Sullivan Stapleton has spent the last half decade living like a traveling salesman all over the world for five seasons of the Cinemax series Strike Back, and battling Persian Empire forces in the 300 prequel. Now, he’s starring with Jaimie Alexander in Blindspot, the new Greg Berlanti-exec produced and Martin Gero-created drama about an amnesiac frightened woman who emerges nude from a zippered duffel bag in Times Square, tattooed head to toe, with the name of FBI agent Kurt Weller stenciled between her shoulder blades. Stapleton plays that agent in a heavily hyped drama that blends elements of Memento and The Bourne Identity; those tattoos are the equivalent of a treasure map leading to a larger conspiracy, and the FBI agent has secrets of his own.
Stapleton is among the remarkable group that popped off the tiny Australian indie gem Animal Kingdom, with Jacki Weaver, writer-director David Michod, Joel Edgerton and Bloodlines star Ben Mendelsohn the others. While Stapleton said he’s grateful for the whirlwind ride that followed, he is eager to settle in with a series that allows him to establish roots in New York. It’s the first permanent home he has had in years, since he knocked around Melbourne waiting for his chance.
“It has been great to travel the world and being allowed to do what we did on Strike Back in all the countries we did it in, and it’s gratifying to have so many people tell me how much they f*cking loved it,” he said. But it’s nice to just be here, looking for an apartment, finding a favorite restaurant and getting to properly know a place,” Stapleton said. “It’s the first time in years that I can settle down somewhere, because the whole show takes place in New York.”
Stapleton is fully recovered from a mishap in Bangkok sustained during Strike Back, where he took a fall he thought was nothing more than a concussion, but turned out much worse.
“It was a pretty bad injury, a skull fracture and it took about six months until I could go back to Strike Back,” he said. “It was a very serious injury. It definitely made me realize how important life is, not that I was oblivious before. The idea that idea things could go away so quickly, that was a real eye opener and I have taken a new view at life.”
Despite the rough-and-tumble nature of his guilty pleasure Cinemax series, Stapleton said he misses the pace and his crew and cast of a series that wrapped last Christmas. He then starred as a Navy SEAL in the Serbia-set action feature The Lake that was scripted by Luc Besson and The Equalizer’s Richard Wenk, and the Aussie crime thriller Cut Snake. Once he decided to do another series, Stapleton became a coveted piece of talent and saw the best pilot scripts. This was a much different experience than back home in Australia when he started out playing TV roughnecks and incorrigible boyfriends.
“The pilot script was smart, and the team behind it made Blindspot a nice ship to jump on,” he said. “I love the FBI and the Critical Instant Response Group team, and the setup is so good. Jane Doe, with my name tattooed on her back, and all those tattoos are different cases that bring us closer to finding out who she was, because she has been injected with drugs and has full amnesia. Through that, we find out about my character, his past and what made this guy become an FBI officer. There are good scenes with great action, and the long term potential to go anywhere. That’s what drew me. It’s a great mix of all the elements that make a good show.”
He’s more than happy not to be the character holding all the clues and reveals, as Alexander’s character discovers she has Rhonda Rousey fighting skills and can speak Chinese, for instance. “Jaimie, if they need a full body of those tattoos for shooting, it takes about six or seven hours to put them all on,” Stapleton said. “That’s a huge job, and I feel for her.”
Stapleton — whose Pierce Brosnan dark looks should put him on any of those 007 short lists should Daniel Craig decide to move on — said he has no plans to stop making features when he can squeeze them in. That’s happening right now as he figures out his hiatus. So much for sitting on some New York stoop.
Said Stapleton: “I always felt it was bullsh*t, when actors say they just do films. For f*ck sake, how many films are you going to chase around for the rest of your life? You might have a ball doing a film for three months, and then it’s done and dusted, and that film might not be a success in ticket sales and profits. People start calling it a flop, or a fail, and then where are you? In TV, we get to explore these characters for longer periods, and then it’s done and dusted and you can do the movie or go on holiday a few months, and then you get to do it all over again and take the character even further. There is great stuff on television, and in film, just as there is sh*t, in both places.”