Set Visit: Chris Hemsworth, Trevante Rhodes & Michael Pena on 12 Strong

They started shooting 12 STRONG in the beginning of December 2016 and would shoot for a total of 43 days, which is not a long time to shoot anything of this size. The day we arrived was day 39 of the shoot, and needless to say, there was a ton to do. The actors were most likely worn out; director Nicolai Fuglsig was seen running about like an excited madman, a grin on his face over the adrenaline of getting it all done. Small fires were going near the wreckage as if luring you into a haunted marsh. Today was the day they were shooting The Battle of Bescham, a decisive battle on the way to the soldiers’ main goal, the captured city of Masar-i-Shairf.


On the main section of this set visit, I detailed seeing the Northern Alliance soldiers riding down on their hell horses. It was epic, to say the least, but the scene we were about to see made that look like an episode of LASSIE. However, it took some time to get to that level of epicness. It’s no joke when stars and filmmakers say much of filmmaking is setting up shots, waiting 20 minutes to get going to shoot 10 seconds of footage. The scene we saw being filmed, a scene with Chris Hemsworth, Michael Pena and more firing on the Taliban, went through several rehearsal trials. Soldiers would scream, Hemsworth and Pena would ride in on their horses, jump off and run into the fray blasting. Instead of gunfire though, you could hear Hemsworth making gun sounds, like a muscle-bound child playing cops and robbers. He had to shout his lines in this scene, given the carnage, but held back his vocals in rehearsals. This went on for what felt like an hour over the course of several takes (about three, I’d say). Standing in the harsh wind, and just when I thought they were about to go for rehearsal round four…BOOM! An explosion went off about 100 feet from us. BOOM! A second! Screaming from the Northern soldier (Fahim Fazli) as he drags his friend through the wind and dust (which could’ve been manipulated with machinery, but given the weather, just seemed like the right place at the right time). Then Hemsworth and Pena come rushing in, as Zirconium pellets are shot at the nearby tanks with a paintball gun off-camera, to give the look of gunfire sparking against targets. Hemsworth shouts to Dostum (Navid Negahban) that they’ve lost someone, as he fires his M4 like a madman as horses ride through the chaos. "Cut!" is called after about four explosions and 30 seconds of shooting.  

Before this chaos ensued we were able to talk with Hemsworth, who is just as tall and perfect-looking in person, with blue eyes as deep as the Pacific. He looked exhausted from the shoot, but still gave off the charm you would expect the God of Thunder to have, with the standing of a true captain. Michael Pena came sometime later, fitting in time between takes of the epic battle sequence. However, he could be seen throughout the day walking (and riding his horse) around the set with ease. I saw him taking a bite into a chicken sandwich from the craft table, the look on his face being of surprised satisfaction. Trevante Rhodes, who was not filming that day, was brought onto the set to talk to us (and to take care of other matters, perhaps). He possessed a humor and laid back cool that made his low-key performance his MOONLIGHT seem all the more brilliant. Oh, and he was rocking a Nick Toons shirt, littered with characters from Rugrats and more.


Regarding the physical training:

It’s been great. This guy called Harry Humphries, sort of a famous SEAL, one of the original SEALS, and does a lot of the training for actors in movies like this. Jerry's [Bruckheimer] worked with him a bunch, and we did a lot of weapons training out of the gun range, and then sort of movement drills. We were sort of in formation and we would track through the terrain and set up particular situations of attack and so on. We learned to sort of as a group to move as one tight unit. And so then we get out here and shoot a lot of it is…this is a fast paced shoot and we’re shooting a lot less days then typically you’d wanna shoot. The training was hugely beneficial because we could be quite versatile with what the shot was, you know, “What if we did this particular attack and moved this way and this way?” And we knew from the training we’ve had that we could set ourselves up those positions. There’s a lot of horse training as well, and the horse riding with guns and all this equipment and so on, and it’s a whole different beast

On horse riding:

I’d ridden horses a few times over the years, but mainly just in movies and stuff. A lot of the guys this was their first time on a horse. But, you know, in truth of the story the first time a lot of those Special Forces guys hadn’t been on horses too, so it fit the bill.

Matt Rooney: So you’re playing Mitch Nelson? Tell us what it was like getting into the mindset; because this guy is the captain, he’s the leader of this group who went in.

Well, all the training and all that time before you shoot I find is the most essential, especially stepping into the role as a captain because you get to build a rapport with the guys and you get to know each person and they hopefully learn to respect you and you have a comradery. That’s kinda hard to fake, you know? If we didn’t have that training, and we all had to step straight on-set, introduce myself, and then "action," it would’ve been pretty tricky. In the story, these guys did have a pre-existing relationship, and Mitch Nelson jumped onto this particular mission, so we had to have some history there, which was great.

On working with his wife, Elsa, who also plays his wife in the film:  

She did very well [laughs]. It was great, it was fantastic. We didn’t have to form any chemistry or bond,  that came pretty easily…[laughs] as naturally as you can expect. When I was looking at doing the film I was sort of like…I was right in the middle of THOR [RAGNAROK], it was a busy shoot and I was exhausted and the idea of going back to work again was like [makes an exhausted nosie], and they sort of simultaneously were like, “We would love for Elsa to play your wife as well.” So that made it a little easier for her to come to terms with packing up and moving again. And so it was sort of an organic it-happened-all-at-once sort of thing, which was nice. So I wouldn’t have wanted to say, “I’m only doing it if she does it.” It wasn’t that at all. They brought it up so we were like, “Okay, fantastic!” And we hadn’t worked together before.

Did the kids come along?

Nah the kids stayed in L.A., because she was only out here for that one week, or four days or something. As you can see…well, where we were shooting with Elsa was a little better…but mostly it’s like this [referencing the hills, dirt and sand]. Kids would be rolling down the hill as we speak [laughs].

How doing something like this compares to movies like THOR:

It’s funny, you know, when I did RUSH I was much more conscious of mimicking or being exact and true to that guy true because he was quite well-known everyone knew exactly his personality, and there were archives and footage. This is, you know, no one knows the real guy, besides the people who know the story, so I wasn't as self-conscious about having to mimic his physicality or speech pattern. This was about taking the heart and soul of the real guy that this was based on and his sort of drive and his diplomatic attitude with this mission, and what he achieved and being true to that. But then the physicality and the look and soul was based around me and what I thought how this guy would move. Any pre-anxiety coming into it was making sure we told the right story for the right reasons. And for me, we’ve seen a lot of Navy SEAL movies, which are very smash-and-grab approaches, which is what they do best, better than anyone. With Special Forces guys they embed themselves in a community over a course of months or years, and it’s a diplomatic duty and relationship building within these communities to achieve their outcome. They can do the direct attack, obviously, and we do in this movie, but the bigger challenge and the talent of what these guys achieved was the relationship they formed with Dostum [Navid Negahban], the warlord that we're fighting with, and getting him to trust them and leveraging centuries-old blood feuds between these tribes and convince them to understand we’re all fighting the same enemy. We weren’t there to conquer the place or take over. We were there to fight a common enemy otherwise the county was at risk at becoming a giant terrorist training camp. They did it in 3 or 4 weeks.  It was one of the greatest, most successful missions in history, because it was 12 guys across 3-4 weeks, embedded with the locals, and achieved what they set out to do, which was taking back the city of Mazar-i-Sharif.

On how his feelings about the war and Australia’s involvement in the fighting influenced his desire to do the movie:

When we’ve [Australia] also had, nowhere near as severe, terrorist attacks in Australia and so on and being allies with America we’re sort of in the category of the enemy, as far as ISIS is concerned. But for me what was really important and what I found most interesting about this…is that I’ve had people from Afghanistan and say, “Thank for helping to tell the story that says we’re not all terrorists.” It wasn’t about America coming in and saying, “We’re taking over and this is how we do it.” It was a diplomatic approach of working with the locals and spreading the word that we’re fighting a common enemy, and that the Taliban and Al-Qaeda were the ones that were attempting to, or were, taking over the country. I really liked being able to put a spotlight on that and separate this sort of terrorism, and ideology with the rest of the country who do not agree with that and were under the same fear and threat to their freedom as Americans were feeling what 9/11 made them feel.

On if there was an effort to tell a story about cooperation, and if current political events influenced the making of the movie:

Yeah my personal motivation and what I found interesting was what I was talking about, and I hadn’t seen that before, and I thought it was important for the world to see that and go, okay this extremist kind of attitude, and groups spreading the terror…it’s not the entire country, it’s not the entire region. And I do think that from the producer’s side of things, they had a similar attitude, and Chad Omen and Jerry were saying that was their motivation to tell this story, to educate people or take away the naive attitudes about this part of the world.

Matt Rooney: What’s your experience been working with actors/performers from the region?

It’s been great. Like I said there’s a couple of guys who’re from there who…the actual motivation was hearing them say that [about helping to tell the story]. I felt like I had a greater understanding of the situation and hearing them talk about it. A couple of guys are from the military up there, and one of them was a translator [Fahim Fazil]. When the Americans arrived it now like, “Finally, we’re going to get some assistance here.” They would often come up and suggest little things, and certain situations they’d seen, and efforts the Americans had made with the locals here. There was obviously the large world issue they were part of, but it became about these 12 guys and Dostum and Nelson [Hemsworth], that relationship about the men on the ground and these larger political discussions were obviously circulating, but the brotherhood that was formed on the ground was incredibly special. And talking to the guys who were there really enforced that and helped us to motivate that kind of attitude.


About his character:

Yeah so I play this guy Diller [Sam], who’s like third in command after Nelson, who’s played by Thor [laughs] and then the second one [Cal Spencer] who is played by Michael Shannon. So I’m like one of the old-timers, I guess you could say, who’s been through this. You know when 9/11 happened all these guys wanna do is go in right away and help eradicate the enemy or contain the enemy. They just want to contribute the way they’ve been trained to, and they haven’t gone to war in a long time so, they’re kind of itching to as well.

Matt Rooney: What was it like getting into the mindset of the character, because if I understand correctly he was planning on being a history teacher…


…and then there was a bar fight and all that kind of stuff.

It’s like me working at a bank and then being an actor: go to war dude [laughs]. No, but, yeah, I’ve just been hanging with these Navy SEALS, like we got Kenny Shear, who’s a really good guy and we’ve been hanging out with him and just having dinner and stuff and he’s nice enough to tell us his stories. So he can recall a lot of that stuff as well, which is really important ‘cause it’s a change in attitude in a way, and you wanna kind of be true to those guys. Diller wasn’t Mexican American, but the only thing I can do is hopefully channel that kind of energy, ‘cause it’s a different kind of thing. It’s not like they’re just ground troops, but they’re special armed forces; they're elite soldiers, so tactically it’s  way different. They call in air strikes and stuff, you know, like this kind of stuff is interesting, like, they had to help out their friends so they did, but normally they go out like ninjas and call coordinates and drop bombs and you won’t even see them, which is just a way different tactic.

How did this compare to his previous work?

Well, this is just different, you know? You don’t think of those movies when you’re in a movie like this. In OBSERVE AND REPORT I was playing a guy whose buddy was a pimp; doesn’t really help me here…or does it? [laughs].

What made him want to do it?

Well, to be honest with you, I’m a fan of Chris and Michael Shannon. I’m a big fan of those guys and then I knew Bruckheimer was doing it and I was like “Oh cool!” And so I just wanted to work with these guys, and the story was just so cool, ‘cause I had never heard it… I hadn’t heard of horses and guys, and all of a sudden I look it up and there they are, just U.S. military on horseback. And I thought that visually it would look cool to…like there’s tanks and infinity men and guys on horses shooting and it just, kind of like the little kid in me wanted to see something cool…like a cool war movie.

On if they have shot everything sequentially:

I mean we’ve shot a lot of it sequentially, or at least we’ll go to a location and shoot that sequentially, so that feels like a natural progression of things – which I think is the best way to go.

For the sake of character progression?

Yeah exactly, like “where was I?” I know exactly…yeah, I was getting shot at by that guy [laughs]. So it really does help out.

On the first time he met Chris:

We were in class [training], and we were both in Marvel movies and he’s like, I forgot what he said, but he was like, [in Australian accent] “We’re like Marvel brothers…from Marvel…the universe. Me and you, mate. Thought you were really funny.” Yeah, so that was it. But it’s cool, it’s a Marvel family, I guess you could say.  I really like working on that stuff, hopefully, they pick me up to work on the second one [ANT-MAN AND THE WASP, which he is returning for], which is shooting in June, that would be really cool. But I love working on that, and we’re working on this together, maybe we’re gonna do something else in the future, who knows.


About his character:

I play a character named Ben Milo who is my eyes the heart of the film, the more earnest one of the film. He has the most beautiful, paternal relationship with this Afghanistan kid and it becomes something great. He’s the fourth in line, he’s the weapons guy. So yeah, he’s a wonderful person.

Matt Rooney: What was it like working with the child actor?

Arshia [Mandavi, who plays Najeeb] is amazing, man, I kind of like…I didn’t get to work with Alex [Hibbert] on MOONLIGHT, but obviously being around him so much it was really something that I wanted to experience – working with someone very young, and kind of like feeding off that honesty. So it was amazing, man, because he’s incredibly smart, like insanely smart, like he’s teaching me everything.

On weapons training:

I mean we all pretty much had the same kind of training ‘cuz these cats are supposed to be able to do everybody’s function in each area. But the day I liked most was the day when we kind of got to figure out to assemble certain weapons and everything and kind of just figuring out…working the sniper rifle was pretty cool. Good stuff.

On building the bond between the actors:

I just think that spending as much possible time as we can. We would just spend as much as we can together, you know, going to bars and just doing things these characters would do – grabbing beers and eating together, just fraternizing that way.

Meeting Chris for the first time:

I mean Chris is just the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen [laughs]. I mean just physically, all over, man [laughs]. But then he’s just got, like, the biggest heart. Like every time I see him, he’s just an awesome person, and he’s a really good leader. He’s the perfect person to play the captain of this squad.

On if much of the dynamics between the characters play out as much off the battlefield as on:

Absolutley. I think that’s what’s, not obviously the best part, but one of the most interesting parts of the film. You really get to see these relationships to this brotherhood, along with the boom and the bang. It’s kind of like a counterbalance to this beautiful thing.

On the dynamic between the special forces agents and the Afghani locals they work with:

Everything you would suspect to happening in a functioning relationship, initially meeting someone that you have no idea about, I mean you don’t even share a language. I mean, you understand bits and pieces ‘cuz you learn it, but, you don’t understand anything about anything so there’s that awkward meeting phase where everybody is trying to suss each other out. And then the brothership forms, and then you’re all saddled, and then it’s the typical progression of family.

What about the movie made him want to take the part:

Just trying to continue to do my best to be a part of stories that are kind of relevant. I mean, you see stories about SEALS all the time but you never see stories about Special Forces cats, and being at the forefront of that was awesome. Michael Shannon, getting an opportunity to work with Michael Shannon, Chris Hemsworth, obviously, Jerry Bruckheimer. Everybody involved with it is just the perfect next step for me to take, personally. And again just being able to have that paternal relationship with a kid, I really wanted to experience that ‘cuz I love Mahershala [Ali, his MOONLIGHT co-star] and he continues to talk about how amazing that experience was.

On a scale of 1-10 how intense is Michael Shannon?:

[laughs] It’s a unique thing because at the same time it’s a 29,000 it’s also a zero, ‘cuz once you get to him he’s just a child; like he’s just the most beautiful, honest child. I promise you he’s a kid, but at the same time when it’s in the work he’s a monster. It’s both honestly.

What we can we expect from him in THE PREDATOR:

Big guns. I have this jacket on because I’m concealing it [his "guns"]. You just wait! I’m gonna rip off all my clothes by flexing! [laughs]

Is there any room for comedy in this intense, tragic film?

Wow, man...

Matt Rooney: Any banter?

...the banter, absolutely. Again, Michael Shannon is incredible, Chris is just, like, always on the fly and you got Michael Pena who’s just crackin’ up all the time, so yeah we have moments. In these moments you have to find moments of levity to get yourself through, so we have those, and hopefully, the audience feels it.

Anything in the future we don’t know about?

Man I’m talking to…ahhh…I don’t know. Nah, man, whatever. [laughs] I’ve become really close friends with a director, Josh Mond, he directed this film called JAMES WHITE, which I thought was just the most incredible thing. I'm really, like, trying to find something to do with him. He’s like Barry [Jenkins, director of MOONLIGHT] to me, and meeting him…you just could tell. You just have a remarkable conversation with someone who’s honest, and again you see something that’s just incredibly artistic and you wanna experience that. So Josh Mond is someone I’m looking forward to working with on some stuff that we’re optioning.

**Ended the interview with a round of fist bumps.**

Check out our page for Everything You Need to Know About 12 Strong and our interviews with Jerry Bruckheimer and more

12 STRONG rides into theaters January 19, 2018.

Source: JoBlo.com



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