What was it like for an actor filming Saving Private Ryan’s Omaha Beach scene?

The famous opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan was incredibly intense to watch on the big screen. But what was it like to be 'Soldier on the Beach' in the middle of it all?

Andrew Scott’s already-increasing profile is set to be done no harm whatsoever by the incoming finale to the BBC’s wildly successful contemporary take on Sherlock.

In Sherlock, he plays about as unconventional a Moriarty as we’ve seen to date. But one of his earliest screen acting jobs was as one of the many filming the Omaha Beach scene that opened Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. Scott’s role is referred to on IMDB simply as ‘Soldier on the Beach’.

We’ve always wondered, then, what’s it actually like to be an extra in the midst of such a seemingly chaotic scene? Fortunately, Andrew Scott told us.

“I have to say it was something that I still really remember. We shot it in Curracloe Beach in South Ireland, so there were a group of us that were working in the theatre in Ireland. We went down, and I’ll never forget the day.

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I remember it being a really, really sunny day, and we went down to the beach. I turned to one of the guys, and I said it’s gone really, really cloudy all of a sudden. He said ‘Andrew, they’ve covered up the sun!’

There was so much smoke. As far as the eye could see, it was just army guys. The sequence, and it was a very simple sequence, really, was us coming from a boat on D-Day.

It was absolutely extraordinary, the atmosphere. We had a very specific route to take, amongst all the stunt guys.

The stunt guys, some had squibs, some had fake limbs. It was so well choreographed. It took two weeks to do, and afterwards, it was extraordinary [to watch].”

When the cameras rolled, though, things were nowhere near as clear.

“Filming it, you couldn’t see the camera, you couldn’t see Spielberg, and you had no idea of the camerawork. You had no idea where they were. It was just you heard, ‘ACTION!’, and you had the sound of explosions, had dirt flying in your face, and you couldn’t really see anything. You kind of knew that, when it was edited together, that it was going to be extraordinary, though. It was an amazing experience”.

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The end result remains one of the most brutal openings of a film of the past few decades, and played very much against what people expected from Spielberg at the time. It sounds like it was just as intense for the people filming it as it was for us sat in the stalls…

Sherlock screens on Sunday 15th January. A full interview with Andrew Scott will be live on the site tomorrow.

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