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08 March 2011 @ 03:07 pm
"BoB was on a scale I had never imagined."  

In 2001, A&E aired The Lost Battalion, a made for TV movie set in World War 1. Directed by Russel McCahey, the movie told the story of Major Whittlesy and his battalion as they struggle to survive while surrounded by German troops. The movie was nominated for 3 emmys and won the Christopher Award in 2002. Among the talented cast members - which include Rick Schroeder and Adam James - is George Calil, who portrayed Private Lowell R. Hollingshead. But Hollingshead's was not the first uniform Calil has donned. He is possibly better known as Private James Alley in the Hanks/Spielberg miniseries Band of Brothers.

Where were you born? Where did you grow up?

G: I was born in London at Westminster Hospital. I grew up in London, for the most part - but truly I'm still growing up.

Did you take any acting classes or participate in theatre while in school or attend performing arts schools?

G: I did a little acting a school (Westminster), a Sherlock Holmes story that we made up. I can't remember what the story was though. I played Watson.

What drew you into acting?

G: Star Wars. When I was young I wanted to be Luke (the shame of it!). My dad told me I couldn't be Luke because he was an actor - so that's what I wanted to be.

What / when was your first acting role?

G: My first ever 'job' was on a documentary called "Speak Robert Speak", I was 10 or 11. But my first role with lines and a paycheck was in the early nineties on a film called "Tiger Heart". I was working as a production assistant for the company that made it and they were kind enough to give me half a day's work as the older brother of the lead. I was dreadful.

What was your favorite project to work on, and why?

G: There are two "Band of Brothers" and "September Tapes". I'll tell you about BoB next. I loved ST for the sheer craziness of what we were doing. 5 of us went out to Afghanistan to shoot the film in July of 2002. As far as I know we were the only independent film makers in the country. We were certainly the first people to make a movie there post 9-11. It was scary and fascinating. I will never forget it. It really brought home to me the bravery of our boys over there and of the locals. I can't put a number on how many people disliked foreigners and what they represented, but I can say that the vast majority of the Afghan people were warm and friendly and genuinely grateful to have been liberated from the Taliban regime. Obviously we couldn't control the surroundings so we had to improvise most of the film. To do this I literally had to live the character 24/7. It was a painful process as "Lars" (my character) is not a nice human being. I would have loved to have played him as a warm more friendly person but what you see on the screen is what the director wanted. I disagreed with Christian strongly but he got what he was the boss. I don't want to imply that he is bad director, we merely disagreed, he is a brave and talented director and a kind, generous and lovely person. I think we could have made a better film, but I wouldn't swap the experience for all the tea in China.

What was it like to work on Band of Brothers?

G: BoB was an incredible. Nine months of my life spent with some of the best people and craftsmen and women that I have ever met. It was a joy to go to work. BoB gave me a number of friendships that far exceed actory lovey dovey "So good to see you darling!" bullshit. Friendships that I maintain to this day. It has been wonderful to see the careers of so many of the young men who worked on BoB going from strength to strength. To work with Captain Dye... what can I say (?) the man is a legend, a bright shining mad man, a caring motivator. At some point we all wanted to kill him, but at the same time we would do anything for him. He tricked us into our characters by treating us as soldiers and I hope we lived up to what he expected of us. BoB was on a scale that I had never imagined. If there was a scene with tanks in it, no problem, there were tanks, literally. And then there was Tom, Mr. Hanks, who reminded that he had won two Oscars when I congratulated him on one. Talk about intimidating. Spielberg himself who I only met the once. Tony To - a great producer. When the job was nearing its end I made some silver screaming eagle key rings for the four of them and I still wonder if they use them!

Was the boot camp as hard as it looked?

G: Yes the boot camp was hard but so much fun, by the end of it I didn't want to leave. It was the beginning of a camaraderie between the boys of Easy Company that endures to this day. I think thirty actors were on the boot camp with at least that number again of ex-service men who played the rest of Easy throughout the shoot. And what a great move from the production team. I was on mortars and my team consisted of two ex-soldiers, Paddy and Dave. If not for them I might have cracked. Learning about your weapon, tactics, parachute landing falls, and all as they would have been doing in WWII. Priceless comments from the real army boys - I remember the captain yelling at me, "God dammit Alley you are so stupid I could throw you into a barrel of tits and you'd come sucking your thumb." The first time we actually marched in step, was an incredible feeling. You really feel powerful and greater than the sum of your parts. Again Captain Dye, "Well no shit Easy Company am I hearing marching?" "Sir, yes, sir!". Corporal Billy Budd threatening to massage one's passage with his "sausage" (rhymes with Sarge) if we called him Sarge again. He's a great guy, as were Laird, Freddy, and E. I made the mistake of challenging Billy to a fight after I'd been winding up the Captain. I told him I'd kill him, "How are you going do that?" says Billy, realising my mistake almost immediately I took to my heels yelling, "'Cos you're gonna have a heart attack trying to catch me you fat fuck!”. The parachute training led a few of us to actually do a jump in Switzerland. The production weren't too happy about that. Boot camp nearly got shut down when David (Schwimmer) hurt his knee. Sorry Cassie, this isn't a very organised answer but these memories are just flooding back. I was so out of shape when I got there that on one of our early morning runs I collapsed and Billy Budd literally slung me over his shoulder and ran the mile and a half back to the dormitory. Learning that lighting up (a cigarette) in the dark can mean a bullet between the eyes. Four hours of sleep a night, sometimes none. And finally - getting your Wings pinned on, feeling you deserved them. Happy times. Or as Cap might say, "Errrr, 50 cal sound of freedom!".

Which member of Easy Company was your favorite, other than Alley, of course?

G: All of them down to the last man. I met the real man I played at the premiere. What a character. We're all lining up to be interviewed for MTV or some such and all of the old guys are saying how great the guy playing them is et cetera. It gets to our turn and the lady asks him what he thinks of me and Alley says, "Hell I don't know I only just met the kid". Priceless.

Do you have a favorite quote from the mini-series?

G: My favourite line was cut from the series (as was the whole scene). Alley meets Winters in Paris having escaped from the infirmary and stolen a pair of civilian shoes to get himself back to the front line to be with his brothers. Winters asks him how he's doing and Alley replies, "32 holes in me from 1 God damn grenade". My favourite line of all was never on the series at all, it happened at boot camp. Two actors, who shall remain nameless, got into an argument about how seriously they were taking the training. One was playing a captain and the other a sergeant. The "sergeant" is yelling at the "Captain" to take this "fucking seriously or he'll make him do it", so the "captain" says, "You wanna take this seriously? Fine. I'm a captain you're a sergeant so... shut the fuck up... and that's an order.” And the fight ensues! It was great.

Did you get along with Dale Dye, who’s notorious for his toughness?

G: I think I've already answered that. I love the man. I'm still in touch with him. For all his notoriety he is just a great stand up guy. Harder than a coffin nail. I had dinner with him and a few of the boys a couple of years ago when he was in London and he hadn't changed a bit. He's actually written about in Michael Herr's book, Dispatches. A fantastic read by the way. As far as I remember it says he was in the press corps and wore a peace button on his helmet. Not such a bad ass after all, but then, do you believe everything you read?

Which episode was your favorite, and why?

G: 6,7, and 10. 6 and 7 for the sheer fun of the battle. 10 because of filming in Switzerland and because of one of the most embarrassing things I have ever done. The boys dared me to wear my uniform to a nightclub, so I did. It was my round so I went to the bar to order 30 drinks or so. It would have been the most expensive round of drinks I have ever bought but for what happened next. I'm ordering and this huge blond man, literally a walking Alp, says to me, "Mickey Mouse". I can see he's itching for a fight so I say, "Yeah whatever man, mickey mouse will buy you a drink". Now I'm pretty drunk so I'd like to blame my shameful behaviour on that. "I laugh" says the Alp, "When American soldiers die, I laugh". My blood starts to boil and I say, "Hey buddy that's not funny, my brother died in Desert Storm". Now, I have two brothers and neither of them has ever been in the army - oops. The shit head says, "I'm glad your brother's dead". So I punch him in the face. None of my boys can see me. I get grabbed by the guy, turns out he's one of the bouncers, and another bouncer and they drag me upstairs and throw me out. By this time I have convinced myself that I really did have a brother who died in Desert Storm, so I'm screaming and trying get a punch in but they overpower me and beat on me a bit then go back inside. I'm so angry I'm in tears and on of the boys is walking down the street. He asks me what's wrong and I tell him the lie I told downstairs, God knows why. My poor buddy believes me and says, "Let's fucking have him". So we try to get back in the club to fight but they have locked the door. Sergeant E (a real soldier) asks what's up with us and my buddy tells him the lie I told. E grabs me by shoulders and tells me to calm down and that he knows what it's like to lose men, to see them killed. He tells me to be a man and rise above this asshole's ignorance. I agree, and my friend and I go for a walk to calm me down. Anyway, on our way back we decide to sneak in (as they reopened the doors) and have it out with the bouncer. When we get down stairs, E has this man up against the wall with considerable force (and years of training) and is telling him that he will apologise to me in the morning and that he should be ashamed of himself. Well he apologised then and there. "Oh God" I think, "what have I done". I didn't sleep a wink that night. The next morning I go down to breakfast and... the news has spread. The boys, actors, production team are all patting me on the back, asking if I'm okay and telling me how I did the right thing to walk away and how much courage that took. So I go to the middle of the room and as loudly as I can, feeling so guilty, I tell the whole room that it was all a lie. It took a long time for me to live that one down. I don't think I've ever been so embarrassed my entire life. On the bright side - Lord almighty that bouncer was an asshole though.

Was it hard to get the American accent perfect?

G: The accent got me into a lot of trouble. I would speak to James (Alley) on the phone for hours trying to get his voice just right. He has a strong southern accent and that's how I played it for the first 4 episodes. When Tom directed episode 5 he asked me to change my accent to standard "This is Tom Brokaw for the NBC nightly news" American. We got into an argument about it with me saying that we should honour the men of Easy Company and be faithful to the way that the men still alive actually spoke. Tom cut that scene and I think I only had ten lines to say in the entire series. Lesson, don't mess with Mr. Hanks. So, while the accent itself wasn't hard to do, it caused me a lot of problems!

Did you experience any PTSD -like symptoms after shooting? If so, how did you deal with them?

G: No. The hardest thing coming off BoB was adjusting to the fact that jobs like that don't come around every day and neither do the paychecks.

Do you have any upcoming projects that you can talk about?

G: No. I haven't had a gig in nearly a year. But, I wrote a story, and then a script for it with James Erskine, a director friend of mine. Its a horror film about imaginary friends, guilt, and redemption, or lack there of.

What is your favorite film of all time?

G: The Godfather.

What sort of music do you like?

G: I love Jamaican music of all kinds, Damian Marley in particular at the moment. "Welcome to Jamrock" - What an album. I really like blues and acoustic sad country, and singer song writers like Damian Rice.

Do you have any hobbies you particularly enjoy doing?

G: I love diving. I lived in Miami for nine months and I'd go every weekend. Its difficult to do in the UK 'cos the water is so cold and London is a fair distance from the coast. I like to write and play the guitar.

Do you have any advice for aspiring actors/actresses, such as myself?

G: Keep at it. Practice. It's all pretty obvious stuff really. Acting is a lot like being in a band, its a collaborative effort. Everyone has to work together to get it right. The levels are important, not too loud nor too quiet. With an actor your body (your emotions, your intellect, voice and physicality) is your instrument and you have to keep it in good shape. Acting is not a performance, it is play, give and take. It's an exercise in gathering, bringing people to you and your character not declaiming and throwing raw emotions out at the audience. I was lucky enough to have a great coach, Colin Cook, when I studied acting at LAMDA, and he would always say, "I rather watch a dry fuck than a wet wank any day of the week". Just another way of saying that acting is collaboration.

© Copyright 2011, Cassandra Caruthers, All Rights Reserved
blinksgirl555: Hamsterblinksgirl555 on March 13th, 2011 03:59 am (UTC)
This is awesome Cassie! I'm glad to see you back on here again! How's school going?
lolasauruslolasaurus on March 13th, 2011 08:44 pm (UTC)
Thanks! And I'm not actually in school at the moment. Taking some time off for a bit. How are you?
blinksgirl555blinksgirl555 on March 16th, 2011 02:30 pm (UTC)
No school? Oh well... I hope everything is going good. I'm still in but only have a couple of months before I graduate. (finally) I'm doing good... Spring Break at the moment. I'll try to get back into your story but my personal computer is on the fritz so I have to use my kindle to get on the internet. Oh and I turned 18 last month. Well... if you aren't in school what are you doing to pass the time?