Sometimes the story isn’t only about the hero, it’s also about those that provide the hero support.
In History’s new series SIX, actress Brianne Davis plays Lena Graves, a teacher whose husband, Joe “Bear” Davis (Barry Sloane), is a member of the exclusive SEAL Team Six unit. Their relationship faces the normal challenges of any other couple, only those typical challenges are compounded with the unique pressures of a military marriage.
To make matters more difficult, Lena and Barry also are grieving the loss of a child, coping with fertility difficulties, and wrestling with Barry’s emotional barriers.
Davis is no stranger to military dramas. An early role in the movie Jarhead, along with some personal experience has aided her in a role she describes as “the strongest character she’s ever played.”
What can you tell me about your character? How would you describe her?
I would describe her as the strength behind the heroic men [of SEAL Team Six]. She’s an old soul with a centeredness that I’ve never experienced playing any other character. She’s strong, independent, a career woman. She’s a teacher who wants to have a family.
Lena Graves is someone dealing with the loss of a child. What was that like for you and how did you do that?
The sad and truthful thing is that I’ve had so many people in my life lose children through miscarriage. I can’t even tell you how many women I know who have gone through this.
For the seventh episode, [Barry and I] were shooting a graveyard scene in front of our child’s gravesite. The day before that scene I actually lost a pregnancy. If you can imagine going to work the next day, at the same exact time having that scene with Barry, I just lost a child that I was carrying.
So, I didn’t have to dig very far is my point. It was crazy that a parallel with my character and my personal life was happening.
An interesting part of the show is how it unflinchingly addresses one of the lead male characters having reproductive difficulties, when that is usually depicted as a “woman’s problem.” Was that something you pushed for or that appealed to you?
I think I always looked at it as a “woman’s problem” because we carry the child. But I loved that [the show creators] decided to show the opposite.
They’re showing this heroic man is human and that Bear’s a person just like us, only he’s just risking his life every day. In the one of the first episodes, Barry and I had a scene with us in the doctor’s office where he asks the doctor, “Is there anything she can do?” Every time he said that, I wanted to punch him. It was so annoying. I’m glad that they showed it’s not a “woman’s problem.”
Similarly, a male hero’s girlfriend or wife is often written as an obstacle or as an antagonist. How do you keep Lena from being depicted that way?
I think that’s the challenge in general when you play what people call the “nagging wife” or that kind of character, when Lena’s clearly not. She’s coming from a place of love, and she and Bear have a partnership. They’ve been together since high school, and they agreed to have a family.
And when she has a husband that’s so disconnected, it’s her right as a wife to command more of him, even if his job is that difficult. I tried my best to find a balance of compassion, but also ask him to step up because we need to do this. Just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean you can turn your back on that. And Lena is understanding and doesn’t demand a lot from him, but she also wants her husband back.
The show also features the relationships and families of the other members of SEAL Team Six. What were those interactions with those other characters like for you?
There are some scenes in episodes five, six, and seven where Lena interacts with the other characters and the other SEALs’ wives. Hopefully in season two, we can see more of those interactions, because that’s the part that’s the most fascinating to me.
We’ve seen the war, but how do these families with children function with a husband that leaves on a Thursday and comes back on a Sunday, when you have no idea where they are or what they’re doing? You can’t ask questions about it. It’s seeing how a family functions [with that]. These people are just as brave as the Navy SEALs, I find.
You’ve had some personal experience with this when your father fought in Vietnam and your mother took care of you and your sister. Did you draw upon that time to play Lena?
I did. I took my mother’s strength and independence [as inspiration]. She was a working woman with a job and a life outside of my father. Without that, she wouldn’t have been able to function.
I also interviewed a Navy SEAL’s wife. She’s been with her husband for 25 years and also has a life of her own. She’s literally the most independent person I’ve ever spoken to. I asked a lot of really personal questions about their relationship, about how she keeps connected to her husband and what they do, and how she functions.
A lot of Navy SEAL wives have a hard time having children. I delved into how a successful Navy SEAL relationship works.
Is the divorce rate high among those couples?
It’s very high. I think two out of three marriages end in divorce. She said the women that don’t have their own jobs and lives are the marriages that never last. I really based Lena Graves on her. Lena’s very quiet and when she speaks it means something. She doesn’t use her emotions to communicate as much as other women characters I’ve played, but what she says is important.
You’ve done some work for the USO, including taking trips to Afghanistan. What did that include?
I went on Blackhawk helicopters all over the Middle East. I think I visited 15 bases in Iraq and about 12 in Afghanistan. There were these teeny little bases in the middle of the desert with only about 50 people on them stuck there for nine months, so we just hung out with them.
It was one the best experiences I’ve ever had in my life. I even got to spend the night in Saddam Hussein’s palace! It was crazy! I didn’t know specifically what bases we were going to, they don’t tell you that.
Was your USO work an outgrowth of your dad’s service? Was that something that was instilled in you?
I don’t know. I think I’ve always supported the troops, but definitely coming from a military family and being in Jarhead [might have something to do with it]. I just love the military. Even if you don’t agree with the war or what’s going on, you have to support your troops and the people that risk their lives every day for you. That’s just what I believe in, in my soul. That’s why I’m so connected to the military.
Was that connection one of the reasons you auditioned for SIX?
All the people involved certainly helped. History, A&E, Bob and Harvey Weinstein, Bill Broyles, who wrote Jarhead and who I worked with when I was younger, Lesli Linka Glatter, who directed the pilot, and all the people behind the show. And then reading the pilot definitely helped.
You know, actors get material all the time that they don’t connect to, but this just spoke to me. They put me through the ringer to get this part. I went in twice and I think I was in the room with the executive producer, the writers, and Lesli for an hour and a half. I probably read it the audition 25 different ways, over seven different scenes. It was intense. I think most of the scenes aren’t even in the show.
I would do the scene, and then someone would give me a direction, and then another person would give me a direction. So, by the time I got the part, I was like, “I don’t know how they want me to play this.” I played it so many different ways, but sometimes it’s just meant to be yours.
Did your character change much from when you first read for the part?
Yes, Lena changed a lot. She was a little more sexual and we changed that organically. She was still a Christian and a teacher, but she spoke differently
Was SIX’s support from the veteran community and its authenticity something that was important to you?
Oh, yeah. And I think it is for everybody involved. The main thing we focused on is that it was a real authentic look at these military families and Navy SEALs. That was the number one thing that was important to all of us.
We talked about it on-set all the time. We wanted to portray them and honor them. The majority [of military families] have loved it. I’ve already gotten tons of things saying things like, “My husband and I went through this; this is exactly how we were feeling.” I feel like they’ve really embraced us.