David Ayer’s graphic World War II film, “Fury,” had its final press screening on Thursday night at Lincoln Center before its wide theatrical release today. The director and his star-studded cast have been all over the place promoting the film, even at Fort Benning, home to the U.S. Armor and Infantry schools.
The film, which follows the story of a five-man tank crew during the last two weeks of WWII, has received mixed reviews, but undoubtedly had some effect on the audience, as evidenced by the audible energy in the room every time a cannon or gunshot rang out. After the two hour, 14 minute film played for the packed theater, Ayer and the core cast members, Brad Pitt, Mike Peña, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman and Jon Bernthal sat down to discuss the rigorous training required of them for the film. Given the cast’s reflections, Ayer’s directorial style and pre-production process clearly took a toll on the actors physically and emotionally.
Ayer had personal motivation for making “Fury.”
“I have a lot of family that served in the war, both my grandparents are from military and served in World War II. My uncle flew 35 bomber missions over Germany. They never talked about it. There was always this mystery over what happened to these gentlemen. They brought the war home whether or not they discussed it. I’m a veteran myself and I became fascianated how men in combat process trauma and the movie shows a little bit of why PTSD happens and how these dark family legacies for those who have had service men in their families—where did that come from?”
The training was meant to break the actors down and rebuild them as a team.
Pitt described the training process: “We went through months of training and we all had a full immersive experience. The authenticity that this maniac (Ayer) demands, we started 3 months out. We started with meetings with vets, training, getting to know the tank, sparring each other, throwing punches at each other, before we even started to get to know each other. And then that culminated into a boot camp. And a bootcamp sounds like a gimmick for actors, but we had some of the seals best design this for us and it was really an amazing experience the way it was structured to break us down, to make us understand hardship, make us be cold, wet, hungry, physically exhausted and then gave us tasks that would bring us together, bond us, discover each other’s weaknesses and strengths and establish a pecking order. It was really a profound experience.
Mike Peña physically struggled the most out of the cast.
“I was 30 pounds overweight because I just finished doing Cesar Chavez and I read it and then I was like ‘Oh man.’ Doing a movie with Ayer is like getting a root canal. You know the date, the time, you get prepared, but it’s gonna suck. But, you know it’s good for you at the same time. Lugging around that extra 30 pounds—sit-ups sucked, push-ups sucked, running sucked, and everybody was broken. When you’re sleep deprived, and you only have 2 hours of sleep per night, it’s no bullshit. After 5 days, it’s like ‘I don’t care, I’m just gonna do it.’ The human soul feels like it’s deteriorating and then the only people that can bring you back are your buddies.”
Tanks are killing machines and the cast needed to be wary of that.
Jon Bernthal described the first time they all got into a tank together: “The first time we saw the tank was in Santa Barbara, CA months before we really started and the thing that they told us was that these things are killing machines. They’re built to kill everything around them and outside them, but they’re also built to kill anything inside them because if the turret moves, you could snap off an arm or leg, if you’re not paying attention. The hatch could take off a hand or finger. There’s nothing really comfortable about it. We all really met each other at the Sherman tank and we all got inside it for the first time and I think we all silently looked at each other and had a moment of like ‘wow this is gonna be many months in this thing.'”
Shia LaBeouf took his training seriously.
Ayer defended LaBeouf on his recent media attention. “Obviously there are crazy stories going around about him like he cut his arm off or he’s flying around in a UFO, but what they’re not talking about is that he embedded himself in the National Guard for field exercises for a long time. He lived with these young soldiers and shadowed soldiers and learned scriptures and got a first hand understanding of how faith plays a part int he lives of these soldiers. He did his field work.” LaBeouf later said “This has been the greatest opportunity of my whole life. I love all these dudes. Shit just saved my life.”
Logan Lerman on being the rookie:
“Being the new guy on set every day wasn’t a lot of fun. We all got really close and we worked together. They all laugh because they gave me a really hard time. We spent a lot of time together working before filming. We got really close and became brothers and then we had to throw that all away. I had to be the new guy. It was a challenging position to stay in, to create conflict with these guys constantly, being non-conformist. It was a challenge to maintain that space.” Pitt added that Lerman took the most heat and was truly the one who told the story. He was “the hero of the shoot.” Lerman later said how much he learned from the rest of the seasoned actors and explained “this movie redefined my work ethic.”
How Ayer evoked his actors’ performances:
“I’m a big believer in the lizard brain and human physiology. Make it as real as possible. You can’t act real behavior. They have this incredible craft and skill. I want to help them by getting the adrenaline, stress, and excitement going—and sometimes I undermine them and confuse them. Actors often want certainty. They think ‘Here’s my plan…’—I wanted to destroy those internal acting scripts and monologues that they’ve created and get to a core root behavior that’s very honest. Having said that, we rehearsed meticulously. I’m a big believer in rehearsal. So it was burned in and that burn allowed me to play with behaviors underneath.”
The cast had its most emotional and “dirty” shoot when filming an out of combat scene at a dinner table.
Pitt joked “C’mon everyone’s had that thanksgiving dinner right?” Bernthal added “You can only really hurt the ones you love. We got so intimate so that we could rip each other a part.”
Ayer acknowledged his directing style. “That was really my worst offense as a director. These guys really trusted me with their secrets and we worked so hard to build this trust and this relationship and bond between the actors that would then inform their on-screen chemistry. And I used all that information against them. I’d slip Brad’s secrets to the other guys. It was a dirty knife fight in an alley. But, you feel the tension, you see it on screen.”
Ayer threw away all expectations for a WWII epic.
“WWII movies really started [shooting] during World War II as a lot of these Hollywood productions were co-funded by the army, by providing assets to tell a story. That methodology was repeated. When you say WWII movie, there are certain expectations. There’s a laundry list of expectations. I threw out the expectations. It’s not a movie about a battle or an event. The event isn’t the star. The star is the behavior of the men in this horrible situation. Also, WWII was a black and white conflict. It really was good versus evil. That doesn’t mean the fighting that these men experienced was black and white. It was incredibly morally murky. That was what I wanted to show. What these vets endured. At the premiere, one of the WWII veterans came up to me and said ‘That was like it. This is the most accurate war film I’ve seen and I did that for three years.'”
What Brad Learned:
“I’m more tolerant to the stench of another man–particularly four other men. But, I love these boys and I love this guy (Ayer). I’m a better father because of what we went through.”