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Emile Hirsch (“Into the West,” TV's “Bonnie & Clyde”) portrays real-life Navy SEAL Danny P. Dietz, Jr. was a communications officer and spotter for SEAL Team 10, in director Peter Berg's war thriller “Lone Survivor.” For his actions in the line of duty, Dietz was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross.
Based on The New York Times bestselling true story of heroism, courage and resilience, “Lone Survivor” tells the incredible tale of four Navy SEALs on a covert mission to neutralize a high-level al-Qaeda operative who are ambushed by the enemy in the mountains of Afghanistan.
When Hirsch ran into Berg almost four years ago at a local gym in Southern California, Berg mentioned a story about Danny Dietz. Hirsch wasn’t sure of the reference to the gunner’s mate, but intrigued by the story, he found out that the SEAL was one of the men featured in the book that the director wanted to adapt. Several years later, Hirsch got the call to meet with Berg about a role for this film. The results of the meeting were inconclusive, and Hirsch sensed that he needed to fight for the part.
Hirsch discusses his interest in the role of the communications officer and spotter for the team: “I wanted this role so bad. It was a mix of awe for Danny and a profound level of respect for the commitment that he gave to his brothers, his country and his family—that level of fearlessness.”
The actor knew that being chosen for these roles was never a given for any of the performers. “I wanted a challenge, so I started to train and work out on my own. I genuinely didn’t know what was going to happen. Months went by and it was to the point where I was passing on other movies, but I didn’t have this job. I was willing to do anything. I ended up training six days a week, four to five hours a day.”
Although he’s played real-life characters before, the chance to honor a fallen SEAL offered challenges much more powerful than simply physical exhaustion. Hirsch adds: “I know how important it is to all the families how their loved ones are portrayed in the film. I felt more responsibility playing Danny than I’ve ever felt playing any character. You know it’s a movie, but it’s also a monument to these guys. We knew it was up to us to portray the SEALs in the right way, which is representative, respectful and truthful. Their warrior spirit goes back to the SEAL creed. They are the common man with an uncommon desire to succeed.”
To put the actors through their paces, the production assembled an elite team of SEALs and former SEALs who understood what it would take for the performances to look genuine. The word “intense” was used over and over by the actors to describe the training regimen.
Hirsch sums his fellow actors’ agreement that although this training program was the physically toughest thing they have ever done, it pales in comparison to the SEALs’ training. “We trained mostly with M4 rifles,” he says. “We learned how to fire at the SWAT range and at targets, moving in unison with real bullets. It was dangerous, but it was also fun. It was hard on the knees because they had us doing a lot of rolling and firing, but I had a great time with the guys. You certainly learn to trust your fellow actors really quick.” Hirsch pauses: “Even if I trained seven days a week, 24 hours a day, it wouldn’t be one one-hundredth of what the students go through at BUD/S. The SEALs in training kept pushing us all to move out of our comfort zones.”
Now showing across the Philippines, “Lone Survivor” is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures International.