened tensions in the world, Capt. Marcus Chaplin (Andre Braugher) and Kendal become suspicious because the directive came from a back channel rather than the normal one.
When they ask for authentication, the sub is fired upon, forcing it to take evasive action. Eventually, the crew takes refuge and then control of the fictional island of Sainte Marina where there is a NATO radar installation and a hostile local population. Still armed with a number of deadly warheads, Chaplin declares the island its own nuclear power and warns the American government against trying to attack.
Not all of the story takes place on the sub or island. There is obviously something going on in a divided Washington, D.C., where Sam's wife (Jessy Schram) lives and where the father of one of the sub's officers (Daisy Betts) is caught up in a web of deception.
The first episode immerses viewers in the action right away. It was directed by Martin Campbell, who has made two of the better James Bond films -- "GoldenEye" and "Casino Royale."
"I am as intrigued as everyone else to see how they're going to do it," says Speedman on how the series intends to maintain the intensity of the first episode.
When we talked, the actor was about to head to Hawaii to begin filming "Last Resort's" second episode and was pleased with the direction the show was going. "If you're going to take a leap like this, you want somebody like Shawn Ryan at the helm. That was a risk that I was willing to take."
There won't be a "monster of the week," says executive producer Ryan, whose credits include the highly acclaimed "The Shield." And while acknowledging that "Last Resort" will have a Tom Clancy aspect to it, he insists that the series is not simply a story about war.
"In the same way that 'Casablanca' and 'Gone with the Wind' and 'Reds' and 'Doctor Zhivago' were personal character stories about people in the middle of crisis, that's what we're hoping to do in a weekly series," says Ryan. "And as a result, we're going to delve into what happens between Sam and Marcus. They're in lockstep at the beginning of this pilot. But will they stay in lockstep? Will they become opposed to each other?"
At one point in the opening episode, Braugher's captain explains that to make sure U.S. forces don't try to attack the sub again he has to act a little crazy. (The story involves Ronald Reagan.) So one question the show poses: Is Marcus, who has some personal burdens, crazy or not?
"There's a seed of grief growing inside Marcus that is going to manifest itself in some way," says the Emmy-winning actor Braugher about his character. "He's a man who has lost a lot, and unlike Sam, he doesn't have something to go back to and so it's the beginning of a change."
Ryan says he isn't worried that "Last Resort" is on at 8 p.m. and notes "Lost" -- a show he worked on that was from J.J. Abrams (who also created "Felicity") -- also started in that time slot, adding that the network hasn't put any constraints on the show's content.
"We are going to make the kind of smart adult drama we hope is provocative," he says.
For Speedman, the role of a military man of action like Sam is light years from soft-spoken, sensitive Ben of "Felicity." A technical adviser has been helping the actors look like they belong on a nuclear sub.
"In reality, there's a lot more protocols you have to go through to fire a nuclear missile," Speedman says, "but at some point you got to put all that down and get into the fiction of the show."
Last Resort What: Action drama about an American submarine crew who, after refusing to attack Pakistan, set themselves up as a nuclear power on an island.