“Act of Valor” directors Scott Waugh and Mike “Mouse” McCoy got a tepid response when they first approached eight active-duty Navy SEALs to play themselves in starring roles in a Hollywood action movie.
“They all said, ‘No, man, we’re not actors — and we’re not Hollywood guys. We’re Navy SEALs, and that’s all we want to do,’” Waugh recalled in an exclusive interview with Newsmax.
“It took us four months to get them to kind of trust us and really know that what we wanted to tell was a story of brotherhood and sacrifice — and not just a big gunfight movie,” Waugh explained. “I think that’s when they really said, ‘Okay, we’re going to have a hand in it and keep this movie authentic and accurate. I’ll take a look at it and consider being a part of it.’”
The result: “Act of Valor” is an adrenaline-pumping, heart-pounding, nonstop action roller coaster with some of the most authentic combat scenes ever to grace the silver screen.
Story continues below the movie trailer.
Set to open at theaters across the country on Friday, the film not only provides an up-close-and-personal look at secretive SEAL tactics and military hardware but also attempts to capture some of the gut-wrenching emotions of the real-life families of the uniformed stars, who offer America a glimpse into their private anguish — every time a husband, father, or brother dons the SEAL uniform to serve the country.
That was something that not even Capt. Duncan Smith, a 27-year Navy veteran and active-duty SEAL, fully understood before he took on one of the key roles in the film.
“The scene that struck me the most — the one that completely surprised me — was the lieutenant’s wife sliding behind the door crying when he left,” Smith says. “I had no idea that goes on. So I asked my wife about it. She said, ‘Absolutely, it happens.’ She said it’s a sad day when we leave. It’s frustrating, and she’s angry and lonely and upset. I just didn’t know. So for me, ‘Act of Valor’ has opened my eyes in terms of how my family and other families — particularly the wives — react when we deploy.”
Some viewers wiped away tears during a recent screening.
SEALs are not exactly known for opening up their doors to the media — let alone slogging around with a film crew in tow for two years as Waugh and McCoy did through their Los Angeles-based Bandito Brothers production company. The film is distributed in the United States by Relativity Media.
“I think what really struck us was how humble these men were. I mean, they’re just extremely humble. They have nothing to prove,” McCoy said. “They are ridiculously intelligent and intellectual — probably smarter than they are tough overall . . . We were surprised to really learn that they were so different than they had been portrayed in film before.”
During a recent interview with Newsmax, former SEAL Chris Kyle acknowledged that it is quite unusual for SEALs to participate in a Hollywood production.
“The guys aren’t super excited about always being in the political eye or the political eye but it’s going to happen,” observed Kyle, whose book, “American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History,”
now tops the best-seller list with its gripping accounts of combat situations from the 10-year-period between 1999 to 2009 in which Kyle recorded more than 150 kills.
In addition to the SEALs, “Act of Valor” stars Roselyn Sanchez (“Without A Trace”), Alex Veadov (“Svetlana”), Jason Cottle (Remarkable Power), and Nestor Serrano (“90210”).
The story begins with a mission to rescue a kidnapped CIA operative that unexpectedly uncovers a chilling terrorist plot that takes the fictitious Bandito Platoon to Mexico, Somalia, and other hot spots in a global race against time to foil a terrorist strike on U.S. soil.
Waugh and McCoy based the script on real-life acts of valor they came upon by speaking informally with the SEALs over a six-month period. “They kept sharing all these acts of valor that had happened in their community — that you really wouldn’t believe until they said, ‘yeah that happened to Mark right next to me.’ And you were like, ‘what, that really happened?’” Waugh explained.
“Once we found five in particular that Mouse and I were blown away with, we took those five stories back to Los Angeles and we hired Kurt Johnstad, who wrote the movie ‘300,’ and we said, ‘Here’s these five acts of valor that we really love. We want to weave a fictitious story line through these five acts of valor and the three of us really collaborated together to come up with a screenplay,” Waugh said.
Co-director McCoy is particularly proud of the fact that the story line remains true to the descriptions the servicemen conveyed. “It’s important to note that everything that you saw happen to a SEAL in the film has actually happened to somebody on the battlefield in the last 10 years,” he said.
The combat sequences were actually a series of training exercises that the Navy allowed Bandito Brothers to film. Much of this training involved live fire, which required the film crew to be outfitted in body armor. Nobody one was hurt during the filming, including the SEALs, who performed their own stunts. Some crew members compared the experience with filming a football game.
“Imagine you’re running a real game and being embedded inside with cameras and fully immersed inside of it, but letting it happen for real. So we would run entire ops — like full ops — top to bottom. And then we’d go back and we would run it again, and maybe move our cameras around in different perspectives,” said McCoy, who added that his team created its camera plans around the operational plans drawn up by the SEALs.
“In this film, I think people are connecting because the lead is really in the middle of the action scene. You’re not cutting away to a movie star and cutting to the weird reverse, or the stunt double,” McCoy said. “Your leads are in the middle of the action scene all the time.”
Hollywood has not used live ammunition since the 1920s, Waugh said. “We wanted to be the guys that bring it back. We really did it because that’s how the guys train, how they operate,” he said. “We didn’t want to alter that. So we got in the middle of that. I think it really transcends on screen when you see the real tracer bullets and the real muzzle flash. You see like that’s definitely different than we’re used to because of all the CG [computer graphics] in movies now a days. Mouse and I are really dedicated to doing everything in camera and there’s no CG in ‘Act of Valor.’”
In pioneering what could be a new reality movie genre, the directors said an unintentional consequence was increased cost efficiency. The independent production came in at only a fraction of what comparable action movies cost, said the directors, who declined to provide exact numbers.
Waugh said it would not surprise him if his colleagues in tinsel town come knocking on the doors of the eight SEALs.
“I can only imagine because they’re so wonderful in the film that Hollywood is going to try and knock on their door,” he said. “But you know what? These guys are SEALs and they are already back in deployment. They love being SEALs.”
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