When Steven Spielberg gives the crew a job, you simply do it out of sheer respect for the filmmaker’s artistic and creative vision. To consider going against the process that has earned the director 22 Academy Awards nominations of which he won 3 is an upsetting thought, almost equivalent to blasphemy or sacrilege, and putting one’s life on the line to say yes to every possible request that comes from Spielberg was an unspoken and unbreakable law in the industry.
So when the director enrolled the cast of his 1998 Oscar-winning war drama, Saving Private Ryan, in a boot camp to simulate the conditions of war and all its suffering, the group of 8 men who were tasked with the duty of doing the film’s namesake, i.e. save PFC James Francis Ryan from beyond enemy lines had a taste, a mere sampling, of what it’s like to be on the battlefield. But it was only the tip of the iceberg.
Steven Spielberg Enrolled His Cast in a Brutal Boot Camp
In 1998, the war drama, Saving Private Ryan forever changed the landscape of how battle was depicted on the silver screen. The veil of mysticism and glorious valor that war is made out to be in poems and ballads was torn down and replaced with a clear vision: the blood, the fear, the shock, and the tasteless brutality. And 8 men who volunteered to face the worst of it to save one man, the sole survivor in a family of four brothers who all lost their lives in World War II.
In the eyes of Steven Spielberg, to paint the picture of terror and rallying on even when all hope seems lost would not come easy. Sure, one could act out the rigors of war and the horrors of enduring the pain but these 8 men who were actors at their core needed to understand the gravity of the scene they were thrown into. This is where Captain Dale Dye came in.
Referring to them as turds with Tom Hanks awarded the honor of being Turd No. 1, Dye would expose the group to 6 days and 6 nights to the conditioning of harsh climate, rigorous infantry drills, handling of weapons, and punishment for insubordination. As recalled by Vin Diesel: “By the end, we were proficient in drills and infantry movements, so we really felt like the genuine article.”
The boot camp, which also witnessed a mutiny by the actors against their tyrannical Captain, not only broke the men but built them anew, with a newfound appreciation for camaraderie through hardship and despair and a bond even closer than what they had with their “wives back in America,” as Captain Dye would go on to claim. But one man remained exclusively missing from the event: Private Ryan himself.
Saving Private Ryan’s Cast Alienated Matt Damon
The bond that was formed among the 8 men, through mutinies and lessons about the excruciating horrors of war, solidified among Tom Hanks aka Turd No. 1, and his crew of 7 men that followed him into Nazi territories to rescue Private Ryan. And so, when the cast exposed themselves to the brutalities of preparing for their role while Matt Damon remained singularly excluded from the boot camp, some hard feelings were carried forth out of the simulation and into the real world. As Damon went on to recall in an interview in 1998,
“They started to harbor that kernel of resentment, ’cause I wasn’t there. These guys are lying facedown in the mud, and I’m, you know, in a bubble bath in America. When I showed up on set, a lot of that resentment just translated right onto the screen.”
Steven Spielberg was, of course, the mastermind behind all of it. The depiction of war that was projected in his film was horrific and realistic enough to incur PTSD among war veterans, reports at the time claimed. And it was the unfaltering dedication of Spielberg and his cast that helped bring to life one of the greatest war epics on-screen – winning the director 11 Oscar nominations and 5 wins at the 71st Academy Awards in 1999.
Source: Entertainment Weekly