The actor who played Robert Leckie in the hit HBO mini-series talks about the incredible filming experience, Rubicon, The Conspirator and more.
If you ever wondered what happened to the actor who played Simon in the coveted movie Lord of the Flies, you'll find out that he grew up into one fine actor. James Badge Dale made his feature film debut in Lord of the Flies and didn't resurface in front of the cameras until 2002 with a guest spot on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, which lead to recurring roles on 24, The Black Donnellys and the starring role of Will Travers in the fantastic AMC series Rubicon. The versatile actor also starred in the critically acclaimed HBO mini-series The Pacific earlier this year, which will be released in wonderful new DVD and Blu-ray boxed sets on November 2. I recently had the opportunity to chat with James Badge Dale (a.k.a Badge, as he asked me to call him) over the phone about this World War II mini-series, and here's what he had to say:
I was curious about your first initial involvement with The Pacific. Were you very familiar about the Pacific Theater and the history behind this project before you started out?
James Badge Dale: It's a commonly asked question and an excellent question because we're not taught a lot about the Pacific Theater. I knew about Guadal Canal, I knew about Iwo Jima and I knew, we all knew the end. We don't know a whole lot about it, the ins, the outs, the whys. In a lot of ways this was a learning process for me.
Can you talk about the kind of research you did to play Robert Leckie? Did you speak with his family?
James Badge Dale: He wrote memoir Helmet For My Pillow and he wrote another book called Strong Men Armed. There was another book he wrote that was relevant, about his childhood, short stories and anecdotes about his childhood. He was the youngest of eight, he grew up in a household of five older sisters with a very quiet, bookish father. In a lot of ways, he was fighting for his manhood from day one.
James Badge Dale: Well, it's hard to do both (Laughs). It's especially hard to weave three stories together and, originally, I think it was five and they dropped it down to three. I think what they were trying to show was, even though these men were in different companies and in different places, the root of their experience was basically the same. They were all still dealing with the same internal conflicts and they handled it differently. The idea was that this conflict tested them in ways other than just the loss of life and limb.
You said earlier that most people don't know much about this part of the war, besides the ending. What was the most surprising or intriguing thing you learned about this era while you were doing research on it?
James Badge Dale: The brutality of the whole thing. I really didn't know about that, and maybe that's one of the reasons why it's not talked about a whole lot. It's hard to deal with. I didn't know about guys removing gold teeth from another man who's still barely alive. I didn't know about the real personal hatred that the Japanese and Americans started to have for each other. When you think about what they did, to put two cultures on an island, they didn't know each other. There was no familiarity. You were on an island fighting people who were different from you. It's very visceral, hand-to-hand combat and there's nowhere to go. You're in these awful circumstances in the jungle and the heat and men were wishing for death. Death was an easy way out. They don't teach that. They don't talk about that, but I think it's important to talk about that because it's part of the price that we pay when you send young men to war. We need to make sure that the price is worth it.
The mini-series was 10 hour-long episodes and I read that filming ran for 10 months. Did each episode kind of break down as a mini-movie? Would that be an accurate way to describe it?
James Badge Dale: Yeah, that's pretty accurate. It was a long, long, process. It was like shooting a lot of movies, back-to-back-to-back. Actually, for about eight of the 10 months, we had two crews, two units running at the same time. I remember we were shooting the Peleliu airfield and I could see Joseph Mazzello and his guys up in the mountains. I could see them and they were shooting Okinawa. We had two different things going on and we'd both have to halt filming for each other, for the pyrotechnics and explosions. We'd stop for 15 minutes and just sit there and look up at the mountains, just watch the smoke. It's like, 'Wow, those are my friends up there. I hope nobody gets hurt.' I've never worked a job like this in my life and I have a really strong feeling I never will again. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
James Badge Dale: Obviously, anything they do is just first-class all the way. There is no stone unturned or no dime unspent. It's amazing. They either don't do it or do it right. At first, I think we were all nervous because it was Hanks and Spielberg and HBO and $200 million. Keith Nobbs, who plays "Runner," is a good friend of mine, we're both New York actors and we did The Black Donnellys together. On the first day of filming, they start rolling the camera and right before they say 'Action,' Keith Nobbs leans over to me and whispers, '$200 million. Don't f*&k up.' So there was, in the beginning, an amount of nerves, but as it continued, we discovered this freedom in that. The fact is, they're not going to let it be done poorly. If we don't get it today, we'll come back tomorrow and do it, because we have the luxury of time, money and dedication. They're not just looking to make something to get it out there real quick so they can make their money back. They're telling a story and they want to tell the story right and, in that, there's a safety net, to know that the people you're working with are that good. Film is not an actor's medium. It's an ensemble effort so it has to come together and, to know you're working with people that good, is a safety net. I know that I can get up and go to work and completely screw up, but I have the freedom to screw up and they're going to save me in the end. It's kind of freeing and luxurious because usually you don't have that kind of time or money.
Oh, absolutely. You hear about movies and TV projects all the time where they wanted to do certain things but just ran out of time. It must have been amazing to have that luxury.
James Badge Dale: Yeah, it was. It really was amazing.
Have you gotten to check out any of the features on the Blu-ray or DVD yet and if so do you have a favorite?
James Badge Dale: No, but the other day we were doing the press junket in London. HBO set up this huge, unbelievable flat-screen plasma... I don't even know what kind of TV it was. I've never seen one like it. I told them I was going to take it home, but I probably couldn't carry it. They put in the Blu-ray of The Pacific and my jaw dropped, man. I felt like I was right back there. It was so clear. It's better than my eyesight. I'm going to get one of those... not the TV, but the Blu-ray (Laughs).
I really enjoyed watching Rubicon unfold this season, in ways that I didn't really expect.
James Badge Dale: Oh, thank you, sir.
I've been a fan of AMC for awhile so I had to check the new show out. It really grew on me and then it was really amazing to watch towards the end.
James Badge Dale: Thank you, man. Thank you for saying that. I like hearing that. That's another job we worked very hard on. We knew we had to set it up and we were just hoping that people would stay with us. Just stay with us and it will come together at the end.
Oh yeah. It definitely did. Have you heard if there will be a Season 2, or when we might expect to hear either way?
James Badge Dale: You know, I don't know. AMC is notorious for taking their time. They're a small company and they don't have the pressures of doing things in seasons like fall or spring the way the networks do. I don't know what to say. I'm in the dark. I'm just waiting for that phone call saying we're coming back.
Have you talked with (series creator) Jason Horwitch at all about plans for Season 2? Are there any particular things you'd like to see happen with Will if you are picked up?
James Badge Dale: You know, I have my own opinions, and I try to keep them to myself. I'm not in the business of telling them what to do. They'll bring something to me and I'll look at it and if I have a feeling about it one way or another, on the stuff that they write, I'll open my mouth. I trust these people. AMC is a great company to work for, the cast, the crew, there's an amazing amount of trust and I'm sure whatever they come up with will be interesting.
James Badge Dale: The amazing Robert Redford. That should be the title of a book. The character I play is named William Hamilton. They couldn't even find a photo of him, but we do know he existed. It was a true definition of a supporting role. There's James McAvoy and Robin Wright really pushing the movie and my character has to come in and help support McAvoy's character. I had such a great time. It was just great being around Robert Redford and James McAvoy. These guys are real professionals and they're so good at what they do. These are the people I want to work with and be around and sit around and learn from. To come there and work in that capacity and know what my job is, I was happy to be there and support. Whatever you need. I'm just pitching to you, like softball. It was a great time and I'm actually going to Savannah this week. We shot the film in Savannah and the film festival has invited us down to open the movie there. I'm excited to see everyone again.
To wrap up, I know The Pacific did really well during its original HBO airing. For those who don't have HBO, the DVD will be their first opportunity to check this out. What would you like to say to those who didn't see it on TV about why people should pick up the DVD or Blu-ray of The Pacific?
James Badge Dale: You've got to watch it all in one sitting. If you want the full experience, just sit down, 10 hours, Blu-ray (Laughs). See if you can do it, see who can make it.
That sounds like a challenge.
James Badge Dale: It is a challenge. I don't think I could do it. I saw it before it came out. I would go over to HBO and I would sit and watch three episodes at a time, which I think is the way to do it, but I actually had to shut it off on Episode 6 because I started sweating and getting goosebumps. It is difficult to watch. When you talk to Steven Spielberg, he talks in story and Tom Hanks was really into pushing very specific moments. Steven Spielberg is more concerned with the overall story, one through 10, the arc, where does it go. The way they put it together, I thought, was quite masterful. If you are able to sit down and make it through all 10, I think you'll be glad you did it that way.
Great. Well, that's all I have for you, Badge. Thanks so much for your time and I'll keep my fingers crossed for Season 2 of Rubicon.
James Badge Dale: Hey man, thank you, brother. Take care.