Why Sam Mendes Wasn’t Worried About 1917’s A-List Cast Distracting From The Story

1917 Colin Firth leans over a map while giving a bunker briefing

Throughout every frame of director Sam Mendes’ award winning World War I epic 1917, we follow two young soldiers on a race against time to prevent the deaths of numerous soldiers on the front lines. Played by relative newcomers George Mackay and Dean-Charles Chapman, those young men and their journey is an electrifying experience that sees them crossing paths with some familiar faces throughout.

While some might worry that bringing in A-List talent such as Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, and Mark Strong would distract from the film’s story, Mendes revealed some very specific reasoning as to why he wasn’t concerned at all.

During his recent appearance on ReelBlend, the director filled our team in with this specific rationale:

First of all, the reason these people are famous and well known is they’re really good. And you want the best actors to play the roles. And you trust that a good actor will… You might think for a second ‘Oh, that’s someone I recognize.’ But then you start to listen to what they’re saying and you forget about that. This is a pact that you sign with movies on a regular basis. ‘Oh that’s Leonardo DiCaprio! Now he’s not Leonardo Dicaprio, he’s a guy lost the wilderness trying to get revenge for the death of his son.’ I think it’s fine, as long as you do it for a reason. And when you get to a certain age, if you’re any good, you’re pretty famous.

Ultimately, when Sam Mendes is casting people to play the parts in one of his films, he wants them to be the best choice for the job. So having a star studded supporting cast, flanking two extremely talented up-and-comers, was the perfect recipe for Mendes to execute the specific vision he and writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns had for 1917’s intense narrative.

This only enhances the specific casting choice of pegging George MacKay as Lance Corporal Schofield and Dean-Charles Chapman as Lance Corporal Blake, the two young men 1917 focuses its’ story around. Sam Mendes’ intent was for the audience to be able to form a unique relationship with these characters, while also keeping people on their toes in terms of their fates.

With fresh faced actors in the leads, you’re never 100% sure what’s going to happen to 1917’s young protagonists. And with established leads like Colin Firth and Benedict Cumberbatch cast as commanding officers throughout the film, you can get lost in the stakes of the missions they’re calling the shots on.

And in the case of Mark Strong’s appearance in 1917, his character offers not only a convenient shortcut to speed up some of the film’s action, he also acts as an anchor of humanity that keeps the film from getting too isolated and despondent. All of the A-Listers cast in 1917 have their own moments to shine, but they’re singular incidents that enhance the journey being taken by the leads they were cast against.

The combination is a potent one that makes this awards contender, and Golden Globe winner, all the more of an adrenaline rush for those who choose to experience it. And if you’re curious to hear more about how Sam Mendes put together 1917, you can listen to his appearance on ReelBlend in the embed below:

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If you’re looking forward to when you can see 1917 in a theater near you, it’s suggested you check your local listings to see if you’re near one of the locations showcasing the film’s currently limited theatrical release. Should you not be blessed with such availability, don’t fret, as the film goes into wide release this Friday.

Mike Reyes
Senior Movies Contributor

CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.