This Tuesday on Shooter (USA Network, 10/9c) — in what turned out to be Season 2’s penultimate episode — Julie Swagger will have her own drama to deal with while husband Bob Lee labors to extricate himself from a Mexican prison (ideally to make it home in time for daughter Mary’s first communion).
Because while Bob Lee and Isaac were getting the drop on Solotov’s money man, “something snapped” inside Julie, her portrayer Shantel VanSanten says, prompting her to “push back” against a creep who was crowding her at a local gun range — by discharging her gun right next to his ear.
In the Q&A below, the One Tree Hill and Flash alum opens up about how her own PTSD experience helped inform her on-screen journey. VanSanten also previews what’s ahead for Julie, Bob Lee and “Travis,” and then shares what sort of cliffhanger next week’s early finale will serve up.
TVLINE | This spring I binged Season 1, which was so strong, so intense. Was there anything you wanted out of Season 2, with regards to Julie?
I know that after the way we ended Season 1, with Julie having taken the responsibility of killing Jack Payne, I wanted to make sure that we were responsible with it. I was even worried when we shot that, that people weren’t going to understand where that came from, or think that it was hasty…. It’s just sensitive subject matter because of the current affairs that we live in, where guns and shootings are a very sensitive subject, and I didn’t want to take it lightly. [The writers] took it to the place they wanted, where Julie’s really struggling with PTSD, and I think that’s only normal for somebody who’s not in the military, who doesn’t shoot people and have that risk in front of them all the time.
I also knew that I wanted to see Julie’s strength grow. In the first season we watched Julie being an amazing support system for Bob Lee, and a mother who did her best. But [showrunner] John Hlavin did a great job of Julie finding her own voice and her own place of strength through training. Feeling like she would never get in another situation where she was not prepared or educated on things. It felt like a natural progression.
I carry the very fortunate job of being “the emotional heartbeat of this show,” and I love that. I love that people can relate. But as I go off on a tangent, I personally have dealt with — and I don’t want to talk about the circumstances — PTSD for about eight years now, and have been in therapy the entire time. So it felt like the perfect time for me as a healthy individual to be able to use my story to inform Julie’s story, and help people realize that yes, the military especially come home and struggle with PTSD, but the people around you who don’t have those jobs and have just experienced traumatic things can also struggle with it. So, you’re not alone, and there are ways to ask for help. It was a scary place when I got handed that storyline, because I didn’t know if I was going to be strong enough to use my own story, but I feel really grateful that that’s the journey Julie was on this year and I was able to inform it in any way.
TVLINE | Do you feel like the incident at he shooting range was a medium-sized example of her acting out?
Of course. We’ve seen it in small ways — whether it was the [season premiere’s] door-slamming and her jumping out of her skin, to her shaking and yelling at Mary. The guilt that follows because you don’t always feel in control and you’re so sensitive and on edge is heartbreaking. It’s such a difficult thing to explain unless you’ve really experienced it, but of course [the gun range] was a much larger act out. That was almost something that kind of “snapped” inside of her, where it was like, “Here’s another man who wants to in some way, shape or form take advantage of or hurt me or my family.” And the reaction is much larger than maybe what happened, but let’s be honest — as a woman, any man who’s going to shove me out of the way, anybody who’s going to step in my stall at a gun range, is crossing a line. Was Julie’s reaction over the top? Yes. But it doesn’t warrant no reaction, as if he didn’t do anything.
It was a fine line, and a tricky scene. We shot it a bunch of different ways, and in the end I loved the shot where for the audience you’re uncertain of what Julie’s going to do, you don’t see him or where I’m aiming. But yeah, this is something for the next two episodes Julie has to face.
TVLINE | Yeah, I heard there will be repercussions.
Of course there are! [Laughs] Of course there are. It’s going to make Julie take a long, hard look at the mental place that she’s actually in. It’s similar, if you will, to depression, where you have good days and you have bad days. You have days where you think you’re OK, and then you have a trigger for the trauma. All season, I was waiting for the episode where she would get help, but I knew that it would have to get worse before it got better. We all think we can keep our heads down and be strong, so we don’t ask for help. And when you have a husband who has seen and done far worse than you, how do you speak to your troubles? There’s such an honor and a responsibility I feel in Julie’s storyline this year.
TVLINE | Is Solotov-as-Travis going to slip up a bit, maybe make Julie suspicious? Aside from sporting that odd facial hair?
His very odd facial hair! Josh [Stewart] and I joke around about that stupid goatee and his mullet all the time. I told him he should make it his Bumble profile pic. Josh is absolutely an incredible addition to this show, and in real life we all love him so much — and then you get [on-camera] and you want to see him gone. [Laughs] It’s a very big push-pull. But I struggle [with his deception] because as an actor you have the knowledge of everything, and you have to get rid of it when you’re acting….
TVLINE | It might be a case where he is supposed to be more conceiving than he actually is on-screen.
Yeah, and I remember writing an email to John being like, “I don’t ever want Julie to be stupid.” Julie is so incredibly smart and if anything her senses are heightened, she knows somebody is after them. How would she never suspect him? And John told me that you never expect that some guy at the range who helped you out initially would be him. Travis also talks about his kid and stuff…. Solotov is the master of A) disguises and B) manipulating people and weaving his way in, so I was also, very, very careful to not ever let it go to a romantic place, because obviously that would be very wrong.
TVLINE | Oh God, no.
Yeah, but it’s a tricky thing when in real-life you’re married and you befriend a male, when your husband’s gone all the time…. Just from an audience perspective, I was very, very protective of Julie this season as far as people not thinking that she’s naive, and not thinking that there was anything other than a friendship.
TVLINE | Or that she’s lost faith in her marriage to any degree.
Exactly. But you see her fight for it throughout this season, and you’ll continue to see that — especially in these next two episodes. You’ll really see her fight. She really wants to be an equal. The fight they fought when they were overseas is in our backyard, and if anything she wants to feel capable. She’s willing and she wants to feel strong enough that her husband can rely on her.
TVLINE | On what sort of note will the shortened season now end, versus how it was originally going to end?
Oh, man…. We were a few days into filming [Episode] 9 when everything happened with Ryan and we had to shut down. Episode 8 was written already — we didn’t change anything — and the way it naturally ends…. I will choose my words wisely, but it definitely leaves everybody hanging, wondering what’s going to happen next. This is why we all are anxious and excited and praying that we get a Season 3, because there are more stories to tell. This year we really got to see the writers’ talent, because after a Season 1 where we had parameters to follow — we had to come off the movie, Bob Lee had to be on the run the entire time — they hit the ground running. That let us see the show we can really create.
It’s totally heartbreaking that we didn’t get to finish the season the way that we wanted to. I’m just happy that Ryan is recovering [from his broken leg] and doing really well. I know that he’s going to bounce back probably more strong and capable — like an action figure with new parts! [Laughs] He’s in incredible shape, so I have no doubt that he is going to be able to handle many more seasons of this show; we’re all just hoping we get to keep making a show that is challenging emotionally and physically, which is the best of every world.