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Actors In War Movies Talk About Their Intense Boot Camp Experiences

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The power of the movies lies in their ability to transport viewers out of themselves and into another world. This is especially true of war films, which often ask the audience to inhabit the fraught, perilous world of the battlefield, as gunfire shatters the air and bodies endure the brutality of war. Unsurprisingly, the war film has remained one of the most enduringly popular in Hollywood, and actors have gained prestige by appearing in such films as Saving Private Ryan and 1917. However, to achieve this they often endure quite a lot in preparation for filming. War movie stars from Tom Hanks to Chris Pratt have spoken about their intense boot camp experiences, many of which replicated actual basic training. 

  • Bradley Cooper Trained To Hit A Teacup Target From 800 Yards Away For ‘American Sniper’
    Photo: American Sniper / Warner Bros. Pictures

    Though as a rule the war film can be a bit simplistic in its morality, some examples of the genre explore the many difficulties soldiers face as a result of the actions they take during conflict. This is the case with American Sniper, the Clint Eastwood-directed film focusing on Chris Kyle, a very efficient sniper. He is played by Bradley Cooper in the film, who endows the character with a sinister sort of charisma. 

    Cooper took his job very seriously, even going so far as to become something of a sniper himself. Jason Hall, who penned the screenplay for the film, had this to say about Cooper’s efforts while training with the character's titular weapon: 

    He actually proved himself to be really good. The second day, in the morning, he went out there and was consistently hitting 800-yard targets the size of a teacup. So he took to it pretty quickly.

    This immersive approach to the role earned Cooper a great deal of praise, and he was ultimately nominated for an Academy Award. 

  • The power of war films, particularly those set during World War II, lies in their ability to immerse the viewer in this pivotal period of history. As part of this effort, many of the best examples in the genre pay rigorous attention to detail. Unsurprisingly, actors often undertake strenuous efforts to inhabit as much of their characters’ personae and habits as possible.

    In the war film Fury, for example, Brad Pitt plays the character Donald Collier, the tank commander. The military adviser for the film observed the actor was: 

    …​​gunning the tank, commanding the tank. Everything that a normal soldier would do and reacting to what was in front of them. They did very very well actually.

    Pitt’s commitment to the rule allows him to truly inhabit the space of the war, which helps the viewer do the same, bearing witness to the unfolding of history.

  • Emile Hirsch Fired 1,000 Live Rounds A Day For ‘Lone Survivor’
    Photo: Lone Survivor / Universal Pictures

    A key element of any war film is its emphasis on the weapons involved. Often, actors will use actual weapons, in order to more fully immerse themselves in their characters and in the world of the film. This was certainly the case with Emile Hirsh, who portrays the character of Danny Dietz in the film Lone Survivor. In an interview alongside co-star Taylor Kitsch, Hirsch said:

    The way that the SEALs had had it organized was that we were training with live fire rounds with these M4 rifles. So we were all blowing through over a thousand rounds a day of real bullets. I think that was kind of us just jumping into the deep end and working with targets.

    As a result, the film contains powerful performances from Hirsch and the others, leading the viewer to feel as if they are witnessing the action in real-time.

  • Vin Diesel Survived On Old Rations For ‘Saving Private Ryan’
    Photo: Saving Private Ryan / DreamWorks Pictures

    From very early on in his career, Vin Diesel has taken on physically demanding roles. He often plays characters who present a tough face to the world and who, during the course of a given film, endure quite a lot of physical duress. This is true of his appearance in Saving Private Ryan, in which he portrays the character of Adrian Caparzo, one of those who is charged with saving Private Ryan.

    Like the other members of the cast, Diesel immersed himself as much as possible in the physical rigors of the battlefield. He once said during the film's initial press junkets:

     In boot camp we weren’t allowed to talk about film. Not allowed to talk about acting. Not allowed to talk about actors. [It was] very challenging. No sleep. Old rations, eating crackers.

    Though his character dies relatively early in the film, it’s clear Diesel’s commitment to the immersion helps to contribute to the gritty feeling of the film as a whole.