It’s been almost 15 years since CBS’ naval military legal drama JAG went off the air, but now the network is launching a new series that looks at the legal eagles that comprise the prosecutors, defense lawyers and investigators for the U.S. Marine Corps.
Aussie actor Luke Mitchell, who just wrapped up several seasons on Blindspot, takes on the role of Captain John “Abe” Abraham, a driven prosecutor for whom becoming a Marine is a longstanding family tradition and a responsibility he treats with devotion and passion.
“Abe’s a three-dimensional character,” Mitchell tells Parade.com in this exclusive interview. “On the outside looking in, he’s this perfect, all-American guy, but he’s got a lot of stuff going on. He’s a third generation Marine. He was injured in combat. He had to completely change his life and find a new passion and that was becoming a prosecutor. There’s a lot that is going on with him that he doesn’t outwardly show and I find that side of him to be really interesting.”
This is quite a switch from your role as Roman on Blindspot. With Roman, you never knew for sure what side he was on. But Abe is this straight as an arrow guy. What about him intrigued you?
Abe is intrinsically different to Roman, and that is fascinating to me as an actor. To be able to go from one extreme to the other, I feel incredibly lucky and grateful. I’ve never played a character like Abe before. Also, we’re dealing with the world of military law, which is just a really fascinating playground to play in. It’s something that I didn’t really know much about leading into this, but the more I learned, the more interested I was.
Will there be flashbacks to those time periods Abe spent in the Marines before coming to JAG? Maybe some action sequences?
I think the idea is to show the main characters traveling overseas to investigate cases and being on the cusp of being in danger. I don’t know how much I can tell you about whether or not we will have flashbacks to Abe’s time in combat and certainly around the time that he was injured. But from an acting standpoint, I certainly hope we do, because it’s a very fascinating story.
Abe’s relationship with Alex (Justine Cotsonas), the widow of his best friend, is an intriguing one. He is stepping in to take over some of the tasks her husband would have performed. How will that play out?
She’s heavily recurring throughout the season. It’s actually a really interesting story and it’s a bold move to explore that territory. I’m not saying what will happen between these two specifically, but it happens a lot in the military, where someone dies and then the best friend or a brother is there to look after and support the family. And through that, lines can be blurred and lines can be crossed because that father figure, that husband figure, is gone. In Abe’s case, he’s doing all the things for the family that his former CO would have been doing, except for the relationship side of things at this point. It’s a very interesting area to explore and I think it’s slightly controversial.
So, not only is this a military drama, but it’s also a legal drama, which meant you had double the language to learn, because each of those has its own specific vocabulary. Is that the most difficult part for you as an actor, or, maybe getting dressed so all your bars are in the right order? Because military people will be at home and they’ll watch to make sure that you have everything right.
Totally. Totally. On the word thing, I don’t think I’ve ever said so many words in my life. I’ve said more words in the last five months of shooting than I have in the last five years. But yes, it is a great challenge, and we’re very lucky that the writing is great. If the writing wasn’t great, then saying the words would be a punishment. But there’s a rhythm to click into. I think the first couple of episodes are probably the hardest. But then you feel out the character and you’re like, “This is who he is, this is the parameters and this is the language.” Obviously, the more you do it, the more you understand the flow of it.
But also, the costuming side of things is incredible. It forms the character so much, because it makes you more rigid. Most of the costumes — except for the camo gear, because the camo gear is loose fitting and feels very comfortable — but the dress blues are quite rigid and you have to stand a certain way in them. So, it really informs the character’s choices. For me, it’s really interesting because I’m quite a casual guy in real life. I constantly have my hands in my pocket and that is one of the things you’re not allowed to do in the military. You’re never allowed to put your hands in your pockets. You’re not even allowed to use your pockets. It’s hilarious, it’s almost like they have pockets just to test your willpower not to use them.
Some of the equipment that you use must be coming from the military. I was wondering if they’ve ever said “no” to any of the cases that you are presenting because some of them are controversial.
That’s a great question. I don’t think I’m the best person to answer that. But we do have a lot of help and we have the best of the best. I pinch myself daily walking on the set, because of the amount of cool stuff we get to play with. And sometimes we don’t even get to play with it, it’s just there in the background. But it informs the scene, informs the world and just makes the show feel that much more authentic. We play in the grey area every episode, and it’s really fascinating. Marines are the best of the best in what they do, but they’re also human beings and they’re flawed and people make mistakes. The writers have done a really brilliant job of crafting these stories and making them really interesting. I think each week the audience won’t know exactly what’s going on. It’s just not black and white until the resolution each episode.
You’re speaking to me now with your Australian accent and yet, on the show, you speak American perfectly. Do they have a class now in Australia — because so many Australian actors are coming here — teaching how to speak with an American accent?
They do. They do. One of the first things I did when I was learning to be an actor in Australia … you obviously need to learn to act, and then if you actually want this as a career, it would be in your best interest to learn how to do an American accent because the industry in America is just so much bigger than the industry in Australia. It’s very difficult to sustain a career solely in Australia.
So, I took classes pretty early on. And then when my wife [actress Rebecca Breeds] and I moved to the States, I would hire an accent coach for each audition. I got lucky that I got work pretty quickly, but being able to use the accent day in and day out, obviously, it’s like going to the gym, the more you do it, the stronger you get and the easier it becomes. So, I’m very grateful that I put in all that work, all that time ago, because it’s certainly being tested on the show with the amount of words that I have to say.
You’re in Australia now, is that still home? Or have you moved to the U.S.?
We’ve been living in the U.S. for the last six years and going where the work is. We’re kind of nomads because we are in the States to work. We have green cards, but our family is back home. We like Australia, so we come home as much as we can, but we spend more time in the States for sure.