The last time Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks paired up with HBO, the result was 2001’s multiple Emmy-award winning WWII miniseries Band of Brothers. The filmmakers returned to HBO and the war epic, ‘The Pacific,’ on Sunday March 14. The Pacific, filmed over 10 months in Australia in 2007, follows three characters in one of the most little-known theaters of the second world war. Fancast sat down with all three actors, James Badge Dale, John Seda, and Joe Mazello, as well as their boot camp trainer, Capt. Dale Dye, to get their thoughts on filming, how the process changed their lives, and the band of brothers they’ve become.
In the latest installment, we chat with Jon Seda (‘Close to Home‘), who portrayed John Basilone, an archetypal American hero who rose from a middle-class upbringing in New Jersey, to a spokesman for the war effort, eventually landing on Iwo Jima. Seda talks about the hazards he and the rest of the cast endured training for the film shoot—and the respect they had for the men they portrayed.
You’ve had a really prolific career, mostly in television. How psyched were you, then, that movie powerhouses Spielberg and Hanks decided to pair up again for a TV project?
Wow, that was incredible. When I first got the script, of course they said who’s involved, it’s Tom Hanks and Spielberg and Goetzman. Right away you know, as an actor, it’s a great opportunity to be able to work with them because of their track record. From seeing Saving Private Ryan and seeing Band of Brothers you know already that this is going to be a special piece. You know it’s going to look incredible. So from that standpoint I knew I wanted to be a part of it somehow, some way, let alone playing the character of Basilone. I just wanted to be a part of it.
So when it came my way, I truly felt that I was destined to play Basilone, so when it was happened I wanted to make them proud and do the best I could. Because you knew, visually, it was going to be incredible, but the actors had to bring it. The actors had to accomplish what they started.
And tell me about the part. Basilone’s a hell of a soldier.
Yeah. There’s so many stories about Basilone. People say he was the inspiration for GI Joe. There’s people who look at him who say he was this Hulk type of guy who carried machine guns on his back and ran through the jungle barefoot. Then when you talk to people that new him from New Jersey like John Pacifico, or Chuck Tatum, who served with him on Iwo Jima…I think there are two huge extremes. In one, he’s just a regular guy from New Jersey that found his niche with the Marines and loved to do what he did and was well-respected and well-liked, versus him being this superhero type of guy. So I just tried to find the humanity with that, and go with the fact that he was just this regular guy from Jersey that found himself in some extraordinary circumstances and did what he was trained to do. But I don’t think he would call himself a hero. I don’t think he was brash. I think he would say that everyone was doing his job and everyone was equally heroic. I think that speaks to his character.
He seems deeply caught up in the randomness of war. You know, a step to the left or right means the difference between living and dying. How do you tap into that?
For us, as actors, [often] you’re able to create your own character and create something that didn’t happen, and you’re able to control the emotions and how you want to go about dealing something. But this is real. This really happened. These men went through this. You meet so many veterans that share stories with you that bring you back to what they experienced, the real thing. You take all those stories, you look at the documentaries, and all the books and pictures, and you speak to as many as you can that are knowledgeable about that time. And then there was boot camp…
What was training like?
I didn’t think any of us truly knew what we were getting ourselves into until we showed up that day. I’ll never forget showing up the first day at boot camp. You knew you were going to go through boot camp, and you heard the stories from the guys on Band of Brothers, so you knew you were going to do something, but to what extent, you weren’t really sure. I knew of Capt. Dale Dye, but I didn’t put two and two together of who he was. When we showed up the first day and I saw him standing there, he turned around and I saw his face, and something in me went, Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh man! Ohhhh man! Suddenly you completely forgot you were there to make a film. You had the feeling like you were being pulled into a real boot camp. And they had us for a short time but they were hard on us.
I hear you were being attacked by Japanese soldiers at 3 o’clock in the morning.
Yeah! The thing with Capt. Dale Dye’s boot camp, which I call the foundation for our filming of The Pacific—it was so needed. Without it, you wouldn’t be able to make those scenes we were talking about, one step to the right, one step to the left—all those questions that real Marines had. Capt. Dale Dye has asked that questions many times in his life, why is he here and his buddy isn’t? So the boot camp, we had to learn the weapons from World War II. We went through tactical formations. We went through war scenarios. We went on missions throughout the jungle. It was all kind of to give us an insight as to how it was for them, and what they went through. The elements that they had to go through. Of course, at the end of the day, we don’t know exactly what it was like to be these men there, not knowing whether or not they’re going to come home. You can’t truly know what that’s like unless you actually were there. But this gave us enough of an insight for us to be able to build from.
He had a whole other Japanese army that we didn’t know. We could hear them, they were there training as well. We’d only come in contact with them when we were actually going out on missions throughout the jungle. We had to suddenly know what to do. There were days we’d be out there for hours and hours. The heat was unbearable. The elements were unbearable, but we’d never come in contact with them. They kept saying, “You’re going to have contact today. You’d better know what you have to do!” And in regards to me, with the machine guns, I would have to know where to place my machine guns if we had contact. So the nerves of that, we had. We didn’t know if we were going to have contact each day, and we’d go out for ours and nothing.
Then there were times we had contact and we had to get those machine guns moving, and get them in place. You’re constantly thinking, Where’s going to be my best point of attack? It’s like these are tests that I have to pass. If I don’t pass these tests, what good am I? That was very important.
It worked. You look perfectly fluent with those weapons. And you even look like you know what to do with soldiers’ rations.
They actually weren’t that bad! They really weren’t that bad! They look bad. They gave us some bags, and it was supposed to be some kind of pasta dish, and it look like a bag of someone’s throw-up. But I’ll tell you, man, when you’re out there in that boot camp, and you’re exhausted and the heat’s getting to you, you get one of those bags and that’s chow! That’s good stuff, man!
Hilarious. So besides the food, what was the most surprising thing you learned, either during boot camp or during the shooting?
I think the challenge, not knowing—because there were many in the beginning might’ve thought, I can’t do this. And there were some that dropped out. We didn’t know what the true challenge was going to be, and when we were faced with that challenge we learned that we had something bigger in us than we had before. To be able to finally look back now and say, “Wow, I did that. I completed that.” And the whole drive to it was to do the best that we could to honor these men. It wasn’t about self-promotion. I mean yeah, look, we’re in a project with Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks. It’s a big project. It’s a pretty good career move. But that’s not what our focus was. It was quickly embedded in our heads—if we didn’t have it in our heads already, from the first day of boot camp—that this is bigger than us. We’re being asked to be the voices for all these men. It’s a privilege. It’s an honor. It’s a humbling experience. That is what we had to take with us as we went to go film, and carry throughout the whole time of filming.
What kind of bond did that create between you guys?
Huge. I was working in Toronto on a show a few years back, before the release of Band of Brothers. Neal McDonough and Donnie Wahlberg guest-starred on the show. They played partners on the show. I just remember, they were so close. They were like brothers. Now, I get it. They had just finished shooting Band of Brothers. I look back and now I understand it. Who would’ve thought that I would have gone through that same thing?
PART 4 OF ‘THE PACIFIC’ AIRS SUNDAY, APRIL 4 AT 9 PM ON HBO