The Actors' Experience in The Pacific

Rubicon (2010)-Will Travers

The Departed (2006)-Barrigan

24 (2003-4)-Chase Edmunds

Lord of the Flies (1990)-Simon

Quick Fact
Badge is the son of the late Broadway, film, and TV star Anita Morris.

Rich : What attracted you to The Pacific project?

Badge : The chance to be a part of something that is culturally significant. As an actor, the greatest thing you can ask for is to tell a story that means something, to tell a real story, and Robert Leckie was such a fascinating character, I instantly felt close to him. It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience to embark on a journey like this.

Rich : How did you study up on being Bob Leckie?

Badge : Well, first I met Vera (Robert Leckie's widow) and their daughter, Joan. We had a number of great conversations, and I got to hang out at their house and go into his study. The beautiful thing here was that you sit in the study and you realize Robert Leckie had written so much about his experiences Helmet for My Pillow , his memoir about his time in the Pacific theatre, and he had also written a book of short stories or vignettes about his experience growing up in New Jersey in this Irish household. So there was a lot of material, so much material that it kind of made me nervous. When I left Vera Leckie's house for the first time, I was just hit with this fear that Robert Leckie doesn't want me playing this role because Robert Leckie wants to play this role himself. He's the only one who could do this. He was a very brilliant, unique individual, and I hope he's not waiting for me somewhere to slap me in the face. I tried. I tried really hard.

Rich : Each of the lead actors in the miniseries has tremendous challenges, but I think in your case with Leckie, he's a lot more elusive than on a lot of levels than John Basilone or Eugene Sledge. Was one of the hardest challenges in playing Bob Leckie getting through all those layers?

Badge : On a personal level, and I think on a story level for everybody else, yes, absolutely. On a personal level, I had trouble because he was so complex and there were so many layers. Sometimes I questioned, sometimes I just didn't know, where we were going, where I was going, or if this was going to work because he's so erratic. He needs to be treated with care so the audience can understand the story, which brings us to the second point. I think Basilone's story is very clear; it's very clear where it's going. Sledge's story was also very clear. I think with Robert Leckie it was a little muddier where we want to go with him. What is his story? What are we trying to say by episode ten when he comes home?

Rich : Let me add two comments: One of the producers, Kirk Saduski, made exactly that point about how elusive he really is. And along the same lines, when I was talking with Sid Phillips, he was of the view that Robert Leckie in Helmet for My Pillow was not quite the Robert Leckie he knew. Bob had a certain character he presented himself as in Helmet for My Pillow , which Phillips felt was not quite the real Leckie.

Badge : Right. There was a lot of time spent trying to decipher who is Robert Leckie who is the real Robert Leckie and who is the Robert Leckie as he sees himself.

Rich : Talk about the boot camp experience and how that helped you with the project.

Badge : [Laughter]

Rich : Or maybe not talk about it.

Badge : No, I just get a big smile on my face when I think about that time. We were in the Daintree Rain Forest in northeastern Australia, and they put us all in 1942 gear. They broke us down, and they tried to build us back up again. I think some of us are still broken, but it was invaluable. They put us in platoons and with the guys we'd be working with. I can only speak for myself and for the guys I was very close with that it was an invaluable experience; we got to know each other very well. There were many nights I spent in a hole chewing on coffee grounds with Josh Helman ("Chuckler"), Jacob Pitts ("Hoosier") and Keith Nobbs ("Runner"). They were sleeping in the hole next to me covered in tarps and trying to stay warm. And basically it was war games for about nine days, and you didn't know what was going to happen or when it was going to happen. There were times you had to pat yourself to remind yourself that this is not real. That being said, it was a beautiful experience. It was hard, but it was invaluable.

Rich : Besides the challenge of the character, you faced the physical challenges of acting in these episodes the dirt, the heat, the rain.

Badge : I think that tested everyone of us every step of the way. We didn't shoot the miniseries like a typical movie shoot. There was no air conditioning; there was no going back to your trailers in between setups. You grab a pack of cigarettes, find a rock, and sit down with your buddies. And as miserable as we got, there was always that specter of knowing that men had been there and done this for real. And so any little pain and discomfort that we're going through really isn't that bad. Yet it was an experience. We're shooting the Cape Gloucester episode and in the rain for about three, four weeks in the same spot. We noticed after the first week a smell started to arise in set, just this smell. We're like, what is this smell? And we realize it's the rot from all the water, the jungle rot. And then we smelled ourselves, and it's us it's in the uniform, and it just continued to get worse and worse. It was amazing to have that just one little taste of the Cape Gloucester experience because those men were there for months and months and months, and here we were there a few weeks. As an actor, when you're doing a job like this it can really help to tap into those small sensory experiences.

Rich : I think The Pacific reaches a new level achievement in terms of graphic and accurate depiction of combat. What did it feel like to go through that and how do you look back on it?

Badge : I tell you what; I had problems with it the first time we were there. I think the first episode I shot was the first Guadalcanal episode and the Battle of the Tenaru River. You know we're not doing this for real, it's pretend, but you're looking around and there are all these bodies everywhere and the blood and the brutality of the entire thing . . . yeah, I think that resonated with all of us. I remember, I think it was the first week of filming that battle, it went through the night, and in the morning between setups I'm watching a guy float down the river. This body is just in the river face-up. I'm thinking about all the carnage, just kind of taking it in, and suddenly this body floating down the river stands up, washes his face off, and then lays back down and floats down floats down the river some more. I almost had a heart attack. It was like I don't know where I am. I don't know what's going on; I have no idea what crazy world I've been dropped into.

Rich : One of the distinctive things about The Pacific is so much of the combat took place at night. Did it give you the same sort of creepy feeling about dealing with the enemy at night that I think it really gave the veterans?

Badge : I'm scared of the dark, so yeah. I remember on that fourth night of boot camp, all the guys in the Japanese Army boot camp actually came up our ridge. You can hear them chattering and speaking in a language you don't understand. I'll never forget that moment, and my heart dropped. That wasn't real, but I had a moment of unbelievable fear.

Rich : Do you have any favorite scene or scenes?

Badge : I do, the last scene before we went on hiatus for Christmas. It was me, Keith, Josh, and Jacob, and I think it's at the end of part two. The Marines get off Guadalcanal and on a transport. We just sit down and get a cup of coffee. The man serving the cups of coffee says: "We've heard about you guys, you know? We've heard about you guys." It kind of summed up our whole experience.

 


Joe Mazzello (Eugene Sledge)

Previous roles include

The Social Network (2010)-Dustin Moskovitz

The Sensation of Sight (2004)-Tripp

The River Wild (1994)-Roarke Hartman

Jurassic Park (1993), The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)-Tim Murphy

Quick Fact
Joe wrote, directed, and starred in the 2007 short film Matters of Life and Death .

Rich : You read for a bunch of parts before you settled on Sledge?

Joe : Sledge is a very reactionary character. He's very affected by the things that go on around him. Because of that, they decided not to give too many lines to Sledge when they were doing the auditioning process. The people they were really interested in for the Sledge part were given Sid Phillips' lines. So I read a lot for Sid, even read some for Leckie, and just a bit for Sledge. I had barely read anything about him, and then when I found out who he was, I knew immediately this is exactly who I should be playing, and I got very excited. I have a couple of friends in the Marines, and I said I'm going to be playing E. B. Sledge. You know, they just about passed out because he's such an icon in that community. It's very exciting.

Rich : What did you do in terms of background development on Sledge besides obviously reading With the Old Breed ?

Joe : That was the very first thing I did, and then I was very fortunate to be able to talk to his wife and two sons. I spoke to each of them for probably over an hour, maybe even two, and really felt like I got to know the person. Talking to his sons, I felt like I was talking to him. Beyond that, I was sent about 3,000 pages of just background and research, military handbooks, Marine manuals, Sid Phillips' book, and both of Sledge's books I was just inundated with information. I couldn't get through it all by the time we got the project, but I got through as much of it as I could, and I just felt so ready. I felt more prepared for this role than any I've ever done in my life.

Rich : You have to cover a tremendous arc of personality, starting with Sledge the kid through two campaigns. Did you shoot all the kid scenes before you moved on to the other stuff?

Joe : It was tough because we did not shoot the kid stuff first. The first thing I shot was episode five, so it was the beginning of the Peleliu campaign. Sometimes I would do three different episodes in one day with three different directors. It was all over the place.

Rich : To me that's incredible that you're mixing and matching different phases of Sledge.

Joe : Yeah. But I knew the character so inside and out that I could really track it in my mind and knew kind of where I had to be at what time.

Rich : Did the boot camp experience help you out with doing the miniseries?

Joe : Yeah. The boot camp experience was insane. They gave me the Band of Brothers boot camp tapes, and I thought, aww, they're in a barracks, they have beds, running water, toilets, and showers, and oh, they do a bit of running, boo-hoo. I'm thinking this is going to be like actor's boot camp; you have to be up by 11 every day. I thought it would be fake, but when I got there in the middle of the jungle with Captain Dale Dye and his henchmen, I realized very quickly that this was the real deal. I had never even fired a rifle before I did this, and I had to be taught everything from square one.

Rich : Did you find the project as physically challenging as it looks?

Joe : This was the most physically and emotionally exhausting project I've ever done or ever will do. Every day was a battle, no pun intended. I lost 12 pounds in 10 days in boot camp because those guys were just completely emaciated and that's what they wanted us to be like. And I kept that weight off the entire show simply by going to the set everyday and doing what I was asked to do.

Rich : In the Okinawa sequence you're basically soaked all the time. Did that add an additional level of misery to the whole thing?

Joe : I thought it couldn't get any worse. We were shooting at night a lot. It was freezing, the water was very cold, and we just had to live in it. We had to live in that mud. We just were sopping wet and disgusting every single day for a month. Even though I went through all of that, it pales in comparison to what the real men had to go through.

Rich : The Pacific represents a new level of graphic and active depiction of combat at just the most primal and gruesome levels. How do you reflect on that in terms of your experience playing those scenes?

Joe : I don't think it could have left a deeper impression. Every time that I felt like I was really doing something that was difficult, I kind of had to step back and think of how silly that looks in comparison to what E. B. Sledge himself had to go through.

Rich : Could you talk about how you developed your relationship with Rami Malek, who plays "Snafu"?

Joe : From the moment we got on set, I could tell that Rami was a really good actor, and we worked so well together. Every month that it went on we actually got closer, and by the end we were really inseparable.

Rich : Clearly, there seems to be a strong vision in The Pacific to make everything meticulously correct in honor of the guys you're representing.

Joe : Certainly. Eugene Sledge's wife, Jeanne, she said to me, "You can't let my Eugene be portrayed as a wimp." And I said don't worry. I would never ever do that.

Rich : Were there any particular scenes or moments you thought were especially challenging to do?

Joe : Oh my goodness. I could give you a laundry list. On set we would always be just like, is this the worst day ever? It might be. No, maybe yesterday was the worst day. But the amtrac stuff, being out in the sea and feeling nauseous was the worst. The exhaust would come in the amtrac and just fill your lungs and make you want to throw up. And it was hot, 110 degrees. Misery. They would spray us with a hose sometimes just because our uniforms should be wet. We welcomed that like it was manna from heaven. It was three days and so grueling. And then I would say any night shoot on episode nine was so taxing. It just depleted you of all your energy.

Rich : Do you have any particular favorite scenes?

Joe : The scene in episode seven where Sledge goes to pull out the teeth and Snafu stops him I think is tremendous. I love that scene. And naturally the scene in episode nine where Sledge contemplates killing one of the Okinawan villagers.

Rich : Did you have to get yourself really up for the scene where you slip on the hill in Okinawa?

Joe : Oh yeah. I was going to mention that as one of the worst. Sliding down and crashing into that dead body and then being literally covered in maggots, it was one of those moments where I just kind of said, this is what I do for a living? I really had to question myself this is what I'm doing with my life, being covered in maggots and crashing into dead bodies? But the whole shoot was so taxing, and every moment was more difficult than the one before it. It gave me an understanding of what the real men went through; you just kind of had to become a little numb to it and just say this is what I have to do. Just let it go, do what you've got to do, and figure out how disgusting it is later when you're done with it.

Rich : What do you hope audiences take away from The Pacific ?

Joe : I just hope some level of appreciation, some level of entertainment, and some level of respect. Sometimes the war in the Pacific is overlooked just because the atrocities in Europe were so great. Three episodes in the show are focused on Peleliu, a battle no one's ever heard of, but so many brave men fought and died there. These weren't professional warriors; these were mechanics and care salesmen and painters and kids who would go do this thing, save the world basically, and then would come home and just live a normal life and always just say, "Well, we did what we had to do." It's kind of unfathomable to think that an entire generation of people would be so willing to serve their country. And I think that all these men should be remembered.

 


Jon Seda (John Basilone)

Previous roles include

Close to Home (2006-7)-Ray Blackwell

Homicide: Life on the Street (1997-99)-Detective Paul Falsone

Selena (1997)-Chris Perez

Twelve Monkeys (1995)-Jose

Quick Fact
As an amateur boxer, Jon won 21 bouts and was a runner-up in the New Jersey Golden Gloves competition. 

Jon : When I first read the script, I just sensed the importance of what it was about. I felt this connection with John Basilone. He was born in New York, I was born in New York; he was raised in New Jersey, I was raised in New Jersey; I boxed, he boxed.

Rich : Can you tell me a bit about how you went back and learned about Basilone and developed your part?

Jon : Once I was given the role, I was hit with tons of research that producers had been putting together for years. I was given tons of research and documents and some documentaries to watch and books to read, but at the end of the day we had to first learn to be Marines. And that started at boot camp. None of us were thinking about our characters when we were there; we were just learning to try and be the best Marines that we could be. And once we had that embedded in our brain housing, we were able to react in most situations instead of act. It just became a normal reaction.

Rich : Can you talk some more about the boot camp experience and what you took away from it?

Jon : I had no idea what I was getting myself into and little did I know how life changing this was going to be. I don't mean from a career standpoint but from a personal life standpoint. I felt this was a defining moment in my life because I don't look at things the same as I did before. I had a great appreciation for my family, my life, and the freedom that I have, but that was just taken to a whole other level once we started with boot camp. There was a time during boot camp when I literally stopped, looked around, and I remember looking at Josh Biton, who plays J. P. Morgan, and asking him: "What are we doing here? Are we actually training to fight someone?" It just felt so real. And the enormity of what these men had gone through was starting to set in. I attribute that to Captain Dale Dye and his NCOs. They were emphatic in making sure we got it, that we understood, yes, we were making a series, but it's bigger than that. This is about giving a voice to all those men who gave the ultimate sacrifice and fought hard for the freedom we have today.

Rich : Could you talk a little bit about the physical challenges?

Jon : There were many times where you barely have an ounce left in you to keep moving. You realize you're not even a quarter of the way through, and you can't be a wuss and you can't cower and say, "I need a break, I'm too tired, I can't do it." There were challenging times when I felt, can I carry this machine gun? Can I run through the sand one more time? Can I get up over that ledge? Can I do it? But you push through it.

Rich : What did you think about the miniseries' graphic depiction of combat and how do you reflect back on it?

Jon : It's kind of bittersweet because the experience on The Pacific was just so real to me, especially when I connected to what really happened and the things that we tried to accomplish are in tune to actual events that happened. It's overwhelming. There were times when we were shooting I would just get overwhelmed with emotion and I'd have to go off to the side because I was just crying like a baby. I don't even know why. And then I'd have to clean my eyes and just get back in it. And there were times when I just felt Basilone's spirit with me, and I just hope that we did everybody proud.

Rich : What were some of the hardest scenes to play?

Jon : It's kind of strange. The physical stuff wasn't the hardest, even though physically it was the most demanding stuff I've ever been involved with. It was more the mental process that we had to digest. It was more the scenes with John Basilone's wife, with Annie Parisse, who plays Lena Riggi, dealing with what emotions he must have felt in regards to Lena at a time when he wasn't expecting to find them, and how he must have wrestled with it in his mind, with going back to the war and following his heart. How does someone make those decisions? Those were the toughest scenes for me because they were more emotional, they were dealing more with the heart.

Rich : Do you have any favorite scenes that you shot?

Jon : One of my favorite scenes was when the Army drops off all the supplies and is landing on Guadalcanal. The siren goes off, and they start running because they think that means they're going to be bombed. We know better because we've been there, and we take full advantage and are just like a bunch of kids in the middle of this hell. We're going over to steal from the Army. You realize that stuff like that happened.

Rich : That's exactly how the scene comes out. It's like all of a sudden you're all a bunch of ruffians stealing apples from the fruit stand or something.

Jon : Right. To me that was the most fun because you really realize that stuff like that happened. In the midst of what anyone would perceive as hell, the ability to have fun and live to me, that was the best.

Rich : Do you have any anecdotes about making The Pacific you'd like to share?

Jon : A funny thing for me was actually in boot camp. For whatever reason, guys were messing up and having to drop down and do push-ups. I did well enough that I never had to drop except for one time. We were doing a simulated landing and coming out of the landing craft. We were taking fire from the enemy in a certain direction. I had to determine that direction and set up my machine guns. We were being filmed I believe by HBO at the time. This was toward the end of boot camp, and we were just in it. And so, I set up the machine guns, and everything was perfect. Captain Dye loved it and said, "Great job." So, I'm telling the guys to break down the machine guns, and I slip and say, "Make sure you grab all your guns," while I'm right next to Captain Dye with all the HBO cameras right there. He turns to me and says: "What did you just say Basilone? Get down." I drop, right, but remember I haven't done push-ups yet and wasn't really paying attention when the others were doing them. I forgot how you're supposed to do them and just started doing regular push-ups. He starts yelling: "Is that the respect you give me? Where's my count," or something like that. I start going, "one, two, three, four, five, six," and he's yelling: "God damn it, Basilone. Where's my count? Is that how you refer to your commanding officer?" Something like that. I am so confused, and of course the camera's in my face, and guys are trying to give me signs telling me how do them. I must have done about 50 or 60 push-ups before I finally got it right. And they made me do another 60.

Rich : What do you hope audiences will take away from The Pacific ?

Jon : Well, first and foremost, I hope that when everyone sees The Pacific , they're going to reflect on their own lives, where they are in their lives and where are their values. What do they hold as important in their lives? And just really understand why we have the freedoms that we have today and to love this country like those men loved this country.

 

See the full Naval Institute guide to The Pacific.

 

 

 
 

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