This interview originally appeared in Inside Film on an unlisted date. Interview by Steve Goldman. Copyright of A & R Publishing, Limited.
How did you get cast in the film?
The usual way. I was sent the script by my agent about a month or so before filming started. We set up an appointment. I auditioned. They put me on tape and sent it off to Terrence Malick in Australia and that was it. It happened real fast. Just the same way I'm sure that real soldiers are recruited. You get the news and boom! You're on a plane and suddenly you're off overseas with all the fear and anxiety of fulfilling your mission and the fear and anxiety that you might not be able to cut the mustard.
Were you up against any major names?
I don't know. It was tough for him to cast the whole film, though. I heard that it took a while. So I felt that weight as well, that sense of rsponsibility in taking on the part, which was paralled in the character's sense of responsibility towards his men. Each time you go into a job, each journey is different. Sometimes you feel like you're nailing it, other times you feel like you've never acted before. This time it was more of the latter. Couple that with having limited reheasal time and that puts on a lot of pressure. As an actor you try to use it.
What is the relationship between this film and Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan?
America learned a lot about warfare during Guadalcanal, as depicted in this film. The troops were green and inexperienced. Hence the major connection with Private Ryan is that what we learned in warfare in that vicious South Pacific battle we took to D-Day--Oddly enough, I was also cast for this film on the anniversay of D-Day.
What did you know about Terrence Malick?
Only his reputation. It was only when I got home that I watched his previous films. I was aware of Days of Heaven and Badlands, but I hadn't seen them. But I learned a lot, obviously, by working with him. Terry has an amazing improvisational quality. When he discovered my Greek background, for example, he incorporated it into the character.
How close did it feel to a real battle?
For those five months, it was my war. You have to go through that process. For better or for worse, my life paralleled some of those anxieties. And I could only use that in terms of myself and my craft. If I don't get this job right as an actor, will I have a future? The same for Captain Staros. If he doesn't fulfill his mission, will he have a future as a soldier?
What was day-to-day life like on the set?
Obviously, we didn't have trailers, we had camps. And then we would either hike along the trails or be driven to the set, or "the front" as I would call it. It was very similar to Chapter Four of All Quiet on the Western Front. That's the parallel. And I don't mean disrepsect towards the men who endured it. Whatever I understand, it is in my own minuscule way, compared with what any soldier goes through.
It's quite a jump from your Ninja Turtle films. I assume Malick didn't base his casting decision on those performances.
No. He didn't se anything I've done. Didn't want to. He felt it would distract him from assessing me. He wanted to see me as me and then try to capture that. And I respected that. I also didn't want to see his other movies and be intimidated. So we both started on a level playing field.
Has being a part of this film altered you?
I knew going in I would come out altered. That was part of the attraction. No one ever changes on a casual whim. You have to go in kicking and screaming to come out the other end in some positive way with a different appreciation for life. After a while I felt such a connection to the insanity of the moment that I was addicted to it. Anything other than that wasn't enough. We were scared, and that's why the film is authentic.Back to The Thin Red Line Interviews Page