With their new World War II miniseries, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks are turning their attention from the European Theatre that was spotlighted in Band of Brothers to The Pacific.
The series tracks the intertwined real-life experiences of three US Marines – Robert Leckie (James Badge Dale), Eugene Sledge (Joe Mazzello) and John Basilone (Jon Sega).
I asked the actors to talk about the responsibility they felt in playing a person who actually existed rather than just a character in a war film, and this is how they responded.
Joe Mazzello: It’s a tremendous responsibility. My grandfather served in the Pacific, and so immediately, when I was up for this role and while I was doing it, I knew I had a tremendous responsibility to all the veterans.
When I spoke to Eugene’s sons and his wife, the most important thing was to make sure I was honoring the man that they knew so well in the best way that I could.
James Badge Dale: It’s hard enough to have responsibility to a fictional character in a fictional story.
When you throw in men who have been through these circumstances who were really there, and Joe and I had the privilege of playing characters that had written about their experiences in their memoirs, you start to wrestle with this different beast which is this man who you don’t really know, who you become beholden to and you owe him something, and wrestling between telling the story that we want to tell, the scripts that were written, and then wrestling with what is your responsibility to this man?
For Joe and Jon and I, it was on the forefront of our mind every day, and it’s a humbling experience to go through that, to try to portray another man who was there. And we lived through that for 10 months, and I just hope we can do them justice.
Jon Seda: I think the responsibility to make sure we got this right is what drove us. I think there was a certain point in time for all of us where we realized how important this is.
This isn’t just to make another film or television show. This is to be the voice for so many men, the real heroes. And I think, especially for me, John Basilone was raised in New Jersey, and I was raised in New Jersey too. So I can’t show my face in New Jersey if we didn’t get this right.
I think overall, just to make sure we got it right, not just for all the Marines out there who are going to be seeing this, but also for (Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks), too. They poured everything into getting this done. And we want to make sure we made them proud.
James Badge Dale: You know what’s funny? You show up to work on a job like this, and there would be a lot of days where you’re not sitting at home breaking down the script and worrying about relationships and all the ‘actory’ stuff that we can go through in our mind.
Then you show up to work [to film the scenes], and your only objective of that day is not to get blown up!