As Lieutenant Carlton Burk on the TNT drama series “The Last Ship,” Jocko Sims not only survived the Apocalypse, but the casting sheet as well. Originally slated to guest star in five episodes, the Texas native was told at the end of the first season that he shouldn’t go out for any new pilots because they wanted him to come back as a series regular. He has been fighting the good fight ever since.
We recently sat down with Sims to discuss how being on set taps into his childhood imagination, the places he never thought he’d get to explore with Burk, and the greatest movie Michael Bay has yet to make but should, “Transformers Chainsaw Massacre.”
TrunkSpace: The fourth season of “The Last Ship” is airing now, but you actually just wrapped up the fifth as well. Was that an unusual experience in relation to previous seasons, shooting them back-to-back like that?
Sims: Yes, it definitely was. Usually we film somewhere between five and six months out of the year for one season. And then when we got the two-season pick up and we were told we were gonna film the entire thing back-to-back, we were taken aback a little bit. We were like “Wow,” because we realized we were gonna film for an entire year straight. And we did just that, and you know, it actually was a blur. It went by quicker than any of us anticipated.
TrunkSpace: One of the amazing things about the show is the realistic quality of the sets. When you first stepped foot on the bridge of the ship, with all of the buttons and knobs and crazy lighting, was your inner 13-year-old super excited?
Sims: To be honest, 30-something-year-old me is still excited. (Laughter) And five seasons in, every time I step into the CIC (Combat Information Center), where all the action goes down, even though it’s just a set, it’s really remarkable. I’m always in there pressing buttons and trying not to break them, because they’re not real. And I’ll get in trouble sometimes, but you can’t help but sit there and call out a command and press something and just imagine a Tomahawk missile or something being launched from this multi-billion dollar equipment of a naval ship. I mean, it’s just incredible. You’re right, it does tap into your sort of childhood imagination and dreams.
TrunkSpace: And they’re just so authentic, so it only helps spark the imagination even more.
Sims: That’s a testament to the support of the United States Navy. Even the Secretary of the Navy himself, who made a cameo in season 2, Ray Mabus, came by and he stepped foot on our sets and he said he literally couldn’t tell the difference between the p-ways, which are the hallways of the ship, and the actual ship. Of course, CIC is not exactly precise and accurate, because there are some limitations there as far as what we’re able to emulate for security reasons, but other than that, there are lots of parts of the ship that are exactly carbon copies, so it’s pretty remarkable what they’ve done.
TrunkSpace: When you started out on the show, you came in as a guest star. Did you have any idea you’d still be talking about your character Carlton Burk all these years later?
Sims: Not at all. Five episodes turned into five seasons and that’s how I like to tell it. And it was exactly that. I didn’t know about “The Last Ship” when I got on for the second episode. The pilot they had shot in 2012, I think, and it took them a while before they picked it up. And then in 2013, I came and I was at the table read and was instantly a part of the family. I couldn’t predict that I was going to be there for the long-haul, but I just felt very much at home. I was treated much the same by all the regulars there, who were the original people – Eric Dane, Adam Baldwin, Christina Elmore, Charles Parnell, and Mr. Travis Van Winkle. And before I knew it, the season was up and Hank Steinberg (series creator) came to me and pulled me aside. He said, “Hey, pilot season is coming up, but don’t go out for any pilots, I’m gonna lock you in.”
TrunkSpace: That’s awesome. Not only to see the role turn into a series regular, but on top of that, not to have to deal with the heartbreak of pilot season!
Sims: Listen, not just that, but for the last five pilot seasons. (Laughter) It’s been amazing. That’s always a blessing, as an actor. And you know, I even talk to our sound guy, Steve Nelson, and he’s been in the business for 30 years. And he’s done a lot of films. As we were wrapping up he said, “This is my first time ever wrapping a fifth season of a show.” That touched me and helped me to really appreciate more of the experience that we’re currently having.
TrunkSpace: As far as other series go, “The Last Ship” really seems to have had a different kind of journey than a lot of others that have made it on the air. It has sort of marched to the beat of its own drum.
Sims: Absolutely, well, or at least marched to the beat of the audience. They’ve been mad supportive of the entire run. And we had a little bit of a delay to get on the air for season 4 as they pushed the schedule back, and the fans were going a bit stir-crazy. And I don’t blame them. I mean, as it stands now, for the first three seasons, we would have to wait nearly a year for the show to air. This one went a little bit beyond a year, but the payoff thus far has been so great for the fans. They’re really enjoying this season.
TrunkSpace: Throughout those seasons, what is something that the writers handed you story-wise that you were excited to throw yourself into and stretch yourself as an actor?
Sims: Well, there’s a couple of things, and it started in season 2 for me. That’s when I feel that Burk really began to come alive as a character. Well, actually I can go back to season 1. When I first got the role, there I was signed on to play this tough-as-nails guy, who is going to be, essentially yelling at his men and getting them prepared for what’s to come, and I’ve never played a character like that before. So it was great to dive into that. But what I loved about what the writers had written from the very beginning, was that Burk had this interesting parallel where he was going to be loyal to the Navy, loyal to the ship, and loyal to the mission, but at the same time, he has a big heart. And so there’s scenes in season 1 where I would be going hard on Kevin Michael Martin’s character, Miller, and ask him if he’s bucking for a silver star. After he hears a noise and fires his rifle off, it turns out to be a crow that he was firing at. And I take his gun away and he moves on. And then Captain Chandler comes up to me and I ask him, “Is that a little too much?” And he goes, “Nope, that was just right.”
So the fact that they had that duality going on in the character from the beginning I thought was really cool. And then in season 2, you see an even softer side of Burk as you got a love interest in Ravit Bivas, who was played by, Inbar Lavi. She is a fantastic actress and we hit it off pretty well. And also that was an interesting journey because she came in for seven episodes and then, of course, her character dies at the end of that, so Burk has definitely gone through a lot of emotion and that has definitely been the case for this season as well.
TrunkSpace: You mention this season specifically there, and we saw on your Twitter page that you felt the recent episode was the strongest so far. Now in season 4, that’s where a lot of shows start to lose their storytelling juice. What do you think keeps things going so strong for “The Last Ship?”
Sims: Well, the writers have always wanted to make sure that each season was going to be a stand-alone season. Season 1 was about finding out what this virus was, who weaponized it, why it’s killed billions of people, and coming up with the vaccine. Season 2 was about going back to America. Going home, and seeing what was left of home. And that was also the season where you saw the rise of the Immunes. Season 3 was about distributing the virus all around the world, and then we find out in Asia that we’re having some trouble curing some people. We didn’t know if the virus had mutated at that point or if we found out that some people, perhaps the president of China, was sort of wrangling that vaccine and using it for his own purposes. And then season 4, now you see that the virus have shifted and it’s jumped into the crops and it’s affected the world’s crops, so now we’re dealing with world hunger, potentially, and famine. And so I think what makes the show so strong is that each season has its own obstacles and its own new enemy, and that’s what keeps it interesting and keeps it fun.
TrunkSpace: You’ve been hosting, producing, and directing “Apollo Night LA” since before your “The Last Ship” journey began. Is it important for you to maintain other creative endeavors outside of acting and diversify your own brand as much as possible?
Sims: Yeah, definitely. And it’s not so much just attempting to do so, but it’s more about the natural inclination to do it, just as an artist. When you’re an artist, you’re an artist. And that’s why you find a lot of people who are actors who also happen to be musicians, and vice versa. And you know, the older I get, the more I want to branch out and start exploring other things that I might be interested in.
Recently I started toying with the idea of painting a little bit. I’m not sure I have the patience exactly for that yet, but I’m definitely in touch with my artistic side. I definitely want to direct a lot more and write, and I’m interested in maybe doing a horror film or something in the horror genre. When I was growing up, I wasn’t inspired so much by actors as I was by directors. Wes Craven was one of my favorites, because he created the best boogie man of all time in Freddy Krueger.
I want to reinvent the wheel, in that regard – try and to capture that. And I know people have tried time and again, with different genres, but that would be my ultimate goal as a creative person at this point.
TrunkSpace: “A Nightmare on Elm Street” was such an ingenious idea because everyone can relate to sleeping and dreaming, so to weaponize that, it’s terrifying. It was lighting in a bottle, and, even when they tried to remake it, the concept didn’t work as well.
Sims: Yeah, it’s very difficult to recreate some of the classics. Very few people have been able to do it successfully. God Bless him, Michael Bay, who’s my boss’ boss’ boss, he’s the one. He’ll remake anything. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” “Transformers,” “Chainsaw Massacre,” “Amityville Horror,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” It doesn’t matter. If you can think of it, he’s gonna do it.
TrunkSpace: For a second there it sounded like you said “Transformers Chainsaw Massacre,” which, by the way, would be incredible!
Sims: (Laughter) Hey, listen, with Michael Bay, I wouldn’t put it past him.
“The Last Ship” airs Sundays on TNT.
Watch “Apollo Night LA” every Monday at 7 pm PST here.
Featured Image: Photographed by Steven Gerlich at Aesthesia Studios