Connor Swindells describes ‘intense’ bootcamp preparation for upcoming SAS role

The actor stars as David Stirling, the founder of the SAS.
The actor stars as David Stirling, the founder of the SAS. The actor stars as David Stirling, the founder of the SAS.

Connor Swindells said preparing for his upcoming role in Steven Knight’s drama SAS Rogue Heroes involved “a lot of marching around in the sand” in the heat of Morocco.

The Sex Education actor stars in the six-part series following the creation of the world’s most renowned and ruthless special forces unit.

The 26-year-old said he felt “very grateful” having had the chance to film in the Sahara desert for the BBC series, which was directed by Tom Shankland.

SAS: Rogue Heroes
SAS: Rogue Heroes Filming in the Sahara desert for SAS: Rogue Heroes (Kudos/BBC)

“It was so hard to film out there in the Sahara in those conditions, but it brought a real truth to it that you couldn’t have cheated in any other circumstance. I feel grateful for that,” he said.

“It is a character in itself and was something we as a crew had to wrestle with. I’m very grateful for how tough it was and I think it will influence our performances and make it that much better.”

The show meets Swindells’s character, eccentric young officer David Stirling, in hospital after a training exercise went wrong.

He creates a radical plan that flies in the face of all accepted rules of modern warfare and fights for permission to recruit the toughest, boldest and brightest soldiers for a small undercover unit that will create mayhem behind enemy lines, following his assertion that traditional commando units do not work.

Speaking about preparing for the role, Swindells said reading Stirling’s autobiography gave him a “really great insight” into his mind and it was “informative” reading books about people’s perspective on him.

The SAS War Diary 1941-45
The SAS War Diary 1941-45 SAS founder David Stirling (Extraordinary Editions/PA)

He continued: “There was a big prep period for this and I’m really grateful that I got to do it. We had a big rehearsal period before filming which was really helpful for all the guys to really get to know each other and just hash out key scenes in person.

“The bootcamp was intense – we would start at about 7am when it was already about 30 degrees in Morocco, so you could easily burn and get sun stroke even at that time of day.

“It was hard, lots of marching around in the sand, but it was fun and a real bonding experience.”

The actor stars alongside Jack O’Connell, Alfie Allen and Dominic West in the BBC series.

Speaking about the training, Game Of Thrones star Allen said: “I have to admit that I just lapped it up, I just loved it. Apart from the two to three day period where I was suffering from heat stroke and food poisoning at the same time, that was not nice.

SAS: Rogue Heroes
SAS: Rogue Heroes Alfie Allen as Jock Lewes, Connor Swindells as David Stirling, and Jack O’Connell as Paddy Mayne in SAS Rogue Heroes (Kudos/BBC/PA)

“I’d say the one day that really sticks in the memory for me was in episode three when me and Mike Sadler, played by Tom Glynn-Carney, meet. That day was 53 degrees Celsius, it was super-super-hot.

“The environment we were working in definitely lent itself to a kind of forced method acting.

“It was a test of physical and mental endurance without a shadow of a doubt. We were in these insane conditions that obviously the real life story would have taken place in, but of course there would have been way, way more to deal with back then than we as the actors were dealing with.”

Adapted from Ben Macintyre’s best-selling book, the series offers a dramatised account of how the SAS was formed during the Second World War, having been granted access to secret SAS archives.

SAS Rogue Heroes airs on October 30 at 9pm on BBC One and iPlayer.