Sitting down for Lone Survivor, the biopic of former SEAL Team 10 frogman Marcus Luttrell, I expected to be confronted with the horrors of war and the sacrifice soldiers like the Navy SEALs are forced to make for country, which I was. I did not expect to see a nod to Anchorman in the form of a signed picture of Ron Burgundy or a new team member dedicatedly acting out the big dance scene from Napoleon Dynamite. But when I spoke with Luttrell over the phone about the upcoming film, he assured me that these details were as true to his story as the brutal gunfire and battle damage I saw rained upon his onscreen doppelganger Mark Wahlberg, and the rest of the team.
Writer-director Peter Berg adapted Lone Survivor from Luttrell's best-selling memoir of the same name, which detailed the failed mission "Operation Red Wings." The mission's purpose was to capture or kill an infamous Taliban leader, but in the end it resulted in the biggest single loss of life for Naval Special Warfare forces since World War II. As the title suggests, there was only one survivor of this bloody conflict on an Afghani mountain on June 28th, 2005. His name is Marcus Luttrell.
He's a retired SEAL with a Navy Cross. He's a proud Texan, who repeatedly addressed me as "ma'am" during our conversation. He's a big fan of movies, though isn't the kind of guy to get star struck. And perhaps most importantly, he felt it was up to him to pay tribute to his fallen brothers by telling their story. He served as a consultant on Lone Survivor. And according to one of the film's stars, Emile Hirsch, he was on set nearly every day. Below, he shares what it was like making the worst day in his life into a movie, why he feels movies matter, and why he believes his late friends would have enjoyed Pain & Gain.
What kind of responsibility did being the lone survivor give you in telling this story?
The ultimate responsibility: to get it right. Since I was the only one to make it off the mountain, to make sure that nothing was exaggerated or fabricated and that what happened [actually] happened, and to honor their memory the best way that I possibly could.
After the book came out, was it important for you to see this made into a movie?
No ma'am. No, absolutely not. The book itself was a big deal. I was really apprehensive about that. That’s not who I am. I was a Navy SEAL, not a writer. So, when the Navy came calling and said, "Hey, we’re going to declassify this op and put it out"--because there are so many rumors and stories floating around about what had happened up there, that I’d be just sitting around and a family member would call me and say, "Hey you didn’t tell me about this. Why am I hearing this?" And I would say, "I don’t have any idea what you’re talking about. That’s not how that went down. You can’t be listening to everything that you hear."
So, for you, the book was setting the record straight?
Did you have any say in casting?
I kind of left that up to Peter. It was one of those things where he’s the pro at making movies. I mean, I like to watch movies, but as far as how they’re made. I’m sure everybody who watches movies thinks they could make one, that they could act in one. I’m kind of a realist. I was like, "You’re the resident expert on this. If you’ve got a question on Navy SEAL stuff, come to me."
But you deferred to him?
Right, and I think he did an absolutely fantastic job of picking the cast. It turned out very well. Everyone worked as a cohesive unit, from the time we started training to the time the film wrapped. I mean, you could see them grow together as team. It was actually an honor to watch that happen.