The actor/pilot talks about making this movie, rehearsing dogfights and why people should see this film
As the world's premiere acrobatic pilot David Ellison would certainly be fine being content with only that accolade. However, this actor has turned many heads in Tony Bill's World War One epic, Flyboys. This film is an unforgettable story about a group of heroic American men who volunteer for the French Military and become fighter pilots before the US enters WWI.
Playing the role of Eddie Beagle, Ellison regaled us with stories about the shoot, acrobatic flying, and what he hopes viewers take away from watching this film.
Could you tell the people, who may not know, who your character is in Flyboys?
David Ellison: Yeah, I play a character called Eddie Beagle who's kind of on the outs the first time you meet him. He's very conceited and into himself and escaping persecution somewhere. While he's off fighting the war, he realizes, it's a real coming of age story, where he learns what he's fighting for and really finds out who he actually is. There's a scene in the movie where my past gets exposed and I'm accepted for who I actually am. What it really is is what they talk about often in war, the character is a metaphor for, war is a place where you find yourself and you really learn what you're doing and what you're fighting for, which is really the man next to you.
Did being able to merge acting with flying make you want to do this role?
David Ellison: Yeah, when I read the script I couldn't believe that something like this would ever come across my desk, because it was the absolute perfect blend of my two passions. I hadn't read a movie that was this authentic dealing with World War One aviation. It was something I've always loved and I'm enthusiastic about, so to be able to combine the two was a dream come true. I'm just so thankful I got the opportunity to do it.
How did you prepare for this role? Did you do a lot of research? Did you spend a lot of time with the planes and other pilots?
David Ellison: One of the great things is that Tony Bill is actually a World War One scholar in his own right. In the sense that he has more books on the subject matter than anyone I've ever met. He gave me a lot of material so I could learn about the history and the pilots. There was one book in particular that was really helpful that had a biography on every single member that came through the Lafayette Escadrille. So I was able to see where all the characters in the film were pulled from and how realistic it was. One of the other things I did was... since I'm a pilot I actually went up and did my own mock rehearsals, of the scenes, in the airplane. I actually went up with a buddy of mine and we actually did go dogfight; we did everything that we would be doing in the script.
When you're doing it and you're having fun, because me and my friends will dogfight all the time, you're not really thinking about or trying to remember all the different physicality's. You're just kind of going with it which is of course what you have to do when you get to the set to act. When I was going up in the rehearsal process, I was really able to filter through the physicality more, how was I feeling at this time, to really help build those scenes.
I was reading that you were going to be a producer on the movie and then you became an actor on it. Can you describe how that process came about?
David Ellison: Actually I did help produce the movie, I did not take a producing credit on the film. My company did, which is Skydance Productions. I was going to film school at USC and I got the project. I absolutely fell in love with it. USC Film School is directing, producing and writing. Which were really my main focuses, I had done some acting outside of school... but it was not my primary thing at the time. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do but producing is one of the things I loved and I read the script. After we had all the financing together and we were ready to go, it came time to cast the movie and Tony approached me about acting in it. My first inclination was I didn't want to do it, because I didn't want to be the bad seed that ruined the film. After talking to him for awhile, I really believed that Tony knew a lot more about this than I did at the time and so I went with it. I'm really happy that I did it because I absolutely fell in love with acting and it's the thing I want to do now.
When you're doing a movie portraying a real life story is that something that is always on your mind? Being true to that?
David Ellison: I think it's definitely important to stay as true to the story of what actually happened as possible. Obviously, there will always be some artistic changes that happen... because the war took place over several years, how do we condense it into two and a half hours? My character isn't based off a single character, it's an amalgamation of characters so it's not depicting one sole person. What I think is really important is staying as true to it as possible... in the end what you have to do is build the character your best, taking in all the historical and truth aspects and then put your own take on it. That's the only way to make it real.
What was it like working with James Franco and the rest of the cast?
David Ellison: It was a really amazing experience because, where we shot, we were about an hour and a half outside of London. So we were all in this really nice hotel but completely isolated from everywhere. Everybody was together all the time and what was great was the sequence in which we shot the movie. My first day of filming was when I get off the train, so I didn't know anybody in real life, and I didn't know anybody in the film. It was kind of as we went along filming, we became better and better friends. So that camaraderie got to build naturally as well as it did on screen.
What would you like people to take away from watching Flyboys?
David Ellison: I really think it's a part of history that we haven't seen really. The Blue Max was the last World War One movie made before us, and the last big one was Howard Hughes's Hells Angels. So it's an entire world that my generation and even before, haven't been exposed to or really seen. There's a lot of themes in there that I think are really wonderful where the film really stresses these are a bunch of boys who volunteered to go fight in a conflict that wasn't theirs, because it was nothing more than the right thing to do. While they're there they really learn what they're fighting for is the man next to them.
There's a lot of themes in there that can translate into today. There's stuff that's really important as well as a good, old fashioned, fun story. The big epic movie that you don't see as many made of these days. So I think it's an important movie that I hope people see.
What do you have coming up next?
David Ellison: (Laughs) I can't really say to be honest. There's a couple of projects that me and Dean Devlin are working on. I'm auditioning for new stuff constantly and I have some other things that are in the works that will be announced soon actually. I can't really say anything at this time.
Flyboys comes to DVD January 30 from MGM and Fox Home Entertainment.
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