CHICAGO – The season finale of TNT Network’s “The Last Ship” was this previous Sunday (Sep. 11, 2016), and as finales tend to do, there were surprises. One of these shocks was the death of the character Roberta Price, the regional leader of the Deep South. The actress who portrayed her, Lucy Butler, was a surprised as anyone else, and talked to HollywoodChicago.com regarding the transition.
“The Last Ship” is a popular action-drama show on TNT, and has been renewed for Season Four in 2017. The premise is in the title, when a worldwide epidemic has wiped out 80% of the world’s population, a lone naval destroyer floats with 218 souls on board, working on a cure. “The Last Ship” features Eric Dane as Captain Tom Chandler, Rhona Mitra as Dr. Rachel Scott and Adam Baldwin as Captain Mike Slattery. Lucy Butler portrayed tough-as-nails regional director Roberta Price on the ship, a politician with an agenda. Her death was facilitated by rival character Allison Shaw (Elizabeth Röhm), who double crossed her when she thought they were teaming up.
Butler has roots in Chicago as a performer, having studied at The Second City in the 1980s, and also appeared on stage here. She moved to Los Angeles shortly thereafter, and has appeared in TV’s “Family Ties,” “The West Wing,” “ER” and “Criminal Minds,” with a multi-episode role on “The Gilmore Girls.” Her film credits include “Matinee,” “The Net” and “Monkeybone,” with a notable role in David Lynch’s “Lost Highway.” Lucy Butler also has a travel business, and is currently portraying the title character in a short film entitled “Ruby.”
On a significant week in her acting career, Lucy Butler talked via phone to HollywoodChicago.com, and was able to provide some final thoughts on her late character on “The Last Ship.”
HollywoodChicago.com: You got a surprise ending on the final episode of ‘The Last Ship,’ with the demise of your character Roberta Price. What was your reaction?
Lucy Butler: It was a surprise to me, too. One of the super fun things about doing the show was that from week-to-week, I had no idea what the writers had in store for me. I got the script and thought, ‘wow, okay, here we go.’
HollywoodChicago.com: What is your elegy for your character Roberta Price, and how do you feel it contributed to the show?
Butler: Her elegy is that the show was written and directed by a number of women, which you wouldn’t think would be the case in a show executive produced by the creator of ‘Transformers,’ Michael Bay. It was female driven, and Roberta was a strong female character. There was actually a line in the last episode where they said, ‘Roberta Price is the meanest and the smartest.’ And those are the roles usually portrayed by men. That is what I loved about her.
It’s like a study of political candidates – male candidates don’t need to be liked, but female candidates do. That’s a sexist attitude that we have, but there was nothing remotely sexist in the way the writers created Roberta. She kicked you-know-what and takes no prisoners. In a way, I think it contributed to and symbolized the struggle between good and evil in the show. In the show they emphasize that democracy is not working, and Roberta represented the disregard for democracy and due process, and the worst of capitalism.
HollywoodChicago.com: As a working actor with a long list of credits, what type do you seem to land the most, and why do you think that occurs?
Butler: I tend to land strong women that know what they want, and don’t put up with a lot of bullshit, because honestly that’s the way I am. However, I am portraying a character in a short film coming up named Ruby, who has wanted to break out of her mold that has defined her whole life. That is something that we all can relate to, no matter how outsider you feel, there are ways we want to spread our wings in ways we haven’t been able to do – Ruby is very shut down. Her character is different for me, with that oppression.
HollywoodChicago.com: Since you’ve been on a variety of TV and film sets over the years, is there one specifically you found to be one of the easiest, and was there one where the atmosphere was more difficult?
Butler: Honestly, ‘The Last Ship’ was a great environment for me. The Executive Producer is Steven Kaine, and the professionalism starts from the top down, and that’s exactly what I experienced on ‘The Last Ship.’ I would have to go back a long time to find a set that was difficult. It was a made-for-TV movie about aliens, and every time I asked the director a question, he treated me as if he was swatting at a fly. He wasn’t interested.
As far as a film set, director David Lynch creates the most inviting environment for actors. He never raises his voice, he is a practitioner of meditation, and he treats everyone special. I felt nothing but love.
HollywoodChicago.com: Didn’t you also do a run on the cult classic TV show ‘The Gilmore Girls’?
Butler: That was interesting, it was a real trial by fire, because of the amount and precision of the dialogue. They wanted every word perfect from the scripts, including all the children that were on the show. It was amazing training, because like doing a Shakespeare play, every word had to be right. It was fun.
HollywoodChicago.com: What was behind your decision to move to Chicago to study at The Second City? What did that famed conservatory give you that you keep close in your acting toolbox to this very day?
Butler: It was the worst reason imaginable. I was dating a guy who was going to Loyola University and I moved there to be with him. [laughs] But the timing was right, because of the explosion of Chicago theater in the late 1970s/early 1980s. My goal was to get my union card, and it happened for me the first year there.
What The Second City gave me that was so crucial – and I didn’t completely understand it until I did that character of Ruby in the short film – was no fear regarding improvisation. In the film, me and the actor playing my husband will be improvising. I embrace it wholeheartedly, and it gives me the ability to really listen to the other actor. It’s all about the listening.
I owe my creative life to Chicago, it will always hold a special place in my heart.
HollywoodChicago.com: What connection do you make as an actor doing stage work, that you don’t find in working in TV or film, and what is the challenge in TV/film that isn’t present on stage?
Butler: The challenge in TV and film, to answer your question in reverse, is that so much of it is sitting around, maybe for hours. Then suddenly in the middle of the night they’re doing your biggest scene. I have to keep myself focused and steady. I don’t do anything disruptive, I read, write or meditate. I need to stay focused.
On stage, I feel that the audience is another character, the show reacts to their feedback. You obviously don’t get that on a TV or film set. The response from the audience in a theater setting is a dynamic that cannot be duplicated, and it is what I miss when I’m not doing theater.
HollywoodChicago.com: Your bio lists a rich life that involves your travel business. How does the power of travel, and experiencing different cultures, expand upon your range as an actor?
Butler: It’s a tremendous advantage, because that’s what I’m interested in – how people think, how they eat and how does their social history inform those choices? What is considered rude in one culture, and perfectly acceptable in another? I’m fascinated how people operate, and travel gives me an immersion to all that humanity – and that is what we do as actors.
HollywoodChicago.com: Your husband was heavily involved in the film industry in a business capacity. In your observation, what would surprise the average movie goer and fan about how that business operates?
Butler: Films themselves don’t make a lot of money. Studios don’t necessarily make their money from films – it could be from TV, theme parks or home video. The higher the budget, the more difficult it is to get a return. Your average movie goer may be surprised by that.
HollywoodChicago.com: What kind of role, that you think maybe casting directors haven’t considered your for, would you like to play in your upcoming career?
Butler: One of the roles I portrayed on ‘Criminal Minds’ was a woman who was trailer trash. Those kind of out-there roles, eccentric and character-driven, that was something I’d like to explore more. Also, I’d like to be a love interest. As the baby boomers get older, we’re seeing more later-in-life love stories, and that is something I’d really like to do.
|By PATRICK McDONALD
Writer, Editorial Coordinator