It’s tough enough to perform in a film loaded with heart, military logistics, and action, but in Lone Survivor, Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Eric Bana were also tasked with delivering an authentic and admirable representation of real Navy SEALs who lost their lives in the hills of Afghanistan during a devastating mid-mission attack.
With the film now playing in limited release and its January 10th nationwide expansion approaching, all four actors sat down for a press conference in New York City to talk about working with the sole survivor of the real-life ambush, Marcus Luttrell, the connections they built with members of the SEAL community, the pressure to honor their sacrifice, and more. Hit the jump for the full discussion.
EMILE HIRSCH: Danny’s mother, Cindy, she actually jokes to me and she calls me her adopted son now. Dan senior, Dan’s father, says the same thing. Getting to know them and getting to visit with them, hear their thoughts and prayers about their son has been a really special experience. I’m going to Denver on the 12th and we’re going to do a big family screening, and I’m really looking forward to that. I feel like getting to know the families has been a real privilege and an honor for all of us. Aside from being wonderful people, they’re also just really smart. They’re great people.
TAYLOR KITSCH: A week before we hit camera, I got to meet Dan Murphy, Mike’s father. It’s been an amazing relationship to today. We e-mail back and forth. He’s been an amazing supporter from that first dinner, from the first time I met him. I finally met the rest of Murph’s family at the premiere. Like Emile is doing now, I’m going to Long Island on Monday. It’s going to be an amazing night. The whole family, a lot of Murph’s longtime friends, the fire department, the police. It’s gonna be a special evening.
MARK WAHLBERG: Marcus doesn’t like me at all. No, for me, obviously, I had the good fortune of meeting the guy I was playing and spending time with him and having him kind of be there throughout the entire process and helping me with anything that I wanted or needed. He’s a very, very special individual. I’m honored to know him and to see the kind of man that he is. I’m certainly inspired to be a better man because of him.
How did you prepare physically for the scenes where you roll down the cliff? I heard some of you tried to do that stunt yourselves. Also, Mark, just to let you know, because she’s the bridesmaid, she would be at the wedding.
WAHLBERG: Well, thank you. I realize that, especially having been married myself now for quite some time. But we were trying to infuse some humor into moments, especially when they were about to get really serious. So that was just something that we improvised one day while playing around. It actually went on longer and longer. I told him I was singing a song, a Coldplay song, and then I started singing the song. Those guys wanted too much money for the song so we couldn’t use it in the movie. And the falls and all that stuff, originally this was going to be a big budget movie so you would have had cables and green screens, but we did the movie for a price and I think that’s why it feels so intimate and real and authentic. The first stuntman to go down the cliff, when we landed on the bottom of the cliff, he was right onto a stretcher and right to the hospital. But everybody was there. The SEALS were there so you had this immense pressure to stand up and be a man because everybody was overly pumped. But, you know, we just did what was required. There were bumps and bruises but we wanted it to feel real. It seems like it’s all been done before, but something so simplistic as that is having such an impact because it’s pretty damn real.
And because we had such a short amount of time we would have two units going at all times. If you were with second unit, our second unit director was the stunt coordinator, you’d be doing a lot of action stuff with the falls or certain parts of the gun battle, and then I would run back off to Pete and we’d be in the village doing that stuff. You were kind of always all over the place so a lot of the time we were together, but then sometimes it would be those three guys with my double, I’d be like, ‘Bye, guys! You gonna get your ass kicked!’ [Laughed] We knew it was gonna happen. Every day was rough, but we all got to go home at the end of the day and we knew we were doing something special, we were part of something special. It was never about one individual. It was really about telling those guys’ stories.
What is your emotional approach to playing a character that is real versus fictional?
HIRSCH: For me, playing Danny in some of those later scenes where he’s kind of on his last legs you could say, the fact that I had talked to his mother and his father and his brother and his sister and his friends and I heard so many great stories about him, I’d seen video of him. I knew how much people really loved him. When someone touches you in that way, there’s so much reality to that and you have so much empathy for a person. I feel like that really influences you in such a strong way to where you’re not trying to find an emotion or something like that because that’s already there. Your heart has already been filled up. You’re just doing a scene and it’s so real, because it is so real. You’ve learned about what this person is like and they’ve touched you in that way. It’s hard to describe, but you’re not trying to find some artificial way. You’re not thinking about the time your puppy got hit by a car or something like that.
HIRSCH: One thing I’d also add is that having the SEALS on set at all times, as well, and they all have had friends that have fallen. We would do scenes sometimes, Mark would do something, Taylor would do something, I would do something, and the SEALS themselves, you could just see it on their face, how real it was for them and how emotionally affected they were. It was such a reminder. It’s like, oh, this isn’t some action sequence to them. This is some of the hardest moments, emotionally, of these guys lives that they’re living out right now.
KITSCH: I think with Pete’s process, it’s a really enabling process for the actors. Every scene almost you’re so embedded in these characters that the trust is prevalent. Mark could improv something that could just pull something out of you right there that you weren’t ready for that will invoke something very, very real. That really helped us as well.
Mr. Luttrell just told us about how he treated you guys like Navy SEALS. Do you think that any of you could actually go through real SEAL training after your experience here?
ERIC BANA: Which sucker’s gonna go first?
WAHLBERG: I’m 42 years old so … As a man, I don’t want to sit on the bench; I want to be in the game. I always want the ball so 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 from a lot of other guys that can’t get through the training and graduate. So I don’t know. I have no idea.
BANA: Marcus tells great stories of when he went through BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL) how you’d look around the room and ID guys that you were completely convinced would get through just based on how they looked. They just looked like cage fighters or bodybuilders. And it was the guy in the corner who you just thought, ‘What the hell is he even doing? Has he come through the wrong door?’ But those guys would get through and the guys that looked like they could take on the world would wind up crying after one or two days. As Mark was saying, it really is so much of a mental thing. I think that’s what’s so fascinating about it, when you read about the BUD/S training and then the training that goes after that, they’re just made of something else. Marcus’ book did such a great job of making you realize how big that gap is between most of us and them.
HIRSCH: Marcus also made a really interesting point yesterday to us, which was if the government could find out what makes a Navy SEAL a Navy SEAL, there would be millions and millions and millions of dollars saved in this training. There’s no way, really, of knowing what exactly makes a SEAL. You’re bringing groups of the toughest of the tough guys together and they still don’t know. It’s a unique type of training that just filters the SEALS from the non-SEALS.