About The Production
I ain't losing one man on this team. The only way home is winning.
Every American adult knows exactly where they were and what they were doing
on the terrible morning of September 11, 2001. But until recently, only a small
handful knew about the extraordinary events that unfolded in the immediate
aftermath. With the country still reeling, 12 brave members of the U.S. Army's
elite Special Forces-known as the Green Berets-left their homes and loved ones
to take on a perilous classified mission in the war-torn country of Afghanistan.
These "12 Strong" were chosen to strike the first blow in America's response to
the terrorist attacks.
They were not ordered to go. They volunteered to go.
Now the true story of these dozen warriors is being brought to the big screen
in the new action drama "12 Strong." Producer Jerry Bruckheimer offers, "While
the American public was still in shock, these men ventured into the unknown,
into a situation fraught with danger, to try and settle the score and bring us a
victory. They had to leave their wives and kids at a moment's notice, with both
they and their families not knowing where they were going or if they'd ever make
it back. The operation was classified for a number of years-most people have
never even heard of the story-but these men are true heroes."
"12 Strong" director Nicolai Fuglsig adds, "They were the tip of the spear,
the first American soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan. When they arrived,
they found themselves outnumbered 5,000 to 1 by the enemy and were constantly at
risk of getting captured because of the huge bounty the Taliban had placed on
Codenamed Task Force Dagger, the mission was as much diplomatic as it was
military. Fuglsig explains, "This small Special Forces team was to link up with
a local warlord named General Abdul Rashid Dostum, a leader in Afghanistan's
Northern Alliance, in an effort to help him regain control of the region. It was
the initial step in America's fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda after
The Northern Alliance, a fragile coalition of Afghan military leaders, had
itself become somewhat fractured in the years since its formation in 1996, but,
regardless, there was one thing that united them: their mutual desire to rid
their country of the ruthless Taliban.
Chris Hemsworth, who stars as Captain Mitch Nelson, the leader of the Special
Forces team, notes, "These Green Berets weren't there as occupiers; they were
there to assist the Afghan people who had been fighting for their freedom.
Without much prior intel, they had to come in and earn the trust of Dostum and
his men or they could never have accomplished their mission. What I loved about
this story was it was a chance to show Americans working side-by-side with the
Afghan people to fight a common enemy."
Bruckheimer calls the mission "unprecedented" for another reason. Despite
being among the best-trained soldiers in any branch of the military, the 12
Green Berets were unprepared for one unique challenge: in northern Afghanistan's
treacherously steep, mountainous terrain, the transportation modes of modern
warfare had to give way to something more basic. "The only way through the
mountain passes is on mules or horses, so they had to adapt," the producer
details. "Only one of them was an expert rider, so the rest had to learn on the
For the first time in 60 years, "Americans were heading into battle on
horseback," Fuglsig observes. "But now they were riding into combat against
missile launchers and T-72 tanks. The fact that every member of that Special
Forces team made it home alive is nothing short of a miracle."
The extraordinary story of the Green Berets known as ODA (Operational
Detachment Alphas) 595 was first chronicled by author Doug Stanton in the 2009
bestseller Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of U.S. Soldiers
Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan. However, Bruckheimer recalls, "Even before
the book was finished, it was brought to us in galley form.
Doug Stanton is a fantastic writer; we loved it right away. I thought it was
an amazing true story-intense and heroic, with stunning action. And, remarkably
enough, there have been very few films made about the Army's Special Forces.
They are known as 'the quiet professionals' because their missions are covert
and, for obvious reasons, they rarely publicize their exploits."
For Stanton, who also served as an executive producer on the film, the
prospect of having Jerry Bruckheimer bring his book to life as a major motion
picture version of his book seemed like the proverbial match made in heaven.
"I've been a fan of Jerry's for a long time," he affirms. "When I saw 'Black
Hawk Down,' from the first frame I said, 'This is a filmmaker who knows how to
tell these stories.' They're both stories about war, but ultimately, they are
about people trying to make a difficult decision at the least opportune moment."
After developing the project for several years, Bruckheimer Films teamed with
Molly Smith, Trent Luckinbill and Thad Luckinbill at Black Label Media, and
Alcon Entertainment's Andrew A. Kosove and Broderick Johnson to bring "12
Strong" to fruition. "Black Label and Alcon were terrific partners for us in
producing the movie," says Chad Oman, President of Jerry Bruckheimer Films and
an executive producer on the film. "They were as passionate about the project as
we had been since we first read Doug Stanton's captivating book, agreeing that
this was an important, yet largely unknown, story that needed to be told on
film. It was a really positive and rewarding collaboration from beginning to
Producer Trent Luckinbill says they appreciated the opportunity to
collaborate for the first time with Bruckheimer. "Jerry has had one of the most
prolific careers in the industry, so he obviously brings a lot of experience.
He's very engaged, very hands on, and his energy is boundless. We were excited
to learn from him."
"As a company, we respond to incredible true stories, so when we read the
script, we were blown away," producer Molly Smith relates. "It told of what
happened in the days after 9/11, which is something people around the world need
to know. It's a tale of courage and heroism of the highest degree."
In addition to recounting the remarkable story of the first Special Forces team
on the ground in Afghanistan, "12 Strong" also recognizes the courage of those
left behind. As seen early in the film, their wives and children are also faced
with the sacrifices that come with military service...even when you don't wear a
uniform. Smith confirms, "I think it's very important in a war movie or a film
about the military that you not only get to see what it's like for these men to
leave their wives and their children but also the effect it has on their
For the men, there are conflicting emotions in saying goodbye to one family
to fight alongside another-their brothers in arms. Fuglsig expands, "Most of
these guys had been
working closely together for years. When you're responsible for each other's
lives, the bond that forms is much more that of a brotherhood than a team."
Ted Tally and Peter Craig had the task of adapting Stanton's comprehensive
non-fiction account into a taut cinematic screenplay. "When I first came upon
the book I was mesmerized by it," Tally relates. "I'm a history buff, and this
was a slice of epic history that I didn't know about, and I imagine most people
don't know about it either. I was struck by the courage and ingenuity of the
American soldiers and of their Afghan allies. And what makes it even more
fascinating is that it's 21st-century warriors in a centuries-old environment
and culture. Here were the most highly trained soldiers in the United States,
and now they were being forced to completely improvise in ways no one had
"One of the things that really moved me about this story was that these Green
Berets were all grown men," Tally continues. "They weren't fresh-faced boys;
they were mature men with wives and kids taking on this risk for their country
and eager to do it. They knew what it could mean, they understood what they were
sacrificing, but that's their training. That's their instinct."
The script was one of the things that drew Nicolai Fuglsig to the project,
which would mark the director's feature film debut. He recalls, "Jerry sent me
the script and I loved the story so much that I immediately went and read the
Bruckheimer says, "Nicolai is an extraordinary visual artist who has won
awards for his commercial work. He also has a background as a documentarian and
as a photojournalist who has shot all over the world and covered the war in
Kosovo. He has a unique eye and we felt fortunate to work with him on his first
"As a photojournalist, I have seen war firsthand and definitely experienced
some very intense moments," Fuglsig notes. "In a way, all wars are somewhat
similar when you consider the element of human tragedy, but I think this film is
a very different type of war drama. The Americans come to help the Afghans fight
their own battle against the Taliban, so these people from two very different
cultures have to learn to work together for a shared cause."
The director's vision for the project impressed all of the producers.
"Nicolai went out and did an enormous amount of research on the Special Forces
who were over there," says Bruckheimer. "Somehow, he even got his hands on a
government report on the operation. So he came in with photographs he'd gathered
and offered a fresh point of view on how he would make the movie."
Producer Thad Luckinbill, who also portrays one of the "12 Strong," remarks,
"The amount of work he had done, the thoughtfulness that had gone into the
presentation, the integrity with which he wanted to present this story...it was
just unmatched. Visually, he's such a beautiful
shooter, who understands the camera and the frame. But to hear his passion for
the project and his understanding of the story, it was a no-brainer. He was the
While Tally and Craig's writing adhered closely to the actual events as told
in Stanton's book, as with all screen adaptations, some dramatic license was
taken. For example, all but a few names of the ODA-595 team had been changed by
the author to protect the soldiers' identities on what was still a classified
mission at the time of writing, and those fictional names were retained in the
film. "We were making a feature film and not a documentary," says Bruckheimer,
"but both Ted and Peter expertly found a way to tell the story in a manner that
was true to the essence of the events and the characters."
Nevertheless, from the beginning, verisimilitude became a watchword for the
filmmakers, who all wanted to do justice to this true story. They brought in
military consultants and also relied on the expertise of Doug Stanton, whom
Bruckheimer calls "a great colleague for us throughout the process. One way he
helped us was by hooking us up with the Special Forces-men who were actually
involved in Task Force Dagger."
Two of those men were Mark Nutsch, ODA-595 Special Forces Captain and
detachment commander on the mission, and his assistant detachment commander and
Chief Warrant Officer Bob Pennington. They are the real-life counterparts to the
roles played by Chris Hemsworth and Michael Shannon, respectively.
Pennington states that being the tip of the spear after the 9/11 attacks "was
our proudest accomplishment ever. To me, it was the pinnacle. We had the primo
mission given to us. Now, let's roll."
"We're humbled that a movie has been made about our team's mission in that
pivotal post-9/11 period," Nutsch adds. "It also means a great deal to our
families, who sacrifice so much, that what we accomplished is finally being
brought more into public light. And I believe it will mean a lot to the Afghan
people because it shows their service in that conflict."
Acknowledging all his comrades in arms, Nutsch continues, "We are truly
honored that '12 Strong' captures the spirit of the U.S. Army Special Forces. I
think it's important to show what the power and capabilities of the Green Berets
are. They are people who are driven and expect a high standard of themselves and
their teammates. We really pushed each other, and we were better for it."
"This movie superbly portrays a Special Forces team in the battlefield as
they should be portrayed," says Pennington. It really shows some of what we went
through, how we adapted to situations and overcame some serious challenges."
Lieutenant General John Mulholland-then a colonel and the man who selected
ODA-595 to go into Afghanistan-reveals that one of the team's primary hurdles
was that they'd be heading into the mission essentially blind. He explains,
"Before undertaking an Unconventional Warfare mission behind enemy lines to work
with indigenous peoples, U.S. Army Special Forces dedicate an enormous amount of
time and energy studying the culture, history, political complexities and
idiosyncrasies of both the people and the event in order to build the rapport
with our indigenous partners that is absolutely essential to achieve the
objectives that both they and the United States share. In the wake of the
terrible attacks of 9/11, and the need for essentially an immediate response,
our teams were required to go in almost overnight and join up with people they'd
never had the time to study, never worked with, and whose language they did not
speak. In fact, the list of what we didn't know massively outweighed what we did
know. Yet, despite those handicaps, our men did an exceptional job on an
extraordinarily dangerous mission to accomplish our goal of defeating and
overthrowing the Taliban regime."
Michael Shannon, who plays Chief Warrant Officer Hal Spencer, attests that
meeting some of their counterparts was a great benefit to the cast. "It meant a
lot to us that they did come because if you're going to tell a story like this,
it's really your responsibility to tell it accurately, so it helped to get their
point of view."
When they visited the set, Nutsch and Pennington had with them something that
motivated every member of the cast and crew. Trevante Rhodes, who plays the
unit's Ben Milo, recalls, "They actually brought a piece of the Twin Towers, and
that was the most powerful moment on set. We all passed it around and that's
when it really set in. We all remember what happened, but this was tangible,
just a shock to your system. It brought all those emotions back, so that was
Trent Luckinbill says, "When the towers fell, each of the Green Beret teams
were vying to get into the game. They wanted to be the first guys sent in,
regardless of not even knowing exactly what they were getting into-not knowing
who they were going to be fighting with or if they could trust them. I think it
takes real heroes to step into a situation like that."
"It was such an honor to meet some of the courageous men who took part in
this mission," adds Smith. "They knew it was their duty to be there. They
trained for this and were ready and willing to go fight for their country. The
incredible sense of pride they have in being part of the armed forces that guard
America is inspiring."
Fuglsig offers, "This is a movie where you can rally around both the
Americans and the Afghans because, together, they took an epic ride into the
mouth of hell. If the U.S. Special Forces team didn't work together with General
Dostum and his militia, they would have had no
chance against the tens of thousands of Taliban fighters. At its core, "12
Strong" is not just a war movie; it's a story about learning to respect the
differences that separate us but also to embrace the qualities that unite us."
It's a helluva thing we do, isn't it? How do you love your family and leave
them to go to war?
Chris Hemsworth heads the cast as the leader of ODA-595, Captain Mitch
Nelson. Nelson is not his commanding officer's first choice to lead his men into
Afghanistan; in fact, just a week earlier, Nelson had transferred to a desk job
that left his team without a Captain, effectively taking them off the line.
Additionally, although he had been training with his men for two years, unlike
them, he had never actually been in combat.
Hemsworth expands, "At the start of the film, Nelson has taken an
administrative position that will keep him close to home and family. But when
the 9/11 attacks happen, all of that changes. Like everyone else in uniform, he
wants to be in the fight; he wants to be out there defending his country. But
first he has to convince his superiors to give him back his team...and then to
send them in."
"They don't think Nelson's unit should be the first one in because of his
inexperience in war," Bruckheimer explains. "But Nelson says that nobody has
ever done anything like this, so that shouldn't put him at a disadvantage. His
passion for the mission dispels their doubts."
With five other Special Forces teams contending to be the first boots on the
ground, Nelson alone demonstrates a realistic understanding of the unique
challenges they will face. Despite the odds, he promises that he will accomplish
in three months what they assumed would take six and guarantees he will bring
Fuglsig notes, "Captain Nelson approaches every situation head-on with a
straightforward, no-nonsense attitude. He's a loving husband and father who
deeply cares about protecting his family, and part of the way he can protect
them is by being a great soldier.
"It's always a challenge to accurately portray a great leader like Captain
Nelson," the director continues, "but Chris Hemsworth has such quiet strength
and confidence that his performance felt so natural. He was totally committed to
the role and it was a privilege to direct him. It's always a pleasure to work
with such a true professional."
The admiration is mutual. "Nicolai had so much excitement about what we were
all part of," says Hemsworth. "His vision for the film and his attention to
every little detail was wonderful.
The way he sets the scene makes it feel as real as possible and puts you right
in the center of the action. So it doesn't feel like heightened reality; it
feels truthful and shocking and immediate."
By far the most seasoned member of ODA-595 is Chief Warrant Officer Hal
Spencer, played by Michael Shannon. Unlike Nelson, Spencer has seen his fair
share of action, but in their two years of training together, Nelson has earned
his respect, and Spencer's expressed trust in the captain's abilities to lead
them does hold some sway in the decision to reunite Nelson with his unit.
Fuglsig attests, "Spencer is highly respected by both his team and the senior
officers, so his opinion carries a lot of weight. In this situation, Spencer
believes in Nelson and follows his lead, but he still draws on his extensive
experience to advise his younger captain. The way Michael Shannon was able to
embody Spencer as this wise, battle-honed warrior was amazing. He is just an
Describing his character, Shannon offers, "Hal Spencer has been in the
service for a long time and is starting to think that maybe it's a good time to
retire and spend time with his wife and son. But when 9/11 happens, he cannot
turn his back on that...he can't let that go unanswered. Even though he's past
his prime, he still has something to offer. So one last mission, why not?"
Bruckheimer, who had worked with Shannon on "Pearl Harbor," says, "Michael is
one of our great American actors. Whatever part he takes on, he does an enormous
amount of research for the character and always comes up with an interesting
Michael Pena plays Sam Diller, who brings a dry sense of humor to the team.
"We wanted somebody who could add a little bit of levity to the equation," Trent
Luckinbill relates, "and Michael Pena has a great sense of comedic timing with
one-liners and a bit of sarcasm and certainly brought all of that. But he is
also a very talented dramatic actor, so it was easy for us to decide he was the
right choice for the role."
Pena says he was immediately drawn to the project by the script. "When I
first read it, I thought how it built the tension was really. There are so many
variables and infinite possibilities of where the danger might be coming from,
so you really don't know what's going to happen and I think that makes for a
Trevante Rhodes joins the ensemble as Ben Milo, whom he describes as "the
demo man, the weapons guy with a heart of gold. He's big and burly, but
underneath he has a tender spot, which we see in his relationship with an Afghan
kid named Najeeb. At first, Ben has no idea why this kid is following him around
everywhere, but there comes a point when he understands how important it is to
him, and it just touches his heart."
Fuglsig reveals, "Milo's relationship with Najeeb is one of my favorite
elements of the film because of how genuinely Trevante was able to capture how
it develops. For me, it represents the heart and soul of the movie."
Geoff Stults, who plays Sean Coffers, calls his character "the team
complainer. He's good at his job, but he's a smartass, which is fun to play
because you can get away with saying whatever the hell you want," he laughs.
"That's the nature of a group like this in the Special Forces-they love each
other, they'd sacrifice for one another, they would die for one another, but at
the same time they have no problem making fun of one another and messing with
"That brotherhood is at the base of everything," Rhodes concurs. "It's one of
the reasons they continue to do this-yes, to serve their country, but also that
brotherhood. There's nothing like that relationship."
Twelve-year Navy veteran Kenny Sheard, who also served in Afghanistan,
appears as the team's senior medic, Bill Bennett. He adds, "That bond is very
important because anything anyone does in the military, they know it's a team
effort. So it felt right to have that camaraderie be a major aspect of the
The ensemble also included another real-life military veteran: Jack Kesy, who
plays Charles Jones, was with the United States Marines. He was actually just a
few blocks from the World Trade Center when it fell, and served overseas in its
The other actors enlisted as ODA-595 are: Thad Luckinbill as Vern Michaels;
Austin Hebert as Pat Essex; Austin Stowell as Fred Falls; Ben O'Toole as Scott
Black; and Kenneth Miller as Kevin Jackson.
As the men prepare to leave on their mission, we meet the wives of Mitch
Nelson, Hal Spencer and Sam Diller as they spend a few precious hours with their
husbands before they go, steeling themselves for the anxious days and nights
that they know lie ahead.
Molly Smith comments, "We really wanted to show the conflicting emotions the
wives may have. Some of them understandably do feel a bit angry or frustrated.
They're sad, they're emotional...but they're also proud of what their husbands
are doing. It's a very real and, I think, profound way to show a bit of what
these families go through when they have to part, not knowing if it's the last
time they'll ever see them."
Chris Hemsworth's real-life wife, Elsa Pataky, was cast as Nelson's
supportive wife, Jean, marking the first time the two have acted together.
"We didn't need any prep time to form our chemistry," the actor admits with a
smile. "We've had seven years and three kids for that. But I am very proud of
Elsa's work in the film."
Pataky was not only pleased to work with her husband for the first time, but
honored to play the wife of an American soldier. "Jean knows she married a
soldier and that these things are out of her control. It's painful to think
about what might happen, but at the same time, Jean is so proud of Mitch and
knows he's doing the right thing. It also creates a bond between the wives
because they're going through the same thing. I really admire the strength of
the families of every soldier who have been in those moments."
The crux of ODA-595's mission is gaining the trust of General Dostum,
portrayed by Navid Negahban. The Iranian-born actor, who did an extensive amount
of research on his character, relates, "Dostum is an Uzbek leader in the
Northern Alliance who has been at war since he was 16, fighting first against
the Russians and now the Taliban, who murdered his family."
Fuglsig adds, "Dostum is such a strong, natural leader who commands respect
wherever he goes, and I don't think I could have found a better actor to play
him. I love how Navid delivers every line with such power and weight. He really
brought Dostum's big personality to life."
The problem for Nelson and his men is that the trust of a lifelong warrior
like Dostum is not easily won. "There was huge mistrust," Negahban affirms,
"because Dostum was looking at them as a bunch of kids trying to tell him how to
fight and save his country and the Americans were concerned that Dostum and his
men might be setting them up. So it takes a while, but through the film you will
see how they connect with each other, how they truly become blood brothers. For
me, it is a very important story to tell. It's a different perspective-you see
that the Afghans are fighting for exactly the same things that the Americans are
fighting for. They just want to have their freedom, take care of their kids and
be safe. That's it."
The actor continues, "Nicolai's vision and how he wanted to honor these
people was what got me to say yes. I wanted to be part of this film, but at the
same time, I always want to do projects that mean something, and Nicolai gave me
that. He became my safety net, the person I could lean on."
The senior officers who brief Nelson on the top secret mission are Colonel
Mulholland, portrayed by William Fichtner, who has appeared in four Jerry
Bruckheimer productions, including the war dramas "Black Hawk Down" and "Pearl
Harbor," and Lieutenant Colonel Bowers, played by Rob Riggle.
Interestingly, Riggle, a Marine Corps veteran, has a singular connection to
the true story of "12 Strong" and specifically to his role. He details, "I had
the pleasure of serving with the Third Battalion of the Special Forces group in
November of 2001 in Mazar-i-Sharif. I was a young captain at Central Command at
the time, and even though I'm a Marine, they sent me over to join up with these
guys, and I ended up working under the command of Lt. Colonel Bowers. I wasn't
a gunslinger like those guys, but it was a privilege to serve with them and help
in whatever way I could with their mission. It's not very often you get to play
your old boss on the big screen, and it was quite an honor. And I retired as a
lieutenant colonel, so to play one on screen was also pretty cool."
Rounding out the main cast are Allison King as Marsha Spencer; Lauren Myers
as Lisa Diller; young actor Arshia Mandavi as Najeeb; Laith Nakli as Commander
Ahmed Lal and Fahim Fazli as Khaled, two members of Dostum's militia; and Numan
Acar as Mullah Razzan, a brutal Taliban leader.
"Every member of the cast did such a fantastic job," Fuglsig states. "I can't
believe how fortunate I was to work with these terrific actors."
There's no playbook here. We're gonna have to write it ourselves.
It is not unusual for actors playing members of the military to undertake
some level of training in the interests of both authenticity and doing justice
to those in uniform.
"Realism is extremely important, especially when you are endeavoring to tell
a true story," Fuglsig says. "Our actors needed to experience firsthand some of
what being part of a Special Forces team was really all about in order to
accurately re-create the strategies employed by these types of soldiers in the
"Having the experts teach us about the Special Forces and this particular
mission was invaluable," Hemsworth adds. "And learning together-doing the
weapons training, the physical training and the movement drills-also helped
cement us as a unit."
Austin Hebert says, "In the few weeks we were together, we created a natural
bond with one another. We learned that when you're out in the field, those are
the only guys you have to count on for survival, and it gives you more
confidence when you know your team is out there with you. So we had that going
during boot camp, and it only grew throughout the film."
For both the actors and the filmmakers, the connection formed between the
actors was as important to the veracity of their portrayals as the training.
Bruckheimer emphasizes, "A vital part of the Special Forces is the camaraderie
amongst the teams and how much they care about one another and depend on each
other, and we wanted to instill that same feeling in our cast. When they did
their military training, they built that same type of bond, which was wonderful
to see and I think really comes through in the movie."
During pre-production, the actors came under the tutelage of veteran military
advisor Harry Humphries and his team. A former Navy SEAL, Humphries has enjoyed
a long association with Jerry Bruckheimer on a dozen films, including the
acclaimed "Black Hawk Down."
Thad Luckinbill offers, "It was so important to have Harry and his group come
in and teach us the ropes of how to handle weapons, how to properly communicate
with one another, and how to move on a battlefield in different formations. We
all learned a lot in a short amount of time, which was exciting."
Humphries relates, "We designed a specific training regimen for the guys,
giving them the information and skills to help them believably play their
characters. Weapons handling and safety was most important, but there was also
tactical movement, patrolling and military vernacular.
"We typically started the day in classroom sessions where we gave them a
sense of the language they would be using to communicate with one another,"
Humphries continues. "They got exposed to the structure of the Special Forces
unit, and then we went into the basics of safe weapons handling, in this
particular case the M4. They had to look comfortable handling a gun, and they
needed to be safe doing it, so we drilled them repeatedly on magazine changes,
weapons manipulation, clearing malfunctions... Then we got into movement. Every
day, we replicated what we did the day before, and then expanded a little bit
more each day. This film was blessed with a group of actors who sincerely
respected the heroes they were playing. They wanted their characters to look
correct, and worked hard to make that happen."
"Boot camp was amazing," adds Trevante Rhodes. "Harry's team made sure we got
everything down to a T. You have to focus on the logistics and the techniques so
it becomes second nature-so when you're in the battle scenes, you don't have to
think about it; it just happens."
According to Bob Pennington, their training paid off. "One thing I liked about
the film is that every one of those guys looked like a Special Forces Green
Beret. I thought they represented us perfectly."
All right, who's ridden before? Anyone?
The training of the "12 Strong" cast was twofold: in addition to being taught
to act as elite Special Forces soldiers, they had to learn to ride horseback.
"I think all of us felt comfortable with our weapons and such on the ground,"
Hemsworth says. "Then we got on the horses and it sort of threw everything up in
the air, but in a good way
because these Special Forces guys were in that same situation. None of them knew
what they were doing."
In the movie, Captain Nelson is the only experienced rider on the team, but
nevertheless, it was important for the entire cast to be proficient enough to be
safe on the horses, especially in the more rugged locations.
Animal wrangler Clay M. Lilley and his team were responsible for gathering
and caring for the horses used in the production as well as teaching the actors
to ride. "The first thing we did was evaluate their riding skills," says Lilley,
"and then we matched them to their horse. Several of the guys had never ridden
at all, but they were all good to go by the time we got started filming."
Geoff Stults remarks, "Everybody had to be brought up to speed to be able to
ride and hit our mark. Part of it is feeling comfortable on the horse, because
if you're nervous, the horse can tell, and that can be scary."
Getting comfortable on the horses was easier said than done when geared up
for battle. Austin Stowell explains, "I had ridden a little bit in the past, but
nothing like what we needed to do for the film-holding your gun up and then
having another 40 pounds on your back, trying to make it look real in the moment
and, most importantly, not falling off. It was essential for us to train on the
horses and work up to riding faster and turning tighter until it felt like
Thad Luckinbill grew up in Oklahoma, where he learned to ride, "but, of
course, it's been a while and I was a bit rusty," he admits. "Clay and his guys
assessed our abilities in the beginning, and I think they thought I was better
than I was, so they gave me a really energetic horse. When we started shooting
the first scene, he was just off to the races," he laughs. "After that, we
switched him for a calmer, more mature horse."
The Americans were not the only ones having to master the riding. It was
perhaps even more vital for the actors playing their Afghan allies, who are all
expert horsemen. Navid Negahban notes, "I used to ride, but I hadn't been on a
horse in more than 10 years. So it took a while, but I got more comfortable over
time and it was good. The horse I rode is beautiful...strong and wild. He needs
to be the first in the line; he doesn't like to follow other horses. He's
actually exactly like Dostum's horse."
Michael Shannon says, "I'm from Lexington, Kentucky, which is the horse
capital of the world, but I never really rode much when I was a kid, and it's
not something I get to do very often. But the horses were very sweet...and
they've probably been in more movies than I have."
In fact, the equine actors employed in the film are all veterans of many
previous productions, and their safety and well-being were paramount to the
filmmakers. They were scrupulously cared for by Lilley and his team, under the
constant supervision of a representative
from the American Humane Association. Whenever a stunt or situation was deemed
risky or inappropriate for live animals-including horse falls-sophisticated
mechanical horses from the Oscar-winning artists at Creature Effects were
utilized in their stead.
"Everything involving the horses was extremely regimented," Bruckheimer
attests. "We were fortunate to have a terrific team of knowledgeable
professionals ensuring that they were never mistreated in any way. I'm very
proud of what our people accomplished while keeping everyone-both humans and
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