World War II movies have been a staple of American cinema for decades now, so it's tough to find uncharted territory within the genre. But Roland Emmerich, the director behind Independence Day and popcorn flick extraordinaire, has taken a crack at it with Midway. This movie takes a look at the familiar events of Pearl Harbor, but from a new angle, as well as the important events that took place in the aftermath.

Midway picks up after Japanese forces launch a devastating attack on Pearl Harbor. Six months after the brutal loss, the Battle of Midway commences on June 4, 1942, as the Japanese navy once again plans a strike against American ships in the Pacific. For three days, the U.S. Navy and a squad of brave fighter pilots fight it out in one of the most important and decisive battles of World War II.

So what set this apart from other war movies? Why did Roland Emmerich make the movie outside of the studio system? I was lucky enough to chat with the director, as well as stars Ed Skrein and Luke Kleintank about bringing these brave men to life on the big screen.

Just starting out, there have been World War II movies for decades now. But how does this particular tale in Midway, would you guys say, differ from what we've seen in the past?

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Roland Emmerich: It's not only about this one battle. It describes six months of the beginning of the Pacific War. And it shows in a way, I think, like no other movie, how, actually, the Americans were underdogs at the very beginning. They were facing incredible Belle planes, an equipped Japanese Imperial Army Navy, and it was a very daunting task and a lot of luck and a lot of bravery that kind of could turn this battle and turned the war.

Roland, I don't know if everyone knows this, but you put this movie together kind of independently. You put together this huge budget outside the studio system, and it's essentially one of the biggest independent movies ever put together at this point. What was that process like? And why did you end up going that route?

Roland Emmerich: It was at first a little bit daunting. But I wanted to make the movie and we're just going around with our hat all over the world and collected money for it, which is kind of cool, in a way, because you kind of become the studio yourself, you know? And you're able to deliver a movie to all these different countries. And it gave us, or gave me, maybe for the first time again, because I started in independent business, this feeling off, I'm in charge. I can make this movie however I want it. And I think it changed the movie, how it was made a lot, story wise and look wise. And also casting wise.

Since you're playing real people that are based on real-life who were in a war, It's part of human history, what level of research went into your guys' roles?

Luke Kleintank: A lot of research. I mean, there's a lot of verbiage out there about the war. There are pictures and documentaries and many, many accounts. But for me, specifically, my character wrote a book called The Flying Guns, and he wrote it six months after the battle was done, after Midway had ended. So it was fresh in his memory and so that for me was kind of a Bible. It was something that I held close to my chest during the whole shoot, just so that I could hear his voice because there was no video documentation of him. I could only just look at pictures.

And what about for you, Ed?

Ed Skrein: I mean, I'm someone who goes head over heels into research on every job that I do, and probably do more than I need to. From the first moment that me and Luke met in Pearl Harbor, Ford Island, I realized I'd met my match with someone else who's crazy about research. We kind of pooled together all of our information. There were many accounts, Dusty Kleiss wrote an incredible book, Never Call Me a Hero, as well as Clarence Dickinson's book, which were very informative first-hand accounts. And then you had these many historical books documenting that sort of time lines of the battle and such. So there was a lot to do in that regard.

There was one preoccupation with just understanding the sort of dates and timelines and the overall understanding of this historical, factual information of what was happening. Secondly, there was the individual accounts off the dive bombers who had a very specific job in the war, and specific dynamic and emotion to their job. But then, outside of that, we had to kind of try and fill in the blanks, in terms of the emotional state of beings of these men. We were born in the 80s. You know, it's 2019. We really haven't faced the kind of struggle and bravery that these men from the Greatest Generation had to. So we had to try and find that emotional place that they might be in. So there was a lot of research, but that's kind of a part of the job that I think me and Luke love is to learn.

Midway is in theaters now from Lionsgate.

Ryan Scott at Movieweb
Ryan Scott