As part of the launch for The Pacific, out now on DVD and Blu-ray, we attended an event held on the HMS Belfast, one of the surviving ships from World War II. After interviewing Joe Mazzello, we were lucky enough to catch up with two more of the series’ actors, Jon Seda and James Badge Dale, who played the parts of Sgt. John Basilone and Pvt. Robert Leckie…It’s been two years since you’ve wrapped filming.
James Badge Dale: Two and a half now.
How much of the experience is still with you?
Jon Seda: (Long whistle) This was such a big project. We spent so much time on this, we poured so much into this that it was, actually, we talked about this as we were nearing the end, it was kind of bittersweet. We had worked so hard and it wasn’t like any other kind of project where you’re making up the characters and you’re making this all up and you’re able to create something and then turn it off and throw it away.
This had a special feel to it because of the nature of what we were doing. Honestly, there’s a part that will always stay with us. I think it left a mark and there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to let it go.
JBD: I don’t have to talk anymore! Dude, I remember a conversation we had about a week or two before the end and we were talking about this, and I don’t know if you remember saying this, but you were like, “I need to get this out of me. I’m ready to let this go,” because you’re dealing with such an intense experience.
To try and walk in these guys’ shoes was heavy. They were heavy, man. There was a lot of pressure and we cared. We held that pressure and holding that for 10 months you miss it and it’s hard to say goodbye. But by the end, we were ready to shake it. We got to get over it.It was an intense experience watching it, let alone living it. Jon, your character Basilone had the most, so to speak, classic story arc as he goes from normal soldier to war hero. But at the same time, you had perhaps the most responsibility to humanise him, as he’s the most well known. How did this affect your performance?
JS: If you don’t know anything about him,and you heard his story, you’d think it was Hollywood made. The guy wins the Medal of Honor and then has to go back to the States to go on a war bonds tour, and becomes a celebrity and dates movies stars, then falls in love and demands to go back. But it really happened.
So, what I tried to do, and unlike Badge’s character, Leckie, Joe’s character, Sledge, who had memoirs, there was no memoir from John, so I looked at the events that actually happened and the decisions he actually made and worked from there, because all the decisions he made spoke to who he was.
His demanding to go back spoke to me about how he didn’t see himself as bigger than anyone else. He would never call himself a hero. He wore that medal with pride, but it represented the sacrifices of all the men around him. It was a big responsibility, but I just tried to find the humanity of who he was and work with that.A similar question to you, Badge. Leckie had a memoir, but at the same time, you have to put your own stamp on the character. Essentially, you carried this show for the first few episodes, as you were the main lead until Basilone’s and Sledge’s stories kick in. I imagine it was exciting, but at the same time quite a bit of pressure?
JBD: I actually never thought about it in the way you just put it there. There is a lot of pressure in how to make something your own, and when a guy’s written a memoir, we are dealing with the memories of men, and what we do is no longer fiction.
Somebody came up with and wrote it, and we take it and make it our own, so it becomes a tightrope act. We want to be respectful to these men, to their memories and to their families and then we have the people who have adapted it. So, now you have to respect the script and what’s left for yourself. You know what I mean?!
It’s our job to create something in between all that, in between those lines.
I watched it when it was first broadcast, and to me it was probably the most truthful on-screen depiction of war I’ve ever seen, full of horror, brutality, and pettiness. How do you get into the emotional space needed for that, and how was the atmosphere on set?
JBD: You know, I brought a camera with me to film it, but after a few weeks I put it away as I realised they were filming for me. What you see is what you got. It was our experience of it.
We did all the reading and research and I thought I was prepared, but then you get there and it’s, wow, there’s nothing that can prepare you for that.
We went through this boot camp, which was completely different to how I thought it would be, but then you find that doesn’t completely prepare you for filming. There’s 10 months of this. The set was like, listen, I’ve seen clips on those HBO ‘making of’ docs and I can’t tell if we’re shooting or not, whether that was a scene or just lunch break! The line wasn’t clear.
JS: We were living in the moment, which was the way we had to go about it.It was hard watching. It made you question war. It was an event. Did it make you look differently back at the conflict?
JBD: I don’t think you can go through something like this and not have it change you. I’m learning to keep my mouth shut a little more.
JS: I thought I knew a lot about WWII and that generation, but I learnt so much more and that’s part of the beauty of being an actor – school never ends.
For me, I learned so much from the start of the research to now. Like when they talked about the greatest generation, I never really knew what that meant, and now I have a better understanding of that.