From director Kriv Stenders and screenwriter Stuart Beattie, the war drama Danger Close tells the story of the Battle of Long Tan in Vietnam in 1966. Major Harry Smith (Travis Fimmel) and his company of 108 young and inexperienced soldiers from the Royal Australian Regiment fought for their lives with 2,500 Viet Cong soldiers closing in on them. With their ammunition running out and their fellow men dying all around them, they overcame the odds and found the strength and bravery to triumph.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, Aussie actor Travis Fimmel talked about the importance of telling this story, how excited he was to be a part of this project, how intense the set was, working alongside real soldiers, what most stuck out for him with this true-life story, getting to meet some of the surviving soldiers, his desire to work in Australia more, the challenges of the shoot, and the atmosphere that director Kriv Stenders created on set. He also talked about his experience on the History television series Vikings and saying goodbye to that character.
Collider: Does it feel different when you do a project like this, where you’re not just acting and having fun making a movie with a bunch of other guys, but you’re also putting a story out there for a lot of people who will never have heard of it?
TRAVIS FIMMEL: Yes. It’s a famous story in Australia, but here in America, it’s certainly not well known. Every American veteran recalls the story. American soldiers know how involved Australians have been, in every battle that the Americans have been in.
When this script came your way, what was your reaction to it?
FIMMEL: I was very excited. All of the actors and the director, Kriv Stenders, all felt very privileged to be involved and that this story should be told, not only for our generation and the generation above us, but certainly for the younger people in the world. These things that are horrific wounds are very current. This was a battle in ‘66, when all of our parents were alive. And the average age [of the soldiers] was 20 years old. What were you doing when you were 20? It wasn’t really that important.
This movie is very intense and very visceral, and it immediately puts you right into the center of this battle with these young guys. When you read this, were you able to see what the visual would be from the page, or did it take getting onto the set and getting into this to understand how it was going to be shot?
FIMMEL: A little bit of both. They were so real, the sets and all of that stuff. We had a lot of soldiers that worked with us and that were extras, and a couple of them had little roles in the film. It was great to have them around, but it’s nothing compared to anything that really happened. We had a director that was doing the bomb noises with a microphone. It’s certainly different to the real thing, but it gives you a greater appreciation for what those people do, every day. We’re all very proud of it, and it was very enjoyable to make.
Were there aspects about the story that you learned from doing this, that you had known about before?
FIMMEL: There’s stuff that jumps out at you, even if you did know. Just the fact that the average age was 20 years old, and you think about what you were doing at 20 years old. And most of them were conscripts. They had no choice, they had to go. That’s just a whole different life. And for the boys that are still alive, which there’s a lot of them that were in this battle, they tell the story like it was yesterday. It’s always very fresh on their minds, and a lot of them still get choked up about it. It was such an intense moment in their lives, and it’s still with them. And that’s 40 or 50 years ago.
What was it like to meet these real guys? What sort of impression did you get from talking to them?
FIMMEL: They’re all such characters, and such great people. We had a few catch-ups with them, and they’re very enjoyable to be around and very proud of what they did. A lot of them are torn up about the whole battle, but they’re great Australian characters. They really inspired us, during filming.
Have they gotten to see the film and given you any feedback on what they thought of seeing it?
FIMMEL: Yeah, I’ve heard some great stuff. They really enjoyed it. I wasn’t actually there for the one screening. I was working when all of the veterans saw it, but the producers and actors told me some pretty amazing stories about how it touched them. Some people unfortunately died in the battle, but their family members were there and thought it was pretty amazing. They’re really thankful that this story was told.
Did you personally do anything to prepare for this shoot? Was there any specific research, or any training that you had to go through?
FIMMEL: No. The script was so detailed. Luckily, the accent wasn’t too hard for me. But the script was very detailed, and speaking to the soldiers that were in it and current soldiers really helped. Having them around, all the time, really helped.
How was the experience of getting to tell this very Australian story and actually shoot it in Australia?
FIMMEL: Oh, my gosh, I would do every job that I could in Australia, if possible. It was great. I wish there was more work there for us. Hopefully, we’ll get more stuff there. It was very enjoyable. To be there for three and a half months, it was great to be home and working.
What were the biggest production challenges, with something like this? Was there a day or a scene that was particularly difficult to shoot?
FIMMEL: Well, I suppose the main thing is just the rain. That made it very hard on the crew and very muddy. There was there was a lot of rain on that thing. There were a lot of days in the rain. The battle was 90% in the rain. That just make it very hard on the crew. But, it’s nothing compared to what really happened.
This seems like a very chaotic story. In order to pull that off, I would imagine that you’d need director with a very clear vision. What was the atmosphere on this set? How did your director, Kriv Stenders, handle things during the shoot?
FIMMEL: It was great. I love Kriv Stenders. He’s a great direct, and an even better bloke. It’s a very serious subject, and it was funny because he did all of the sound effects. We didn’t actually use real bullets. It was all CGI stuff. So, he’d be doing machine gun noises and bomb noises with a big microphone. He’s very entertaining. There are some great actors in the movie, and they really did a great job and made it come to life.
Did any of you guys know each other, prior to shooting this? Did you have time to hang out and get to know each other, at all?
FIMMEL: I’d had a few beers was Luke Bracey, a couple of times. He was the only guy I knew. The other ones were pretty young. A lot of them were 18 and 22. There were a lot of young actors on it.
Because it was such an extraordinary TV series, you’ll always be identified with Vikings and remembered for playing Ragnar Lothbrok. Now that you’ve had a bit of distance from that series, what does that experience mean to you?
FIMMEL: It was a great experience. I really enjoyed it. I loved living in Ireland, and got some really good lifelong friends from it. It was great. I wouldn’t change a thing.
Was it hard to say goodbye to that set and that character, after telling that story for a few years?
FIMMEL: No, not at all. As soon as the camera are off, I start talking to people. I’m not one of those actors that live and breathe the character, and take it home. It was such a great experience, and it was also a great experience to work in Australia. Where you’re working makes such a big difference.
Danger Close is in theaters, on-demand and digital.