TV’s Top 15 Action Heroes

The small screen is currently producing big-time action, and this collection of cops, spies, monster hunters and zombie killers are leading the charge

These TV stars, who make kicking ass look easy every single week, are the definition of action heroes

Whether they’re fighting crime or battling monsters, fires, terrorists, dictators or even the full military might of the ancient Roman army, these stars kick butt each week on television.

Although mastering the physical aspects of their respective roles has been easier for some than others, the actors talk about the highs, lows and various challenges of portraying heroic characters.

Credit: CBS

Alex O’Loughlin — Hawaii Five-O

He’s not the first actor to play Steve McGarrett, but O’Loughlin, now in the third season of the rebooted Hawaii Five-0, has made the role his own.

“He doesn’t take any ****,” says O’Loughlin. “He understands irony and sarcasm when a lot of people around him might not, and he gets the job done regardless of what he has to do. He’s pretty intolerant of people around him who see things differently, but there’s something pretty lovable about him. If you’re in with him, he’ll die to protect you.”

Credit: NBC

Billy Burke — Revolution

Previously best known as Bella’s decidedly less swashbuckling dad in the Twilight movies, Burke is “learning as I go” to embody the butt-kicking Miles in NBC’s Revolution.

“It’s gotten me back in touch with my inner eight-year-old,” he says, admitting, “I’m not a warrior. I’m not an outdoorsy person. I’m not necessarily good with my hands. I’m not skillful in the war arts. But the cynical smartass, that’s the part that I relate to. The rest of the stuff I’m just making up.”

Credit: NBC

David Giuntoli — Grimm

As a cop turned designated monster-fighter on Grimm, Giuntoli can relate to having to learn new a skill set. Not only is this his first leading role in a series, it requires way more action than he was used to.

“I thought I could do stunts, but I was a bear on roller skates,” he admits. “I almost slipped a disc in my back after one little light fall.” Fight training was necessary for his safety — and vanity.

“I always find when you’re going to be on national TV, you start paying attention to your figure. I’m not eating less, I’m just hitting the gym a little more.”

Credit: The CW

Maggie Q — Nikita

The star of numerous Hong Kong martial arts movies, as well as stateside hits Mission: Impossible III and Live Free or Die Hard, before she became the titular assassin on Nikita, Maggie Q says there’s a lot more to the genre than mastering the physicality.

“Yes, you have to learn what the fundamentals are when it comes to fights, fluidity and body movement. But it’s a mental thing — there’s a lot of emotions and a lot of dialogue to learn,” she reminds.

Do men find her intimidating? Declares Q, “I think a guy who doesn’t like a tough chick is a loser.”

Credit: CBS

Mark Harmon — NCIS

Playing Jethro Gibbs, the no-nonsense leader of the NCIS team, for the last decade, Harmon has cemented his status as a silver-fox action hero while seeing the show rise from relative obscurity to No. 1 in the ratings, thanks to its addictive mix of action, whodunit mystery, tense drama and comic camaraderie between the characters.

As Harmon puts it, the show’s initial under-the-radar status allowed NCIS the opportunity to evolve into the show it is now.

“From the very beginning, we were a show that wasn’t good enough to get all that noticed and wasn’t bad enough to get cancelled.”

Credit: CBS

LL Cool J — NCIS: Los Angeles

Already a Grammy-winning rap superstar when he was cast as Navy investigator Sam Hanna on NCIS: Los Angeles, LL Cool J (real name: James Todd Smith) gained a whole new audience for an action-packed role suited to his gregarious personality — and six-pack abs.

“I can lift weights, get kind of burly or lean, I can play with my body and exercise because [Hanna’s] a former Navy SEAL,” he says.

Credit: FX

Timothy Olyphant — Justified

Currently working on the fourth season of Justified, the former Deadwood star notes that playing an iconic shoot-first-ask-questions-later Clint Eastwood-type character is easier to pull off on the big screen than on an ongoing weekly TV series.

“It’s very challenging to sustain interest in a character like that,” Olyphant says of his character, U.S. Deputy Marshal Raylan Givens.

“The world has to be a fascinating world, the characters surrounding that world have to be fascinating because to keep coming back to an iconic kind of character like that is only going to give you so much insight. [These types of characters] by their nature aren’t allowing you to pin them down, and that’s only going to offer you so much insight. It’s easy for that to become uninteresting after a while, and I think the challenges of having a series based on a character like that are pretty large.”

Credit: ABC

Stana Katic — Castle

Chasing bad guys with the help of crime writer-turned-boyfriend Rick Castle (Nathan Fillion) has given Stana Katic her juiciest, most action-packed role yet.

“I think she’s a beautiful, strong woman who makes mistakes and tries to do her best,” she says of Det. Kate Beckett. “I love people with flaws who are trying to grow and keep progressing both personally and professionally. I think she’s a great female role model.”

Credit: NBC

Jesse Spencer — Chicago Fire

Jumping from a safe, comfortable role as a House doctor into the fire — literally — as Matthew Casey on Chicago Fire has been a nice change for Spencer.

“The physicality of the show is very important and something I was attracted to,” he says, though it required firefighter training and boxing workouts in addition to doing ride-alongs and overnight shifts at a real firehouse to get inside the psyche of those on the job. He discovered that like doctors, firefighters also have to detach somewhat from victims, and they find gallows humour in life-and-death situations.

“They can joke around about certain things that the average person would be horrified about.”

Credit: The CW

Stephen Amell — Arrow

How does one prepare to portray a billionaire playboy and undercover vigilante? Arrow’s Stephen Amell trained in parkour at the Tempest Freerunning Academy, and discovered “all of these muscles that I didn’t even know existed, let alone had used before.”

There are gym workouts too, and of course, archery practice to convincingly play his expert-archer alter ego.

“My form had to be good from the start,” he says. “You have to relax your shoulders, your neck, your face, breathe and release.”

Credit: Starz

Liam McIntyre — Spartacus: War of the Damned

As the gladiator turned rebel leader at the centre of the bloody sword-and-sandals saga Spartacus: War of the Damned, McIntyre “doesn’t question. [Spartacus] is a no-nonsense, kickass, take-names kind of guy,” someone the Aussie actor admits he’s not.

“Growing up, I was never the alpha male. I’m just not that kind of strong, tough, unwavering guy in real life.” Since taking over the role from the late Andy Whitfield, McIntyre has transformed physically and emotionally, with the confidence to match his imposing physique.

“I’m almost a completely different person to who I was two years ago,” he compares. “And it’s almost completely due to Spartacus.”

Credit: CBS

Jim Caviezel — Person of Interest

There’s a wide divide between playing the Son of God in The Passion of the Christ to Caviezel’s current role as presumed-dead ex-CIA agent John Reese, who takes on adrenaline-fuelled vigilante missions as assigned by “The Machine,” built by mysterious billionaire Harold Finch (Michael Emerson).

Filming an action series on location in New York City, notes Caviezel, comes with its own unique challenges.

“When I’m beating up people in the middle of the street, a lot of the New Yorkers think, ‘Look at that guy beating that guy up in the middle of the street,’”Caviezel says. “Some of them actually come over and want to take a swing at me for doing it.”

Credit: HBO

Antony Starr — Banshee

Preparing to play a paroled thief who assumes the identity of a small-town sheriff while hiding out from gangsters in Banshee, New Zealander Starr trained hard and had the bruises to prove it.

“It was an intense boot camp which I actually enjoyed — I did martial arts when I was a kid. But nothing was going to be enough to get ready” for the fight scenes. “The first day, I had six stitches in my lip,” he says. “It was brutal.”

Credit: AMC

Andrew Lincoln — The Walking Dead

“He’s a driven, deeply honourable man who’s pushed into extreme circumstances,” is how Lincoln describes Rick Grimes, the leader of a band of zombie-killing survivors on The Walking Dead.

The intensely physical role required quite a bit of preparation, including learning how to wield all sorts of weapons.

“There’s nothing like putting an axe in someone’s head to really sort of feel like you’re in that world,” he says. “But I think we need to explore chainsaws and flamethrowers a bit more.”