How Eric Dane Went From Playing McSteamy To A Navy Badass

For an actor, getting typecast into a specific character role can be a career death knell. One guy who doesn’t really have to worry about that is Eric Dane, perhaps best known to the masses as Dr. Mark “McSteamy” Sloan, one of the often stubbled doctors of ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy. Dane has left the hospital world behind for the high seas, where he’s commanding a gigantic Navy ship for the action-packed TNT drama The Last Ship, which debuts this weekend. But how, with all of his chiseled features and stoic presence, did it take him this long to lead an action project? According to Dane, whom I had the pleasure of speaking with at a recent Last Ship press event, it was simply a matter of having someone ask him.

“I just don’t think the opportunities were out there for me,” he said. “I spent seven years on Grey’s Anatomy. That’s something of an anomaly for an actor to spend that much time playing one character. And this was the first opportunity really since leaving that show that I had to do something like this.”

Though Dane started his career in bit roles on sitcoms like Saved by the Bell and Roseanne, he quickly shifted into more dramatic fare, with roles on series like Gideon’s Crossing, where he also played a doctor, and Charmed. His film career also started to take off, appearing as Multiple Man in Brett Ratner’s X-Men: The Last Stand, the same year he wrapped the stethoscope around his neck as Dr. Sloan. But that (admittedly limited) action hero role was followed by more dramas and “hunky dude” roles in Valentine’s Day and Burlesque. With blockbuster maker Michael Bay as producer, The Last Ship truly is a departure for Dane.

On the USS Nathan James, the “last ship” in question, Dane plays Commander Tom Chandler, a clean-faced, no-nonsense hardass who is forced to make some impossible decisions as he balances the fate of the world with the fate of the men and women under his authority. While his crew, including Firefly’s Adam Baldwin and Friday the 13th’s Travis Van Winkle, has been out performing war games scenarios with zero outside communications, the entire planet has fallen victim to a deadly pathogen, and over 80% of Earth’s population has been killed. As it’s said in the pilot, Chandler is not only working for the United States now, but for all of mankind. No pressure.

the last ship

When I asked him to compare the life-saving mindset of this role and his Grey’s Anatomy doc, Dane said, “I’m much more comfortable being responsible for the world than I was being responsible for one life.” The sign of a true leader? I think so. But it helps that he had Bay and the U.S. Navy guiding him along his way.

“Nobody does action better than Michael,” Dane said. “His eye for the aesthetic is like second to none.” And you’ll be able to recognize Bay’s fingerprints all over this show, as it is chock-full of action sequences, explosions, and fun character chemistry. I, for one, am really hoping that this show leads to Dane heading up one of Bay’s next movies. Preferably something with non-transforming human characters.

And when it comes to Dane giving The Last Ship the proper military treatment, I don’t think anyone has to worry, as the actor said the show was “immersed” in Navy crewmen, saying they were “there with us every step of the way…making sure we get it right every single time.” While I have no Navy experience or anything, it certainly looked official enough to me, and the Navy officers that I watched the pilot with were in full support of everything happening on screen.

Here’s hoping Dane’s “dream role” here will push him into a bigger and more ass-kicking career. (His next feature is John Shea's killer thriller The Grey Lady.) For now, though, we’re perfectly happy watching him boss around Adam Baldwin, with whom Dane has a running gin rummy card game. Can we get a behind-the-scenes DVD feature about this card game, TNT?!?

The last ship

Catch all of the zooming and booming when The Last Ship debuts on TNT this Sunday, June 22. Consider it an order.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.