The Pacific: Joe Mazzello interview

Interview NP Horton 3 Nov 2010 - 13:55

As WWII drama The Pacific appears on DVD and Blu-ray, we caught up with actor Joe Mazzello about his role in the acclaimed series…

To tie in with the launch of The Pacific on DVD and Blu-ray, I was given the chance to interview the three principle leads of the show, Joe Mazzello, Jon Seda and James Badge Dale.

The event was held on the HMS Belfast, the ex-battleship turned museum floating on the banks of the Thames, and it proved a fitting place as the ship saw action in that theatre of war.

But not only had HBO lined up the three actors for us to talk to, later on they put on a party on-board, which was hands down one of the fanciest I’ve ever seen.

It was like being transported back into the 1940s, as swing bands played, uniformed servicemen danced with the girls and the obligatory cocktails flowed. All in all, a grand event for a grand show. For those who read my reviews, you will know I was a big fan, and so the opportunity to find out more about the making of such an epic series was a dream come true.

All three actors proved exceptionally welcoming and generous with their time.

First, then, I spoke to Joseph Mazzello, who played Private Eugene Sledge, about preparing for the role and performing in such an epic drama. Check back tomorrow for my chat with Jon and James...

So, how did you get involved in The Pacific?

I did it the old fashioned way. I had to audition five times for it. The first time was for a casting director, then a producer and another producer. Finally the fourth audition I had to go in front of Steven Spielberg, so that was pretty nerve wracking, and then a fifth one – I had another one after that, can you believe it?!

You’d think that would be the last one. The next one was with Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. We had a pretty rigorous auditioning process and they felt like I was the guy.

Were you auditioning with other people?

Yeah. The first couple you go in individually and on the fourth one I read opposite some people who were up for Sid Philips, and Leckie and in the fifth audition Rami Malek who played Snafu.

You two spend quite a lot of time with each other in the show, was it important that they got that camaraderie? That’s not really the right word though...

Yeah, the rivalry! It’s kind of silly but they want people who don’t look alike! Because everyone’s under helmets and they get confused about who’s who, so that was the first thing and of course you want to see the chemistry.

You want to believe these two people went through these situations together. You want to believe certain people are friends, certain people aren’t and they want a diverse group of people who can make the show as good as it can be.

You can tell the whole thing was such a big experience, when you’re watching the show you feel lie you’re going through the journey with them. How was the experience for you making it? How much of it is still with you?

All of it. I remember like it was yesterday. I’m still doing press for it! I’m still doing it! But you know it was difficult, it was the hardest job I’ve ever done, physically, emotionally and everything involved the pressures of it, the responsibility to the families, and the responsibility to the $200 million that was being spent on it. You think that too as the actor, “Boy, they’ve spent a lot of money on this, I better get it right!”

So all of those things and the physicality of it, the subject matter which is so dark at times, those things weighed on us pretty heavily.

You mention the $200 million, a lot of that is obviously up on screen…

It’s not in my pocket, I’ll tell you that much!

A real shame! But you were in some of the most intense battle scenes, what’s the prep involved in that? It’s almost every actor’s dream to do something like that, but you mention the pressure…

It’s baptism by fire. My first day of shooting was that Peleliu beach landing. As I got off of that Amtrak and went up the beach and was getting all those explosions I just had to do it! It was heavily choreographed. They were like you’re going to this movement, this one and this one. This is the moment where you’re going to be thinking this, and here you’re going to be thinking this, because it’s so expensive.

To do it again, it takes an hour and a half to set up again, plus so much money! So the thing is about it is [at this point a waiter walked by, completely distracting Joe] Umm, I’m sorry what was I saying?! [Starts laughing].

Yeah the thing about it is was, once all the explosions went off it was like “Whoah!” I better make sure I don’t forget any of that stuff because it’s going to be on me if we screw this thing up, and so yeah, they made it very realistic for us, they really did.

It felt like we were really there, but at the same time we had to remember we’re actors and we have to hit these moments in our brain and do our job while they were all doing theirs.

With regards to your character Sledge, he wrote a memoir. How much did you take from that, and how much was your own input as an actor?

It was difficult and interesting. For me the book meant so much. Have you seen the whole thing?

Yeah.

I remember specifically for the scene where Haldane dies, that morning I brought the book with me and read that passage in the book where he talks about how he felt that day.

It was amazing because I was actually getting directions from the man himself, like “Hey Joe, this is how you do this, this is how I felt”. So to have that to draw from and think I know how to this was like a dream come true.

That scene is quite a turning point for you – you go from this boyish naivety…

Right, you see him on a bike!

Yeah, and it goes really dark. How was that, rewarding or challenging?

Both. The more challenging, the more rewarding its going to be, and I was champing at the bit to have an arc like that, to start as a child, and I was a child actor, and then to grow and become a man and go through all these trials and tribulations and go to this deep, dark place – I got to do everything, I got to have every emotion, I got to scream, I got to cry, I got to be innocent, I got to be evil, it was really an amazing job to do.

How much did you know about the Pacific theatre of war before going into it?

Not that much. My Grandfather served in the Pacific but even with that not that much. I knew they did some island hopping…

Like a holiday!

Yeah! Tropical islands, beautiful! But then you knew Pearl Harbour, and the Japanese and then you went to bed and that was it. So I learned about so much - they were facing this enemy that was a culture they didn’t understand, and the elements, the malaria, the islands were horrible.

They lived in disgusting squalor, and the tremendous determination of the Japanese was a remarkable thing they had never experienced, so to learn about all those things was wonderful.

If you were in that situation, do you think you’d react the same as Sledge?

I hope I would, I hope I would be able to cope with it and to be able to do my job and survive, and to keep my head about me. It’s amazing that Sledge could even write about it, because most people can’t but it took him 20 years to do it.

It’s nice how you find out at the end what happened to everyone.

I know - it’s so emotional. I couldn’t handle it when I saw it and I knew what happened!

On a different note, you were showing your film Matters Of Life And Death when you got called up to The Pacific.

That’s right, very good!

Is that side of things something you’re interested in going onto?

What I’m interested in doing is creating something new. Actually directing again, writing again and hopefully acting in it on a feature film scale and not just a short at festivals. I want to get it into movie theatres; I want to become a filmmaker!

That was a great experience for me, it was a shame I couldn’t promote the short the way I wanted to – we were just submitting it to the festivals when I got the call. We got into some nice festivals but then I had to put it on the back burner because I got to go do this thing, but it’s a good problem to have!

When they asked for footage of me for The Pacific on film I showed them this film. I’d like to make character based dramas, I end up writing thrillers a lot, these psychological character based things with weird people doing horrible things to each other – coming to a theatre near you!

I’ve just finished a script with my writing partner and girlfriend so hopefully I’ll find a way to get it made.

Joe Mazzello, thank you very much.

The Pacific complete series is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.

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