One of the most important things to understand about Bob Lee Swagger is that he's a veteran, and more importantly, a Marine. The show Shooter wanted to do this element of his character justice, which is why it hired former Marine sniper -- not to mention longtime police officer -- Steve Seapker as a technical consultant. Steve worked with showrunner John Hlavin from the writing of the pilot to the end of production, and he's done everything from train actors out on the range to answer late-night calls from writers about how best to pick a lock to help coordinate hallway fights in the wee hours of the night. USA chatted with Steve to learn more about his background and the ways in which he's helped make Shooter the authentic story that it is.
USA Network: What drew you to join the military at 18?
Steve Seapker: For me it was a way to get out and experience the world. I read a ton, and one of my favorite authors is Ernest Hemingway. You kind of get lost in those adventures. You're looking for that rite of passage, especially as a young man. For me, the Marine Corps was that.
USA Network: Did you begin sniper training right away?
Steve Seapker: When I originally joined, I was an infantryman because I watched a lot of John Wayne movies and Clint Eastwood movies. I wanted it to be hard and I wanted to test myself and figure out if I would measure up. Initially, I was trained as a machine gunner. Later, I got snatched up for Marine Corps security forces and went to Virginia for training. I got a security clearance and was sent to the UK to guard nukes. And that's when Desert Storm broke out. I was sent back to Camp Pendleton and I was 1st Battalion, 4th Marines. I deployed to Kuwait, but I was able to try out for the sniper platoon before we deployed and made it into that.
USA Network: What made you decide to leave the Corps?
Steve Seapker: I don't have any super gnarly gunfight stories from my Marine Corps days, but it was a super formative experience and I'm proud of what I've done. When I left the Corps in '95 I was frustrated. I wasn't seeing combat. There was no ultimate test for me. What I've learned since then is that people like myself, in my circle of friends -- who come from Marine Special Operations, Reconnaissance Marines, Raiders, Seal Team guys, Rangers -- we're all very similar regardless of our services: Army, Navy, whatever, we're warriors. Or warrior poets. It's an archetype. Those people exist.
USA Network: Do you think Bob Lee fits that archetype?
Steve Seapker: Absolutely. Bob Lee is betrayed by Isaac and the government because he's lured into this conspiracy, and he's lured because he's a warrior. It's the only reason he goes back into that space. He's had horrible experiences in Afghanistan. He's seen his sniper partner killed. He's seen death and dismemberment. All he wants to do is come back and be a family man. But you come to a guy like that and you dangle an opportunity to be the hero, to be the protector, to be the guy in the white hat, I'll tell you right now, every time you're gonna take that. I would take that. If my old commanding officer walked in here and said, “Steve, we need to go to Iraq right now. I need you, brother,” I'd be on the phone with my wife, like, “Roger that.” I'd be at the airport.
USA Network: What did you hope to bring to the show when you came on?
Steve Seapker: What I try to bring to the show, what I hope to inject in some way shape or form is that Bob Lee is a thinking guy, a thoughtful guy, and he doesn't take human life for granted. Does he take life? You bet. But he's not one to take that lightly or do that indiscriminately and I think that's important. You have tons of veterans out there who have answered the call, who have seen life taken, who've taken lives. They're your brothers, your sisters, your neighbors. It's a big deal to take a life, and it's something that shouldn't be taken lightly.
USA Network: And the show is about so much more than guns, right?
Steve Seapker: To me Point of Impact -- actually the whole Stephen Hunter series -- is that classic Joseph Campbell journey. With all the politics going on, whatever your opinion is, the hero's journey resonates with everyone. The firearms are a story point, but it's not the story. It's his struggle for redemption and vengeance and validation. I think it would be wrong for people to automatically jump to conclusions and pigeonhole the show as a gun nut show. I think that's very shortsighted.
USA Network: How do you think your own training prepared you to consult?
Steve Seapker: My background is obviously the Marine sniper background, and then I followed that up in my law enforcement career. I was a SWAT officer and SWAT sniper, so I received that training. And I'm a firearms guy. I'm a post-certified firearms instructor, post-certified SWAT sniper, FBI-certified SWAT sniper. Whenever we have firearms on set, whenever we have people moving around with firearms and doing tactics, my intention is to get across the professional and safe handling of those firearms. I wanted Bob Lee and Nadine -- even Isaac, who's a bad guy -- to have that professional appearance, that problem solver aspect of gun fighting tactics. I can take you to a shooting range and we can shoot all day, but that doesn't mean you can come in here and clear this building and do it safely and protect people and survive it. It's a thinking man's game. It's like chess on steroids.
USA Network: What was it like working with Ryan?
Steve Seapker: Ryan was very comfortable very quickly. We took him out to the range, introduced him to the firearm, but it was more knocking the rust off. He's an athletic guy. He's a martial arts guy. He's done war films and he's handled firearms before. It was more about getting him behind the rifle and talking him through the thought process of long-distance shooting. If you look at your action movies where people are kicking down doors and jumping in rooms and shooting things up, that's a whole different animal. Long-distance shooting is more zen; it's more like yoga. There's a lot of breathing, there's a lot of unblocking everything. Hell, when you're practicing, it can be relaxing. So it was about getting him to understand that.
USA Network: Were all the actors that comfortable handling firearms?
Steve Seapker: Cynthia had never been shooting. It was a whole new world for her, so I wanted to make sure she was comfortable and felt safe so that she could become her character. I spent time with her shooting a pistol and shooting a rifle. At first, it was like I was giving her a burning ember to hold. But what I like about Cynthia and Eddie and Omar is that they're not difficult to work with. They're coachable and they listen well and they understand that these aren't toys. There's that initial, “Holy crap!” -- especially with Cynthia, but now you see her behind the rifle and she's like, “Okay, cool. I know where I'm at, I know how this works, and I'm good.”
USA Network: Can you point out any specific examples of the authenticity you've helped bring to Shooter?
Steve Seapker: In 104 when we do the Afghanistan stuff, I feel really good about that. They overturned a bed and turned it into a hide. And when Bob Lee comes down the hallway, before they go down the stairs and they're in that gunfight, he takes his angles correctly. That's really good as far as the tactics and the look of it. But really, in all of the episodes, the weapons we're using are authentic; they fit the story points we're trying to make. The visceralness of the hand-to-hand combat is very good. The uniforms, the equipment, everything is on point. That's always something that bumps me right away when I watch things. It doesn't need to be a documentary, but you need to give a nod to as much of that as you can to get me to agree to take the ride.
USA Network: What do you feel you've gotten out of working on this show?
Steve Seapker: It's refreshing to do something like this, to create something and be a part of creating something. The only jobs I've ever had have been serving either the nation or my community. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed those jobs and took a lot from them and they were purposeful, but this is just different. My other jobs have never allowed me to focus on myself, what makes me happy, and it's neat to be allowed to be free in that sense. But it also ticks a lot of the boxes for me in terms of environments that I like to operate in. Production is very similar to military operations. We've got this huge team, everyone has their own department, everyone has their own little piece to play within that department. Like in Platoon: "When the machine breaks down, we break down." Everyone has their piece and we all have the same overreaching goal and we're all working together to get there. And I think we did.