Inside 'American Sniper': How Clint Eastwood Cast a Real Navy SEAL

"Clint shot bad guys in movies and I shot bad guys in real life, so let's go ahead and make a realistic move," says former Navy SEAL Kevin Lacz about his first acting gig.
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
Bradley Cooper and Kevin Lacz

Kevin “Dauber” Lacz, a former Navy SEAL who served two combat deployments to Iraq was ignorant about Hollywood and the filmmaking process. That all changed, though, when he was brought onto American Sniper as the SEAL technical advisor and was then persuaded by Bradley Cooper to play himself on the big screen. “I’m going to tell Clint [Eastwood] you got to be in this movie,” Bradley told Lacz at a dinner during the film’s shoot. To his surprise after sending an audition shot on an iPhone, with acting aid from the film’s writer Jason Hall, Lacz was cast in the movie. He notes, “Clint shot bad guys in movies and I shot bad guys in real life, so let’s go ahead and make a realistic movie.”

In 2006, Lacz served for four years with the film’s hero Chris Kyle, played by Cooper on screen, and the two shared an unbreakable bond. The film ends with footage of Kevin at Kyle’s memorial service where each SEAL pinned their trident onto Chris’s casket. Lacz’s relationship to Kyle as well as his work as a platoon sniper and medic to the most highly decorated special operations task unit since Vietnam contributed to his skill set as the SEAL technical advisor for Eastwood’s film.

Read more The Making of 'American Sniper'

Cooper told The Hollywood Reporter, that Lacz along with advisor Rick Wallace, “were invaluable in the process of making the film.” That appreciation is mutual as Lacz tells The Hollywood Reporter about Cooper and Eastwood’s devotion to the reality of Kyle’s story.

As SEAL technical advisor what are some scenes you helped advise that really stood out to you?

One of them which was also my favorite scene to film and to watch back was the surf torture scene. I showed up on set in Malibu and I had an idea. I was looking at the sides to see what we were doing and there was no surf torture, which is when you link arms and walk into the water and take seats. You sit there and let the water rush over. I told Jason who said it was a great idea and to tell Bradley. So I went over and told Bradley and he’s like, “Tell Clint.” I went and told Clint and he’s like, “that’s great.” The best part was telling the actors we were going to do it. Bradley was stoked to do it, and I swear it when everyone else found out it was like you could hear actor’s spirit dying. I was explaining what exactly we were doing and I swear one guy’s nose started to run, just thinking about getting in the water.

How did the conversation with Cooper about you playing yourself in the film go?

We were training during a three-day shoot. Bradley shows up, and he’s straight business. We started shooting a little bit, and he’s on the gun and I’m coaching him through basic body positions as a sniper and he looks up at me and says, “Hey man, did you ever think about playing yourself in the movie?” I have an answer for everything, and for the first time I didn’t. I just said, “I never thought about that, but go ahead and shoot that target and we’ll talk later.” The next night we were at dinner and he pulled me aside and said, “I’m going to tell Clint you got to be in this movie.”

How did the first day of filming go?

I’m not filming that day, I was just following Bradley around, advising all day. I was literally on him like stink on shit on tire when it was combat and SEAL related. Clint pulls me over and it’s raining, he’s got his boonie hat on and camouflage jacket and he asks me how Chris would have shot a guy in a vehicle. I thought about it for a second and said, “Well, Mr. Eastwood, if he shoots him fast he shoots like a Navy SEAL, but if shoots him slow. . .” And I made a slow reaching motion like I’m grabbing a gun, and I’m like, “Do you feel lucky punk, well do you?” And Clint is just standing there in the rain laughing. And I’m thinking this is one moment I’m never going to forget. I can pull a Clint Eastwood line on Clint, and he laughs.

Read more Bradley Cooper on How He Brought 'American Sniper' to the Screen

Describe Eastwood’s directing style.

Clint is very spontaneous. You’ll just be going and the next thing you know, the camera is there. That put me at ease. I was also working with pretty great actors as well. I thought back to what it was like to be in all those situations, thought about all my senses and put myself back in time and just went with it. It’s also that aura of being around Clint Eastwood that propels you to be better. There’s not a lot of fluff with Clint Eastwood. He’s a straight shooter. Being around him makes you want to put forth the best product. Clint shot bad guys in movies and I shot bad guys in real life, so let’s go ahead and make a realistic movie. He asked me very early on, “Kevin let us know if it’s not like what it was,” that was just a man-to-man talk to make sure the film was as real to the personal story of Chris.

How committed were Eastwood and Cooper to the accuracy of the film?

I can’t speak enough to how much Bradley was locked into this role. I got that from the moment I sat down with him of how intense he is. I thought a lot about questions he’d ask and stuff he’d want to know and prepared answers for him, but Bradley is so inquisitive that he’d fire question after question and the next thing I knew I was just giving raw answers and that’s how he learned. He took everything into account to deliver an amazing performance. His commitment to the reality to bring the story to fruition is unparalleled. Then to see him [on Broadway] in The Elephant Man he just continues to amaze. Clint was a stud on set. He’d walk through the rubble in Morocco and just command the set. The guy is made for making war movies.

Read More 'American Sniper': AFI Fest Review

What was your most memorable moment on the set?

When I brought my wife and son on set. It was the bar scene, I was already anxious that I was on camera, but more that my wife would be there watching me, and even more that my four-year old son would be running around set. There’s also a funny moment, from another scene when Bradley is shooting and he wanted to get fired up for the scene. He says to me, “I want you to make me mad before I film this, tell me something that will get me pissed off.” I thought of the first thing that came to my head, “What Leo’s [DiCaprio] a better actor?” (laughs) Bradley looked at me all serious, “No, say this.”

That bar scene, you’ve endured a lot more pain in your career, but what about those darts?

I’m just glad they weren’t throwing hatchets or throwing stars on my back. There’s a certain perception of SEALs and I think the bar scene captures it. To be most accurate, there probably would have been a bar clearing brawl.

Your nickname is Dauber. What nickname would you give Cooper?

I’ll tell you what I wouldn’t give him. I wouldn’t say that’s the guy from The Hangover. We were filming in Morocco and we’re doing a scene and he goes, “Dude isn’t this incredible?” And I said, “Yeah, it really is. I’m sitting here with the guy from The Hangover.” He just got all serious and said, “If I just look like the guy from The Hangover, I’m doing something wrong,” and walked off. I’m like, “Oh, shit.” You might want to call him the legend of filming, he’s that good.

What was your reaction when you watched the film for the first time?

I loved it. I’m not going to lie, it’s tough the first time you’re in a movie, you kind of watch for yourself, but I was fortunate enough to see the movie again, the same day, and really take it all in. I didn’t understand how they filmed it and turned it into what they did and I was amazed of how complete and real it is. To see Bradley and how hard he worked to be Chris Kyle. When you watch it, you see it. You see the attention to detail and accuracy. To see Jason Hall’s script come full circle, and it does Chris Kyle justice. It does justice to the SEAL teams. It’s a raw, gritty, and visceral depiction of what modern war is like. Everyone on set put one hundred percent and the product speaks volumes.

Your first red carpet movie premiere. How did it go?

If you’re going to go to a movie premiere, you might as well go with Clint Eastwood and Bradley Cooper.  Eight years ago when I was in the Navy, going through this in real life and the next thing I know I’m on the red carpet. It was really humbling. I got to link back up with the guys I shared a brotherhood with Reynaldo Gallegos, Luke Grimes, Jake McDorman, Eric Ladin, Cory Hardrict, and Bradley.

When the film ended with you in the  footage of Chris Kyle’s actual funeral how emotional was that for you?

I didn’t know that was going to be in there. I wasn’t prepared. I saw that, and that’s the hammer hitting right there. It really brings that reality and anchors that film down and makes it that personal story of Chris.

What do you hope audiences take away from the film?

It’s very easy for people to just say, “Thank you for your service, good job.” Having seen this as a civilian I think it’s important that people come away from this that there is definitely a personal story in each deployment overseas. Some are unimaginable.  I want people to take the time and meet with those vets and come away with a different understanding of what guys go through and what they sacrificed and how that’s reflected on their home lives. As an audience member you come away with the idea that each person that goes overseas has a story, and let’s listen.

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