From McIntosh HS to ‘The Last Ship’ — Van Winkle fights to save humanity . . . on cable TV
By BONNIE HESTER
Intern to The Citizen
A Peachtree City native has a high-profile role in one of the hottest dramas on summer TV screens.
Travis Van Winkle, a class of 2000 McIntosh grad, can now be seen Sunday evenings on “The Last Ship,” a new post-apocalyptic drama on TNT.
In this week’s episode, his character pilots an explosives-laden boat into the side of a rogue Russian warship and lives on to fight another day.
Since his TV debut in December 2004 on Fox’s “Quintuplets,” Van Winkle has appeared on shows such as “Malcolm in the Middle,” “The O.C.,” “2 Broke Girls,” and “Two and a Half Men.” He has had several recurring TV roles, including Jonah on the second season of the CW’s “Hart of Dixie.” He has also hit the big screen in movies including Fox’s “Meet the Spartans” and Michael Bay’s productions “Transformers” and “Friday the 13th” (2009 version).
The Citizen reached out to Van Winkle about his new role on “The Last Ship” as Lt. Danny Green, a Navy SEAL team leader who is part of the crew of a U.S. Navy destroyer that is attempting to save humanity by racing to find a cure to a deadly virus that has already killed most of the world’s population.
Van Winkle described the fun that his role as Danny Green allowed him to have on set. “We were filming in San Diego on a live destroyer and we had the Navy present with us the whole time during filming,” Van Winkle said. “Since I’m an officer on the show, I’m wearing the wardrobe of an officer, and I would walk onto the ship and some of the sailors would salute me ... it was hard to tell them I wasn’t in the Navy, because it feels good to be saluted. And then when I had to break the news that ‘Oh, I’m just acting,’ it was usually a pretty funny moment for them.”
Growing up in Peachtree City, Van Winkle attended McIntosh and was involved in football and other sports, but admits he was never interested in theater as a youth.
Only after three years at the University of West Georgia did he decide to take a chance and make the move to Hollywood. Van Winkle explained, “I had someone saying, ‘Hey, you should be an actor, you should be an actor, you should be an actor!’ So finally they said it enough and I said ‘Well, maybe I SHOULD be an actor!’
“So I went out there to LA, drove out there with my dad and everything I owned in my little Chevy ... and in my first cold reading acting class, something awoke in me. I don’t know what it was, but ... it was exciting, it was a rush. I was scared out of my mind and totally excited at the same time ... After I felt that, I was like ‘oh my God, I would be stupid not to want to do this every day.’ And I started jumping in.”
For Van Winkle, “jumping in” meant, at first, working as an extra and acting in small independent films to gain experience. Once he secured an agent, he started auditioning for student films, then bigger independent films, then as a guest star on popular television shows. “It just started to build,” Van Winkle said. “And as time continued, the doors kept opening, I kept working my butt off, and just continued to dive in as deep as I could.”
While Van Winkle says he has fallen in love with California, he admits that there is much he misses about his hometown. “I miss riding on my golf cart,” he laughed. “I miss green forests, and the rain, and I miss being a part of my friend’s lives, because my friends all have kids now, and they’re married, and ‘Uncle Trav’ is all the way on the other side of the country ... I miss a lot of things in Georgia.”
He expressed enthusiasm for the opening of Pinewood Studios in our county, citing the economic growth that is sure to occur. “None of this was happening when I lived [in PTC] ... I moved to California and Hollywood, and then Hollywood comes to Peachtree City and Fayette County,” he commented wryly.
In addition to his acting career, Van Winkle is also involved with several non-profit charities. He works with the organization buildOn, which runs afterschool programs in troubled high schools and builds schools in developing countries, all through the help of volunteers. A group of volunteers will raise the necessary funds to construct the school, Van Winkle said, and then buildOn provides a guide to lead those volunteers on a “trek” to build the school in a needy area somewhere in the world.
“You get to live with a family,” Van Winkle described. “You get to eat and sleep and breathe and dance [in their culture], and you build the school with the families, even with the little kids that will be going to the schools ... you really get to connect with these people on such a deep level, and they feel so supported and so encouraged and inspired to choose to finish out building the school and to create change for themselves. And now I’m starting to lead people on treks, which is the most amazing thing to me, where I can now facilitate and guide ... someone on this life-changing journey that gets them out of their comfort zone and into contribution.”
Van Winkle has also been in the Big Brother program for three years now, a youth mentoring program which pairs a Big Brother or Big Sister with an in-need youth in their community. “It’s a really great way to make a difference on a personal level, and in your local community ... because we can go and be of service outside in all different countries of the world, but there’s also service to be done here,” Van Winkle said.
So what’s next for Van Winkle? “The way that acting works is you never know what’s coming up next, but I always trust that something will come along,” said Van Winkle. “I’d love to continue doing some more action stuff, but I’m a big fan of romance, I loved the movie ‘When Harry Met Sally’ ... some kind of romantic comedy would be fun for me, that has a lot of improv. Something that allows me to be goofy and silly and at the same time romantic and charming and fun and dramatic ... or an over-the-top, crazy stupid silly comedy, like a buddy-buddy comedy, I’d love to do.”
Van Winkle’s show “The Last Ship” airs weekly on Sundays at 9 p.m. on TNT.