Military advisor and actor Dale Dye discusses Platoon, his directorial debut, Falling Skies, and more
There are several ways which actors first break into the business. Some attend performing arts school, some are plucked out of obscurity by those with an eye for talent, and some work their way up through a number of different ways. Dale Dye became an actor by joining the Marines, although he wouldn't know it until he retired from the Corps years later. Dale Dye has forged an impressive career as both an actor and a military consultant to Hollywood, and both of those careers got their start with the Oliver Stone war classic Platoon, which will be released on Blu-ray for the first time on May 24.
I recently had the chance to speak with Dale Dye, who has since acted in over 70 movies and TV shows and served as military consultant on nearly 50 projects, about his experiences on Platoon, which celebrates its 25th Anniversary with this new Blu-ray release. Here's what he had to say.
Platoon was your first movie, in both acting and consulting. Was this something you were actively pursuing, or did Oliver Stone approach you for this project?
Dale Dye: I was looking to jump into it, and I had been for about a year, in an effort to exercise my theory of how to make better war films or military films. I was having no luck at it. People were looking at me and saying, 'Look, we've been doing this for years and we've made millions of dollars. Who needs you? Get away from me.' When I saw a notice that Oliver, who was himself a combat veteran from Vietnam, when I saw he was going to do this story, the light went on. I thought, 'I have got to get to this guy. He will understand, if anyone does, what I'm trying to do, and what my theories and philosophies are.' Fortunately for all concerned, I was correct. Oliver and I had about a 20-minute meeting, I laid it out for him in my two-minute drill, and he got it right away. He knew what I was trying to say, which is, essentially, that so many military films fail, because they're so shallow and so misrepresented, simply because the actors don't get what Oliver and I know from first-hand experience. He got that immediately, and then we just figured out how to do it. That's where I stepped up.
Was that one of Oliver's inspirations for telling this tale? Just to make a more realistic war movie?
Dale Dye: Oliver had been trying to do Platoon, or a version of Platoon for about 10 years, and couldn't get anybody to back him. The time wasn't right, sociologically, in the United States. Oliver never compromised, going through that long process of getting somebody to back him to make this film. He knew the reality of combat in Vietnam, so he was unwilling to compromise on anything. He absolutely wanted it to be the closest, emotional look at what men went through in Vietnam, in infantry companies, that he could possibly do. He never compromised that.
Was there pressure from the studio to make it a garden-variety war movie?
Dale Dye: I don't think so. I don't think Oliver would have responded to that. We had a big studio deal going in. It was some money we got from a pair of British producers, $5 million, and that was in, all in. I don't think there was any immediate pressure to make it just another war movie. I think they recognized Oliver's unique talent as a filmmaker, and understood that, as a real combat veteran, they were probably going to get a realistic look at what's going on.
Can you talk about your work with the cast, in your advisor capacity? How did they take to this more realistic approach?
Dale Dye: At the time we went into this, Oliver and I agreed we needed about three weeks of those guys living in the jungle, just like he and I did living in Vietnam, really developing those relationships between each other, that shorthand, that feeling, that emotional kinship that those men have when they're facing a common fear. That was really what was my directive, make them understand how military people think, feel, and act. To do that, I wanted to immerse them fully in jungle environment, where even the jungle is an enemy, and you really have to depend on each other to survive. I took people, who at the time, were relative unknowns like Willem Dafoe, Tom Berenger, Johnny Depp, Forest Whitaker, and a bunch of others. I don't think they particularly wanted to do what we were going to do. In fact, I was told by Oliver that a lot of the actors he had originally cast, once they found out what was going to happen to them before they ever rolled a bit of film, their agents or their managers or them personally, said 'No thanks.' So, we ended up with the people we ended up with, in a brilliant casting move, as usual for Oliver. My job was just to isolate those folks and get them into a Vietnam, military mindset, and emotional-set. That's what I did.
Can you talk about just watching Oliver work on the set as a director, and the things you picked up from Oliver?
Dale Dye: Oliver knows how to tell a story. You'll never see him without a script in his hand. He doesn't wing it, and that's primarily because he wrote it, for the most part. He doesn't play fast and loose. He knows where the story is, where the emotional points are, and what I learned from him mostly, was how to get that out of an actor. He doesn't molly-coddle anybody. He goes right to them and looks them in the eye and says, 'You know that's wrong. You've got to do it right.' It was a real experience, not only in watching a brilliant filmmaker and a director, but also a guy who assumes a mantle of leadership when he's on a set. He really, really focuses. He's thinking ahead of himself, all the time, and that's hard to do when spontaneous things are happening around you. That's not to say he ignores those things, because he doesn't, but he never loses sight of where the story is going, where the arc is and what each character needs to do to support that arc. That's what I learned from him. I really learned how to stage a play that has all of the emotional components that you had designed in it, and make it come out the other end of the meat grinder. He's very good at that.
This movie was the start of a very long and esteemed career, not only as a consultant but also as an actor. Were you anticipating the acting side that would come out while you were doing this?
Dale Dye: I was not. You know, I spent most of my adult life in uniform, teaching other people, or leading them. That's an act, or it's acting. I always say that the professional military is the best acting school in the world. I'm good at it. I have that kind of personality. I think what happened was Oliver saw me training, and said, 'Hmm, you know, that guy just might make the company commander here.' It scared me to death, it really did. I was in scenes with Dafoe and Berenger and Mark Moses, guys who had been doing this their whole lives. All I could do was just be me, and apparently that's been sufficient. I've acted in about 50 movies now, so there must have been something there that somebody recognized that worked.
Platoon really paved the way for a lot of great war movies. Can you talk about the influence this had on the movies that came out after Platoon?
Dale Dye: It broke some sociological ice. That was crucial. Our timing was impeccable. America was just now ready to deal with the realities of Vietnam. Up until that time, veterans were sort of in a dark booth drinking beer, and nobody wanted to talk to them. The war was one of the most divisive things of our generation. It was time to tell some stories about it. When we did, and Platoon came out to the acclaim that it eventually got, the war really turned, sociologically. Veterans came out everywhere and said, 'Look, I haven't been able to talk to you about this for years and years, but go see this movie and you'll understand why.' That was really, really very gratifying, for both Oliver and I, above and beyond the acclaim the movie got. This is Hollywood, and nothing succeeds like success in Hollywood. There was an immediate look at how we did this, how we made this different than anything else. I think producers and directors sort of put it up like a touchstone. They would say, 'Well, we want to do it, but we want it to be like Platoon.' It has continued that way. Fortunately, I have been able to make several other films that contained elements of the way we did Platoon, such as Born on the 4th of July, The Great Raid, Band of Brothers, Forrest Gump, The Pacific. What happened is, people would say, 'Yeah, that's what I want, but more like Platoon.' It became a milestone, a touchstone, and I'm very proud of that.
I see you're getting ready to make your directorial debut yourself with No Better Place to Die. Is there anything you can tell us about that?
Dale Dye: Yeah! It's a World War II story about the 82nd Airborne on D-Day in Normandie, and a very brutal, bloody battle they had for a bridge, a crucial bridge, that would allow the Allies to advance on D-Day, and they had to hold it against extraordinary pressure. I wrote the story and sold it, with me attached as a director. After 20 years of sitting at the elbow of guys like Oliver, Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, Robert Zemeckis, John Frankenheimer, I really learned how to tell a story visually. I think the people that picked up No Better Place to Die knew that, and they knew that nobody could tell the story visually better than I could. So, here we go. It went from consultant, to actor, to writer, to director, and full circle, hopefully.
Are you locking down financing on that now? When are you planning to shoot that?
Dale Dye: Yeah. The financing is being locked down. We have the money, but we have to get all the formalized agreements done. I think we should start shooting in late summer or early fall.
I was also wondering if you could talk a bit about your character on Falling Skies? There are a lot of people who are pretty excited about that.
Dale Dye: Yeah, and I'm pretty excited about that, now that I think about it. Working with guys like Noah Wyle and Will Patton is great. I play the leader of the human resistance to an alien invasion of Earth. I guess that's typecasting again. It's very exciting and Steven Spielberg is the executive producer, so you know the visual effects and the special effects are going to be marvelous. It's a come-from-behind underdog story. The Earth is being beat up and its most priceless assets, its children, are being usurped. They fight back and they fight back viciously and vehemently, and I get to lead them and sort of guide the effort. I think folks are really going to love it.
What would you like to say to fans of Platoon, or war films in general, about why they should grab this new Blu-ray release?
Dale Dye:Platoon broke the ice. It stands the test of time. Not many films do that, but Platoon is one of them. The more you can see the intricacies and the efforts that we put into it, and you can do that with things like Blu-ray, the more you will appreciate it. I think with a new generation of veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan, it's important that people understand what war does to people, and what an extraordinary toll it takes them to get through and survive. Platoon is a good place to start with that.
That's my time, Dale. Thank you so much for your time. It was a pleasure talking to you. Best of luck with your film too.
Dale Dye: My pleasure. Thank you.
You can pick up the 25th Anniversary of Platoon in a brand new Blu-ray edition on May 24.