Actor/Director Max Martini on bringing the military to the big screen
If you love military movies, then it's safe to say you'd recognize Max Martini. While his film career doesn't only include military-centric roles, he's built a reputation among the military community as both a proud supporter of service members and one of the most badass actors ever to portray them on screen.
I first remember recognizing Max Martini as a mil-actor way back during his days filming "The Unit," a popular CBS TV series about elite special operators assigned to 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (SFOD-D), commonly known by those of us outside their elite fraternity as Delta Force. Since then, Max has played war fighters of all sorts in fan favorite movies like Saving Private Ryan, 13 Hours, Spectral, Captain Phillips, and one of my favorite sci-fi movies, Pacific Rim.
Max Martini in "Pacific Rim"
His most recent foray into the military genre was Sgt. Will Gardner. The film depicts a Marine veteran who has struggled since separating from service and is now trying to reestablish a relationship with his young son. The movie was a passion project for Max, who wrote, produced, directed, and acted in the titular role.
Importantly, however, making the movie wasn't just about telling a powerful story about service and redemption, it was also about helping veterans in the real world. He's pledged 30% of the film's profits to veteran charities.
Sgt. Will Gardner
(Mona Vista Productions)
I was fortunate enough to get to sit down with Max (digitally) during this coronavirus quarantine, and ask him some questions about his career, his work on behalf of the military and veteran communities, and just what it takes to play some of the most badass characters ever put on screen.
Max has played both real and fictional special operators, and has made a name for himself among veterans for it. I asked Max what keeps him coming back to these sorts of challenging roles.
"My dad was an artist living in New York City, so I sorta grew up in the Arts. But that said, my mother was a cop. I grew up in the arts, went to art school, got my degree in fine arts and came out owing, ya know, a hundred and fifty gazillion dollars without a way to pay it off," Max explained.
Max Martini in "Saving Private Ryan"
"I got asked to audition for a movie because I'd dabbled in acting, and then the second movie I got was Saving Private Ryan. That was transformational for me. I had just just graduated from art school and I didn't have much of a sense of politics or appreciation for the military. Then I did this movie, and I really started to understand more about our service members, and I really loved the community because there was obviously a lot of former military involved in making that movie."
It wasn't just that he developed an appreciation for service through filming Saving Private Ryan, he also quickly established himself as a solid actor capable of playing military roles.
"I don't know, it's like Steven Spielberg gives you this stamp of approval that says, 'okay, he makes a good soldier,' and everybody jumps on board," Max joked.
Of course, because Max has played a member of Delta Force before, I felt the need to speak to one of my friends that actually served in that elite unit to see what he'd be interested to learn about acting in such a role. So I gave legendary Delta Force operator George E. Hand IV a call–and he wanted to know how actors like Max go about playing military roles in a realistic way on screen.
"Well, I think it's a combination of things. Like, for instance, when I did Captain Phillips, we had a technical advisor from the Navy but it wasn't somebody showing you how to soldier, it was somebody showing you the functionality of the ship," he recalled.
"But the guys around me were all former [special operations] team guys and they'd be like, 'Dude, you should say this.' One of the guys was about to relieve the team that was on the ship that took the shot, so he was familiar with the operation."
He went on to talk about his time specifically playing a Delta Force operator in The Unit.
"The Unit was adapted from a book that Eric Haney wrote. He was one of the original Delta guys. So Eric was a producer on the show and he put us through a lot of training, and then he was there every day to watch over us technically."
Max Martini on "The Unit"
Max points out that his resume isn't all that helps him win military roles. Now, he's close friends with a number of veterans and does a lot of firearm training on his own. He might do it because it's fun, but the technical capability he develops by shooting with special operations veterans tend to translate into his realistic handling of weapons on screen.
"I think that's also a consideration when people hire me. People go, 'we're not going to have to do much with him to get him ready for the show.'
Max's appreciation for service members isn't just born out of his real life friendships with veterans. He's also made a number of trips overseas to visit deployed service members. Max's decision to donate 30% of the profits from Sgt. Will Gardner speaks to his passion for supporting the military, which is something he says is a responsibility American's share.
"I feel very strongly that if somebody enlists in the military, that we as Americans share a responsibility to ensure that when they return from combat, they have red carpet healthcare treatment and every resource available to them that's need to reintegrate properly back into civilian life."
Max Martini's latest movie, Sgt. Will Gardner, is now streaming on a number of platforms, but Max points out that paying to see the movie on Amazon Prime helps support not only his endeavor to make more movies in that vein, but also supports the three veteran charities he's splitting the profits with.
You can stream Sgt. Will Gardner on Amazon here.