Before joining the service, I thought everyone in the military was somehow fighting and killing bad guys. I looked to movies and television to try to put myself into the mindset of who I wanted to be if I had to fight a real battle.
Clearly, I no idea what I was getting into. That’s where the similarities between the badass anti-hero from Big Trouble In Little China and myself end.
Years before Die Hard changed every action movie that came after it into some version of Die Hard, the dream-team duo of John Carpenter and Kurt Russell brought us this bizarre but awesome story of a man determined to help save his new friends that have been captured by a mystical, ancient Chinese cult.
Jack Burton was a John Wayne in a world full of Bruce Lees. But it wasn’t swagger that made me admire this custom-booted character. Jack Burton was way deeper than he seemed — all you had to do was look.
He had heart. He had dedication. Dammit, he had fun.
Jack Burton drops pearls of wisdom.
The saltiest warriors have been around the world and they’ve seen some things most us can’t comprehend. When they try to tell you about it, it all just seems unbelievable. That’s why wise, older warriors impart wisdom by giving practical advice, not by relating one specific story. Just listen to Jack Burton:
When some wild-eyed, 8-foot-tall maniac grabs your neck, taps the back of your favorite head up against the barroom wall, and he looks you crooked in the eye and he asks you if ya paid your dues, you just stare that big sucker right back in the eye, and you remember what ol’ Jack Burton always says at a time like that: “Have ya paid your dues, Jack?” “Yessir, the check is in the mail.”
Jack Burton is okay with being the sidekick.
Being in the military isn’t about glory, it’s not about being in the spotlight, and it definitely isn’t about the money. Big Trouble in Little China is about Wang Chi rescuing his girlfriend. When a Chinese street gang abducts her, Jack Burton is right there to fight the good fight, because it’s the right thing to do.
Even when the sh*t gets deep, Jack Burton does not run.
Jack Burton is just an average, ass-kickin’ kind of guy (with amazing reflexes). He’s used to a good, fair fight and knows when to back off. But just because he’s seeing some sh*t he’s never seen before doesn’t mean he’s going to turn and run. He’s going to stay and fight until he knows he can’t win.
Jack Burton has the right gear for the job.
Those boots, my dude. Those boots are custom.
Jack Burton is all about intel.
It’s not all about throwing around weight and fists for Jack Burton. When the situation demands it, he’s willing to be more subtle; less swagger and more cloak-and-dagger. He gathers all the information he can before he starts kicking in doors.
People want to follow a leader like Jack Burton.
Some may call it cockiness, but I see self-confidence. Jack Burton stands up for what’s right: saving ladies in distress, helping people who’ve been abducted, good fighting evil, etc. People fighting with him see it and they love him for it. Remember: Jack Burton only ever met one person in all of Big Trouble In Little China and he is still fighting with them.
Despite his shortcomings, Jack Burton gets the job done.
He’s not John McClane. He’s not James Bond. There’s very little about Jack Burton that can be called “smooth.” He can stay up all night drinking and gambling, but will keep fighting for days. Like the professional he is, he operates just as well on the third day of combat as he did on the first.
In the early days of comic strips, they were often more political cartoon than art enjoyed by adults and kids. This was until Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson released the very first comic book, 1935’s New Fun, under his new company, National Allied Publications. Through a series of mergers and buyouts, this company would eventually evolve into the comic giant, DC Comics. Before this, however, Wheeler-Nicholson served in the U.S. Army and was widely known as the “youngest major in the Army” at 27.
Just as many of the Marvel superheroes have pulled inspiration from Stan Lee’s time in the Army, many DC heroes followed Wheeler-Nicholson.
Here are six DC heroes that served in the Army. Not all of them have superpowers, but then again, neither does Batman.
6. Jonah Hex
Jonah Hex‘s story begins in the Civil War where he was a southerner fighting for the Confederacy. His conscience held him back from fighting abolitionists, with whom he agreed philosophically, and he eventually surrendered his forces.
Tried for treason and exiled to the Wild West, Hex would later be branded with the mark of the demon and be forced to walk the west as a supernatural bounty hunter. At some point, he’d also travel time (because comic logic) and fight alongside other superheroes.
He also fought alongside Yosemite Sam. Yeah, the Looney Toons’ Yosemite Sam. (Image via DC Comics)
5. Deathstroke (Slade Wilson)
DC’s greatest and deadliest assassin, Deathstroke, cut his teeth in the Special Forces before he was experimented on, giving him super-human strength, agility, senses, and healing. It’s a very similar storyline to Marvel’s Wade Wilson, aka Deadpool, even though Deathstroke came out 10 years earlier.
Contrary to how he’s portrayed in many mediums, he’s actually a completely neutral agent, only interested in fighting heroes for a price. His strict moral code prevents him from hurting innocents and he’s even been known to fight on the side of good when the price is right.
4. John Diggle
A more recent addition to DC comic continuity is John Diggle. Originally created for the CW show, Arrow, his character is a bodyguard and close friend to the eponymous Green Arrow. Fans immediately loved the character as he helped Oliver Queen deal with his tragic yet over-the-top comic backstory by sharing his time with Special Forces in Afghanistan.
Though not originally a comic book character, he was given a life in print when DC rebooted many of their series as part of the “New 52.” His comic-book origin story follows his on-screen past very closely.
3. Wonder Woman (Diana Prince of Themyscira)
Diana Prince has had a long military career. In more recent storylines, she’s portrayed as an Air Force Intelligence Officer, but she’s most recognized for her WWII-era stories as an Army nurse where she first took the name, “Diana Prince,” to enlist.
At the time, the Amazonian Princess didn’t take kindly to being relegated to being the secretary when she was literally the strongest member of the Justice Society of America (Superman and Batman hadn’t joined at this point). So, she up and left to fight in WWII where she met the sometimes-Army, sometimes-Air Force, sometimes-Navy SEAL, Steve Trevor, as fans would recognize from the 2017 film.
2. Sgt. Franklin Rock
One of the more surreal storylines in DC Comics’ history is that of Sgt. Rock. Very rarely did these comics ever deal with over-the-top action and silly, convoluted plots. Simply put, Sgt. Rock was just the story of the average soldiers of Easy Company during WWII, serving their country.
Sgt. Rock and his men were the musings of Army veteran, writer, and, eventually, executive editor, Robert Kanigher. Many events that happen during his run of Sgt. Rock are based on his real-life battles. After other writers took over his character, things took on a more outrageous, comic-book feel. Even Sgt. Rock’s service number — 409966 — is said to have belonged to Kanigher.
1. Superman (very briefly)
That’s right, every other branch: The Man of Steel himself served in the U.S. Army. Unfortunately, it only lasted for one cross-over issue and because of time travel (because comic logic).
Very long story short, Superman brought a bomb that was going to destroy modern-day Paris into space, but it flung him back in time to WWII where he met with Sgt. Rock and Easy Company (which was very grounded in reality until this point). The blast gave him amnesia (because comic logic) and he assumes the identity of Corporal Steel to fight with the Americans. They stumble upon a Nazi program to create “Ubermensch” soldiers and Superman, realizing Ubermensch roughly means “super men” in German, regains his memory and remembers he has powers.
Superman beats all the fake Nazi copies of him and, to preserve his identity, fakes his own death before heading back to the future (because comic logic).
Professional pain-factory John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is back for a sequel. And once again, there’s a whole cadre of well-dressed people who want him dead.
In anticipation of the film’s release on Feb. 10, We Are The Mighty talked to director Chad Stahelski and stunt coordinator and Army vet J.J. Perry about John Wick’s gunplay style, and how they made mag changes cool.
A senior Army modernization official said that the service needs to look to the visionaries of Hollywood for ideas on how future tech could change the Army in 20 years.
“I often tell people ‘hey, if you want look to the future … don’t look toward the people that wear this,'” said Lt. Gen. Paul Ostrowski, principal military deputy to the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, pointing to his camouflage uniform.
“Where are you going to look? Hollywood. Think about it. How many things do we have in our hands today, or just right around the corner, that you saw on the movies when you were growing up?”
But it’s up to Ostrowski, and other senior Army leaders, to carry out the service’s ambitious new modernization strategy.
The Army announced its new modernization effort in October 2017 that’s designed to replace its Cold-War era, Big Five combat platforms — the M1Abrams tank, Bradley fighting vehicle, Black Hawk helicopter, Apache attack helicopter and Patriot air defense system.
UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter
(U.S. navy photo by Clayton Weis)
Speaking at a breakfast, hosted by the Association of the United States Army, Ostrowski explained how the new Army Futures Command — to be based in Austin, Texas — will create a future force capable of operating in the unknowns of 2036.
“What is the battlefield going to look like in 2036?” Ostrowski said. “What are … the tactics, techniques and procedures that we are going to need to have to fight and win in that war, in that battle?
“Where is it going to be conducted?” He continued. “Megacities? What will be our unit of action? Right now we are organized around brigade combat teams. Is that what we are going to need to be organized in the future?”
The futures and concepts group within Army Futures Command will be working on these issues as well as figuring out how future technologies such as quantum computing, high-energy lasers, directed-energy weapon, hypersonics and artificial intelligence will play a role in the future force, Ostrowski said.
“What is going to be capable of being produced and available in 2036? The visionaries of the futures and concepts group have to get after that particular piece,” Ostrowski said.
The Army is actively recruiting talent to work on the technological challenges of the future — Hollywood may be the place to start, Ostrowski said.
“We have to get after those visionaries to help us get after that fight and what it is going to look like in 2036,” he said.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.
The days following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 were a strange time for Americans. For the first time in most people’s lives, political divisions disappeared. Daily life became anything but routine, even if you lived far from Ground Zero. Even American pop culture was deeply affected by the events, unsure of when it would be acceptable to laugh again.
Leave it to America’s foremost experts in drama and onscreen conflict to show everyone it was okay to gather once more.
On Sept. 13, just two days after the attacks that shook the world, it was the WWE who gathered people together in (where else but) Texas. Houston, to be exact. Emotions were still riding high, not only among the people who create the WWE’s show twice a week, but the nation as a whole. Just like the rest of America, Vince McMahon and his staff had watched helplessly as planes flew into the Twin Towers, not once but twice.
But the WWE – its producers as well as its staff and the “Superstar” wrestlers who make the show happen – considered themselves lucky, lucky to be with the people with whom they spent a majority of their time anyway. They were with the people who were as close to family as they could get in those stressful hours.
The show that night, just two days after the attacks, was supposed to be a Smackdown! taping in America’s third largest city. The WWE initially felt the taping should be postponed, that America had other things to worry about. They weren’t alone. Many shows, especially live-taped shows, were airing reruns instead of new episodes. No one knew exactly what to say.
New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani appeared with the cast of Saturday Night Live and told America is was okay to laugh again. Jon Stewart used his time on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to remind Americans that life had to go on, and that it was okay. But people and entertainers were still wary of getting together in large crowds.
Not the WWE.
After Vince McMahon was assured by government officials that regular WWE programming would actually be more helpful in getting people’s minds off the tragedy, they went ahead with the show. WWE Superstars crowded the ringside as their boss, the wrestling mogul, entered the ring to an enthusiastic crowd, chanting “U-S-A! U-S-A!”It was McMahon giving a speech just like the ones a WWE Superstar would give as part of the plot of any given Raw or Smackdown! episode, challenging a rival to a grudge match.
“The spirit of America lives here in Houston, Texas,” McMahon said, as he began a speech that sent condolences to the victims and families of 9/11 and condemned the terrorists. “Our nation’s leaders have encouraged us to return to living our lives the way we normally do… the American way… Make no mistake about the message this public assembly is sending to terrorism tonight. That message is simply we will not live our lives in fear.”
“America’s heart has been wounded but her spirit shines as a beacon of freedom,” he said, “that will never be extinguished.”
That satisfying “Ping!” of bullets on target is as regular as a metronome when former Green Beret sniper, Aaron Barruga, is running tactical marksmanship drills on his home turf in Santa Clarita, CA. With his company, Guerrilla Approach, Barruga trains civilians, military, and law enforcement in proper and effective tactical firearm deployment.
The man does not miss.
“Oscar Mike” host Ryan Curtis paid a visit to Barruga’s training facility to bone up on his sharpshooting and found himself in good hands, drilling shoulder to shoulder with this veteran entrepreneurial success story. Barruga’s advice?
“I would definitely say that, if they have the opportunity, use that G.I. Bill. Get that piece of paper that says, “I’m smart and employable.” And just grind away, basically. You gotta hustle.”
As the day progresses, the sweat beading on Ryan’s brow is a testament to his hustle, if not his dead shot accuracy. And when he challenges Barruga to an Old West-style duel, our host quickly learns what high noon looks like at the Less-than-OK Corral.
Watch as Barruga makes plinking targets look easy, and Curtis proves his monkey is definitely the drunkest, in the video embedded at the top.
The video game “Titanfall” had a simple appeal. It was frontline combat in the future where humans, robots, and giant “titans” battled in a two-sided war.
Sure, there was a cool storyline and some bells and whistles, but the appeal was fighting battles in three-story metal juggernauts armed with rockets and cannons.
Now, a “Titanfall 2” trailer is drawing players to the sequel with a more human appeal. A rifleman in the game, J. Cooper, describes what it’s like to fight side-by-side with the player-controlled pilots.
The story highlights some of the game’s new gadgets for pilots, including grappling hooks and the ability to create holograms.
But it’s the narrative and great voice acting that really sells the experience. Check out the trailer below and prepare for titanfall.
Becoming a US Marine is one of the most difficult titles to earn. Getting hammered — both mentally and physically — by a well-trained drill instructor can be taxing on anyone.
Once the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor land on the Marine recruit’s palm, their sense of internal pride will find no limit.
Since the Marine Corps is rich with several defining moments in history, Hollywood loves to use their stories for the big screen. Sadly, in many cases, those films don’t reach audiences in the way the filmmakers would hope.
However, there are a select few moments that are so epic, they won over the hearts and minds of their Marine audience.
So check out our list of movie moments that make Marines pump their fist with pride.
1. The trigger happy door gunner (Full Metal Jacket)
This entry excludes the film’s first act, which had every Marine in the Corps pumping their fist with pride — after they graduated boot camp.
Fast forward to the movie’s second act when Joker and Raptor Man fly toward the Hue City where they meet a trigger-happy door gunner who uses his machine gun to attempt to kill every Vietnamese person he lays eyes on.
2. The flag raising at Iwo Jima (Sands of Iwo Jima)
The Marine Corps has many proud moments throughout its rich history. The flag raising on Mount Suribachi is considered one of the Corps’ most defining moments, as it represents both victory and the powerful American spirit.
Hollywood loves to make old fashion bloody war movies that have plenty of entertaining explosions and dramatic death scenes. While entertaining, these can hit pretty close to home for someone who’s been in the fight.
The graphic ones can be particularly realistic, but no matter what, they all represent the sucktitude of war.
Here are five you may want to stay away from before deploying to a combat zone.
1. Saving Private Ryan
Known as one of the most authentic and gruesome openings to a film ever, this Steven Spielberg-directed classic put audiences inside the minds of war-hardened characters as they storm the beaches of Normandy.
I think that guy had eggs for breakfast. (Image by Giphy)
2. Casualties of War
Marty McFly, I mean Michael J. Fox, plays an Army soldier who is coerced by Sgt. Tony Meserve (Sean Penn) to take advantage of a Vietnamese hostage-turned-sex-slave. When he refuses, the whole squad turns against him.
We guess they missed those team building exercises stateside. (Image via Giphy)
3. Hamburger Hill
John Irvin’s 1987 war epic depicts one of the most disastrous friendly fire accidents in the military in the Vietnam war.
Could you imagine that sh*t. (Image via Giphy)
4. The Deer Hunter
Because no one wants to think about the dangers of being a prisoner of war and playing Russian roulette at the same time.
No one wants to get left behind and eventually gunned down by the bad guys.
WHY ME?! (Image via Giphy)
Bonus: Pearl Harbor
This is a good one if you join the service with a buddy. In Micheal Bay’s “Pearl Harbor,” two childhood friends join the military as pilots. As one is off fighting in an aerial dogfight, the other stays back keeping his girlfriend company — eventually knocking her up.
Spoiler alert — he takes about a half dozen bullets for his buddy to buy himself some redemption. That is all.
It’s actually a good way to make things even. (Image via Giphy)
For years, gamers have joked among themselves, saying that because they kick ass with a virtual rifle in Call of Duty, they’re probably a good shot in real life. Well, two former Special Forces operators decided to take two professional gamers to the gun club to test that theory.
Our two Special Forces operators really need no introduction to the veteran community: Navy SEAL Mikal Vega and Marine Corps sniper David Lonigro.
Vega served 22 years in the Navy, working with EOD and the SEAL teams. Lonigro spent six years in a Marine Corps special operations unit as a sniper and went on multiple combat deployments.
These two motivators went up against a 12-time World Champion gamer in Jonathan Wendel and a Call of Duty pro that goes by the screen name RUNJDRUN.
Because Lonigro and Vega are team players, they gave the gamers a few pointers during a practice round before the real thing commenced. As the timed contest opened, each competitor fired at two different targets, attempting to score accurate kill shots using six rounds total.
First, Wendel took aim and squeezed off his controlled rounds a 67 percent accuracy at a speed of 3.15 seconds.
On deck next was RUNJDRUN, who also fired at 67 percent accuracy, but at a speed of 4.03. This effort was followed by Vega, who nailed his two targets with 100 percent accuracy at a rate of 4.03 seconds.
Finally, Marine veteran and talented sniper David Lonigro ended the day with 100 percent accuracy, but had the slowest time of 5.23 seconds. However, snipers are trained to wait to take the shot, so maybe Lonigro used that as a tactical advantage.
Ultimately (and unsurprisingly), the veterans won the shooting competition.
Check out BuzzFeed’s Video below to watch the exciting competition for yourself:
The first trailer for “Top Gun: Maverick” dropped July 18, 2019, at Comic-Con in San Diego and in case there was ever any doubt, Tom Cruise proves that even at 57, he is still one of the most badass action stars on the planet.
We learn little about the actual plot but the trailer is able to give viewers a clear idea of the tone of the sequel, as the titular fighter pilot appears to be as talented, fearless, and reckless as he was when we last saw him over 33 years ago. As one of his superior officers — played by Ed Harris — lists off Maverick’s career accomplishments, we see Maverick has not lost his need for speed, as he flies through a desert at full-throttle before ascending up to the sky at nearly a 90-degree angle.
However, it is also made clear that Maverick’s loose canon persona has likely cost him in his career, as Harris’ character notes “you can’t get a promotion, won’t retire, and, despite your best efforts, you refuse to die.” Perhaps Maverick’s love for the sky has kept him from creating a successful five-year plan? Or maybe he just isn’t interested in getting a fancy title if it means giving up his seat in the cockpit. Only time will tell.
Top Gun: Maverick – Official Trailer (2020) – Paramount Pictures
The rest of the trailer is a lays on the nostalgia pretty thick while giving us brief glimpses of new characters. We see Maverick donning his signature aviators and leather jacket and he even hops on his motorcycle to ride alongside a couple of fighter planes. While Harris is the only new cast member featured prominently in the trailer, we do get to see a few new faces, including Jon Hamm, Monica Barbaro, and Glen Powell as one of the new hotshot pilots playing some shirtless volleyball. The cast also features Val Kilmer returning to reprise his role as Ice Man, Maverick’s frenemy, and Miles Teller, who will be playing the son of Maverick’s deceased co-pilot Goose.
The sequel reportedly focuses on Maverick returning to Top Gun as an instructor, where he trains a group of young pilots, including Goose’s son. But, thankfully, the debut trailer lets viewers know that the film will still feature plenty of Cruise in the sky, which should not come as a surprise to anyone who has followed his career over the past three decades. We can’t wait to see Maverick back in action.
“Top Gun: Maverick” come to theaters on June 26, 2020.
This article originally appeared on Fatherly. Follow @FatherlyHQ on Twitter.
Three months ago, Navy SEAL and NASA Astronaut Chris Cassidy slogged through the dirt roads of Normandy with a 44lbs rucksack on his back. Captain Cassidy and several dozen other SEALs (myself included) had just swam 11 miles through the English channel to commemorate the pre-D-Day mission of the first Naval Commandos. The 11-mile swim / 25-mile ruck run on the 74th anniversary of D-Day had a purpose: to raise money for fallen SEALs and their families.
It was an act of service for those who had died in service.
Cassidy, who earned a Bronze Star in Afghanistan, sweated out this epic charity challenge in the middle of training for another kind of walk — one that will take place at 17,000 miles per hour, 400 kilometers above the earth’s surface. If all goes well, Cassidy will return to space and conduct a spacewalk to make repairs on the International Space Station. But, in the midst of endless days of preparation and training, he took time to honor his military roots — a heritage he shares with a long line of astronauts before him. Captain Chris Cassidy said,
It’s truly been an honor to have a role in our nation’s manned space program. We have had astronauts and cosmonauts living continuously on the International Space Station for the last 18 years which has only been possible because of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs. That history is also deeply intertwined with the military. Personally, I love how in both our nation’s space program and military, laser focus on mission success is balanced with detailed planning and operational rick controls. It’s also an amazing feeling to be among such motivated and talented people.
That heritage is one of the centerpieces of the new blockbuster film, First Man, featuring Ryan Gosling starring as NASA Astronaut Neil Armstrong. People know Armstrong as the man who walked on the moon; they often don’t know that Armstrong was a decorated Navy fighter pilot and Korean War veteran.
Neil Armstrong in 1964, while in training to be an astronaut.
The film is largely focused on Armstrong’s life and the mission to get to the moon — but it explores a theme familiar to military audiences: the challenge of maintaining a family while deploying to do dangerous work. The film depicts Armstrong’s family and their sacrifice, particularly that of Armstrong’s wife, Janet. And it shows scenes that any military family has faced: how to speak to your children about the danger of the mission; the enormous stress before the deployment; the uncertainty while your loved one is far away. All of this is shown with raw and real emotion.
What was true then and is true now is that service member families often bear a heavy and overlooked burden during times of conflict. While First Man is primarily a movie about the first moon walk, it’s important to remember that that mission, and the space program in general, was the byproduct of a conflict: the Cold War and the tension between the USSR and the US. The frontlines of the early space race were the frontiers of space, and its foot soldiers were military test pilots who strapped themselves to rockets and ventured into the stratosphere in service of their country.
Apollo 11 astronauts with families, 1969
(Ralph Morse for LIFE)
I had an opportunity to speak with Academy Award-winning director Damien Chazelle (the director behind the smash-hit films La La Land and Whiplash) and ask him about these themes of the connection between military service and the space program:
1. Tell us a bit about the inspiration behind ‘First Man’
After I made Whiplash, I was approached by producers Wyck Godfrey, Isaac Klausner, and Marty Bowen about the idea of doing a movie on Neil Armstrong. I didn’t know much about space travel and didn’t know what my angle would be. But I started reading Jim Hansen’s incredible book, First Man, and started to think of Neil’s story as a story about the cost of great achievement — similar to what I had looked at in Whiplash, only on a much bigger canvas.
What was the toll that the mission to the moon took? I was awed by the sacrifice, the patriotism, the ambition, and the vision that made the impossible possible — and the reminder that it was human beings who did it, ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances and overcoming daunting odds — and even great tragedy — to accomplish something for the ages.
The crewmen of the Apollo 11 lunar landing mission leave the Kennedy Space Center’s (KSC) Manned Spacecraft Operations Building (MSOB) during the prelaunch countdown. Astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, commander; Michael Collins, command module pilot; and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot, ride the special transport van over to Launch Complex 39A where their spacecraft awaited them. Liftoff was at 9:32 a.m.
2. What’s woven through the movie are themes of duty and sacrifice. And as a Navy veteran myself, I could identify not just with the astronauts (especially Neil, Navy pilot), but with their families and what they went through. Can you talk a bit about those themes and how they affected your work on this?
The family aspect was paramount — showing these famous events through the eyes of not just Neil, but his wife Janet and his sons, Rick and Mark. How did they all cope with the demands of the job? Funerals were a normal part of life. Two of Neil’s closest friends died while he was in the program. Neil himself almost died several times. And yet, balanced with the danger and the risk, he and Janet also had to take out the trash, clean the pool, make breakfast for their kids. That combination of the intimate and the epic, and the selfless way Neil and Janet confronted all of it, was extraordinary to me.
But I also think it’s worth remembering, as you note, that Neil had been in the Navy. He was someone who believed deeply in service for country. He risked his life in the Korean War. He became a test pilot to forward our understanding of aeronautics, to contribute to knowledge. He went to space to keep seeking those answers. This is someone who was not acting in his own self-interest, who was not seeking fame or fortune. This is a man who believed, in all aspects of his life, that his duty to the mission came first, and without that willingness to risk it all and to sacrifice it all I don’t believe the moon landing ever would have happened.
3. Can you talk a bit about Janet Armstrong and her role?
Ryan and I were lucky enough to meet with Janet and spend time with her. She was an incredible woman, and the stories she told us and memories she shared with us were invaluable. Like Neil, Janet was tough — she had a grit to her that I think made her uniquely qualified for her role in the space program. It’s worth remembering that astronaut wives like Janet played an enormous part in the overall endeavor of going to the moon: they were the ones to had to find the balance between space and home, between the demands of their husbands’ work with the lives of their kids and the necessities of home. They had to do it all while putting on a smile for the cameras — even when they couldn’t know for sure if their husbands would ever return from space. One of my greatest joys in making this movie was in watching Claire Foy embody Janet’s spirit and resilience and pay tribute to such an amazing person.
The Apollo 11 crewmen, still under a 21-day quarantine, are greeted by their wives, Janet Armstrong, Patricia Collins, and Joan Aldrin.
4. There’s a scene in the film where Neil Armstrong is talking to his boys about what’s about to happen — the mission and the risks. Can you give us a sense of what you were thinking with that scene and what you wanted to convey?
That’s a scene that many families across the country have their own version of: the mom or dad about to go off to work, and the knowledge that he or she may not come back. It again speaks to a willingness to sacrifice in the name of service that I find awe-inspiring. In this movie’s case, the scene at the dinner table between Neil and Janet and their boys Rick and Mark was almost word-for-word what actually happened. Janet insisted to Neil he talk to his kids and explain to them what he was doing and what the risks were; much of the scene was taken verbatim from Rick and Mark Armstrong’s recollections. It was a tremendously important scene for all of us — a moment where the characters have to come to a stop and confront the dangers of what they are doing, and what it all means.
5. The military and the space program have a long joint history. At the simplest, a lot of veterans became astronauts. The SEAL community, which I’m a part of, for example is proud of the fact that there are two astronauts currently in training who are SEALs. Did that joint history play into your research at all, or the end product?
It did, in several ways. First, I liked to think of the film as almost a war movie. The moon mission was initially a product of the Cold War, and the astronauts who risked their lives for their country were all former or current servicemen. The dangers were almost combat-like, too — this was not the glossy, glamorous, sleek-and-easy space travel I grew up seeing in movies. These capsules were like old tanks and submarines; the rockets carrying them out of the atmosphere were essentially converted missiles. The dangers were front and center — and, with them, the immense bravery required to face them.
This photograph of astronaut Neil A. Armstrong, Apollo 11 commander, was taken inside the Lunar Module (LM) while the LM rested on the lunar surface.
6. The film’s story and title come from James Hansen’s biography of Neil Armstrong, but I was curious: Did you have any other creative influences that helped you make this — books, films, etc?
Yes, many! As I alluded to, certain war movies were big inspirations: Saving Private Ryan, Paths of Glory, The Deer Hunter. Movies about submarines like Das Boot. I also read as many books on the subject matter as I could — one of my favorites was “Carrying the Fire” by Mike Collins, who flew with Neil on Apollo 11. “Deke!” by Deke Slayton and “Failure Is Not An Option” by Gene Kranz were also key. And, finally, documentaries! The archival material shot by NASA, much of which is compiled in incredible films like For All Mankind and Moonwalk One. Documentaries of the period like Salesman and Hospital and Gimme Shelter. An amazing documentary by Frederick Wiseman, about training at Vandenberg Air Force Base, called Missile. All of these taught and inspired me.
First Man, starring Ryan Gosling, arrives in theaters October 12, 2018.
Kaj Larsen is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared on CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, VICE, Huffington Post, and numerous other outlets. He also served as a US Navy SEAL earning the rank of Lieutenant Commander and completing multiple deployments in the Global War on Terrorism. His family member, Judith Resnick, was the second American woman in space and was killed on launch during the 1986 Challenger space shuttle explosion.