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Universal’s Lone Survivor is an intense, gritty drama based on the true story of a Navy SEAL team ambushed in Afghanistan, leaving 19 Americans dead and only one survivor. The film features a number of brutal, grisly moments, including scenes in which the main characters tumble down rocky hillsides, complete with the sound of bones breaking.
But ahead of the film’s New York premiere Tuesday night, the stars and director Peter Berg told The Hollywood Reporter the most challenging part of making the movie was trying to do justice to the fallen service members and their families.
“All of these soldiers had moms and dads and brothers and sisters and widows,” Berg said on the red carpet. “And I knew that at one point when this film was done, I was going to be in a screening room with those families and the lights were going to come up and those family members were going to look me in the eye and they were going to let me know very clearly whether I got it right or not. So that was something that I carried with me every day.”
Alexander Ludwig, who plays rookie Shane Patton, said he felt an “overbearing need” to get things right.
“There’s a huge weight on your shoulders when you’re telling a story that’s not only true but ended in a really horrible way,” he told THR. “I think the biggest challenge for me was really doing my best to make sure the Patton family was pleased with what I did and that everyone feels like we did justice to the movie.”
Friday Night Lights alum Taylor Kitsch, who said he hopes this film isn’t the last of his many collaborations with Berg, admitted he put a lot of pressure on himself in making the film but he ultimately had to let that go.
“I just think you give yourself to the role and to this part,” the actor said. “You do as much research as you can humanly, possibly take on. You talk with the family and, of course, [the real survivor Marcus] Luttrell and give yourself to it.”
Star Mark Wahlberg reiterated the point he made after the film’s AFI Fest premiere that the physical challenges he and his co-stars endured while making the movie were nothing compared to what the real SEAL team members went through.
“We just suck it up. We know it’s just 42 days and we’ll have our lives back,” Wahlberg said of the cast’s attitude on the set.
Co-star Emile Hirsch added that knowing the reality of what they were portraying kept the actors in check.
“There [were] physical challenges that on any other job I would probably be just crying to the moon and drinking my beer at night, but what these guys actually went through was so much worse that we always kept ourselves in check as actors,” Hirsch told THR. “As bad as it would be for one day or one month, we’d always say, ‘You know, what these guys went through is one million times worse. We get to go to our hotel rooms every night and order freaking room service, so we don’t have anything to complain about.’ “
In fact, Hirsch said he initially signed on because of the opportunity to make a movie with Berg and Wahlberg, but getting to know the real person he was portraying through the memories of his family members and friends made him particularly committed to the part.
“Danny’s friends and family were instrumental to me having any kind of understanding and gaining the courage to even play the role,” Hirsch said. “Those guys were inspiring people who were humbling all the time to be around every day. They loved him so much and his family loved him so much and he came from such a great family that it broke my heart…but at the same time it galvanized my heart, because it filled me with such love and admiration for him that I wanted to do the best that I could.”
Wahlberg also is a producer on the film, but he indicated it was easy for him to balance both roles.
“When I need to be producing, I’m producing, and when the camera’s rolling and I need to be acting, I’m in front of the camera and I’m acting,” he said. “I love being involved in both aspects anyway, because it gives you a lot more control. My idea of control is really just empowering the people around you to really do the best that they can and the freedom to be as creative as possible.”
Fellow producer Randall Emmett admitted it was tough to raise money for the film’s $50 million budget but he was determined to see the project through.
“I walked into Pete Berg’s office and he started reading autopsy reports to me after I’d read the script and I was already moved and I literally said to him, ‘Whatever it takes on this one’…I just felt this story needed to be told,” he explained. “And then I went out and started calling partners of ours and I said, ‘We’re going to make…this movie.’ And they were like, ‘Wait, is there international value to this movie?’ And I’m like, ‘This is a different movie. This is a movie that’s going to take a lot of love and a fight to get it made.’ And literally everybody came together and everybody looked at it and everybody made the decision to jump in. It was one of those leap-of-faith movies that you either really believe in or you don’t.”
Emmett said he expects the trend of producers going outside the studio system to raise money for mid-budget movies to continue. “I think today the studios encourage outside financing, so it’s so much easier to bring equity financing in…just because the studios want that…It’s become a really good formula.”
The star-studded premiere was attended by Larry David, former Rutgers football player Eric LeGrand, House of Cards‘ Robin Wright, who’s dating Lone Survivor co-star Ben Foster, and singer Rob Thomas, who said he’d been hearing a lot about the film from Kitsch, who’s a friend.
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