Not only did the true story of a Navy SEAL team’s Afghanistan mission inspire the movie LONE SURVIVOR, but star and producer Mark Wahlberg says the whole experience inspired him to be a better person, while director Peter Berg reveals Eric Bana, Taylor Kitsch and Emile Hirsch were so committed to their roles that they snuck onto the set during the dangerous stunts to try to do it themselves. The LONE SURVIVOR cast, director and Marcus Luttrell, the real-life lone survivor, talk about gettting it right and honoring the fallen on the big screen.
LONE SURVIVOR, the new film from director Peter Berg (The Kingdom, Battleship, Friday Night Lights), is drawn from retired Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell’s harrowing true-life account of a covert mission that turned into an ambush in the mountains of Afghanistan in the spring of 2005. Berg along with producer and LONE SURVIVOR star Mark Wahlberg along with costars Eric Bana, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and special guest Marcus Luttrell spoke of bringing the tragic incident to life in New York while promoting the movie.
Berg and Luttrell speak about on their work together in bringing Luttrell’s story to the screen. In addition to directing LONE SURVIVOR, Berg also wrote the film’s screenplay based on Luttrell’s bestselling account of Operation Red Wings. “Every movie has it’s own unique series of challenges,” Berg responded when asked what was the biggest challenge in bringing the story to life. “For me probably the biggest challenge is, this was not made up, this is a real human being here,” said Berg, nodding to Luttrell.
Luttrell earned the Navy Cross for his actions as part of the four man SEAL team who made up Operation Red Wings, and was personally involved with Berg’s development of the film’s script. Berg explained that Marcus arraigned for Berg to meet the families of the soldiers killed during the mission that makes up the story of LONE SURVIVOR. With Luttrell’s assistance, Berg was also able to visit classified SEAL training facilities as he crafted the screenplay. Luttrell also enabled Berg to travel to Iraq and become embedded with the SEAL platoon there, which Berg claimed has never happened before. “I was the first civilian ever to embed with an active SEAL team. Marcus made sure that I understood, as much as I could, not by talking-but by spending the time to be with those communities to understand not just how they hold their guns and how they put their equipment on, but how they talk to each other-how they feel about each other.”
Mark Wahlberg, Eric Bana, Taylor Kitsch, and Emile Hirsch all expressed their commitment to honoring the real soldiers behind their characters through getting to know the loved ones they left behind. Hirsch smiled as he spoke of the family he connected with through his role as Danny Dietz, “Danny’s mother Cindy, she jokes with me, she calls me her adopted son, and Danny’s father says the same thing. I feel like getting to know the families has been a real privilege and an honor for all of us.” Kitsch said of his character Lieutenant Michael Murphy’s real life father Dan Murphy: “He’s been an amazing supporter from the first dinner, from the first time I met him” and they still email each other, calling it “an amazing relationship. “
Wahlberg joked, “Marcus doesn’t like me at all,” before explaining that he “had the fortune of meeting the guy I’m playing and spending time with him, having him be there through the entire process.” Wahlberg claimed that Luttrell inspired him to be a better person, saying: “he’s a very, very special individual and we’re all honored to know him .”
To replicate the remote, mountainous region of Afghanistan where the four SEALs of Operation Red Wings were inserted so they might locate a key Taliban leader, the production team of LONE SURVIVOR traveled to New Mexico and the Santa Fe National Forest. It was there that the most terrifying action of LONE SURVIVOR was filmed.
When asked about a how a particularly heart-stopping scene, in which the soldiers leap off a cliff, was filmed Berg replied: “we had extraordinary stunt men.” He continued, “because Marcus was there, and other SEALS were there the stunt men wanted to push a little bit harder then they might normally.” Berg also explained that “the stunts were done without any dummies, without any wire work, without anything mechanical-those were human beings literally throwing themselves off of cliffs.”
The approach to the action scenes set on the perilous cliffs was defined by the budget, according to Wahlberg who said: “originally this was going to be a big budget movie, so you would have had cables and green screens. But when the budget wouldn’t allow for such elaborate staging, more daring stunt work was required. Said Wahlberg, “I think that’s why it feels so intimate and real and authentic, you know? The first stuntman to go down the cliff-when he landed on the bottom of the cliff-he went right onto a stretcher and right to the hospital.”
The extra effort on the part of the stunt team was paid off in Luttrell’s estimation, he remarked that Berg “did a great job with it and the actors and the cast and crew, how they portrayed the whole scenario.” Luttrell did explain that there were some cases in which the film’s action simply couldn’t be accurate, saying “you have to realize that in real life the gun battle lasted for over three hours,” but continued, “my hats off to the stunt men who laid it on the line and hurt themselves.”
Berg recalled that “often times a lot of my job ended up being trying to calm people down, because everybody wanted to get it right” and indicated that the actors became so engrossed in the authenticity of their performances that “actors would try to sneak in” to perform the stunt sequences themselves. “We’d be shooting one scene in one spot and they’d [the 2nd unit, responsible for the action footage] be up in the cliffs and I’d get a call that Ben Foster snuck in there.”
While the actors all agreed that they were inspired to push themselves to the limit to accurately tell Luttrell’s story, did any of them think they could have ever have survived real SEAL training? Eric Bana joked, “which sucker’s going to go first?” This was likely a light-hearted reference to Wahlberg’s impassioned response to a Q & A at the Los Angeles premiere of LONE SURVIVOR, in which he decried any actor that claimed they understood real military training from their work on films. Wahlberg first responded, “Hey, I’m 42 years old so…” When asked if he thinks he could have made it through the training as a younger man, he replied, “as a man who-I don’t want to sit on the bench I wanna be in the game, I always want the ball, you would think...but it’s not a question of a physical ability it really comes down to that mental toughness that I think sets those guys apart.”
Bana recalled stories Luttrell told him of going through SEAL training, and how Luttrell “would would look around the room and I.D. guys that you were completely convinced would get through just based on how they looked, like they would just look like cage fighters or body builders and he said it was the guy in the corner who you just thought ‘what the hell is he doing here’...those guys would get through and the ones that looked like they could take on the world were the ones crying after one or two days.”
When asked what drew the actors and director to the project given its limited budget and both physical and mental demands, the answers were strikingly similar. Hirsch explained: this is a film that it struck a chord with me on a very personal level. These are guys that are willing to put themselves on the front line and fight for their country.” However the fact that the film strayed from making political commentary was a vital point, as Hirsch said: “It wasn’t a film that was going into any kind of detail about the wars, should we be here or should we not be here it wasn’t about that. This was about soldiers who were willing to give everything they had and the type of courage it takes to do that.”
Bana recalled he “said yes right away,” and confessed to “have a bit of a fascination with the special forces community in general, I just think they’re all amazing people and perform an amazing function,” and that the opportunity to tell this type of story “doesn’t come along every day, and I think we all kind of felt that there was that sense to this one.”
Wahlberg, agreed the film was a unique and special experience, saying: “When I first heard about the idea I thought selfishly as an actor, ‘Wow what a great opportunity to play a kind of showy part’ and then when I read and I realized what it really entailed and what it was about, then obviously my perspective changed-and it was never about me after that. It was really about the guys that we were portraying and every single person both in front of and behind the camera felt that same thing. It was a very special and unique set of circumstances that I’ve never experienced as an actor before on a film. Even when watching the film, I don’t think about what we did I think about what happened to those guys and what Marcus was able to endure, and to be able to survive to tell the story of his brothers.”
Finally, writer/director Berg summed it up: “Lone Survivor gives an audience a chance in their own way to honor what these guys do... and to have the opportunity to divorce themselves from politics-that’s a whole other world, I’m not interested in that-but to give people the opportunity to go ‘thank you’ understand a little bit what they may have gone through.” Looking on, Luttrell added the film “nailed it down as close as you can get it but it’s a movie, it’s entertainment, but in real life-it’s war.”
LONE SURVIVOR is in select theatres in NY and LA on December 25, nationwide on January 10.