Film: Surviving Private Ryan - Arts and Entertainment - The Independent

Film: Surviving Private Ryan

James Innes-Smith recalls the harrowing experience of acting in spielberg's latest gutbuster

"YOUR CALL could come at any time," warned my agent. "He's working very quickly." I had been cast as Lieutenant Stone in a scene with Tom Hanks in a new war movie directed by Steven Spielberg. The anticipation was becoming unbearable.

The call to arms from my agent eventually came at three o'clock on a Friday afternoon. I would be picked up at 6am the following day and driven to Heathrow. From there I'd fly to Dublin and then on to the location in Co Wexford. I dutifully tried to get an early night. Excitement and fear made it impossible to sleep, so I watched my old copy of ET instead for inspiration.

On arrival in Dublin, I was picked up by my driver who was making his fifth trip of the day down to the location in Co Wexford. He was full of stories about the great man. "They say he can even control the weather," he informed me. Since Spielberg's arrival, the weather had changed dramatically from pleasantly autumnal to downright miserable, which is exactly what Spielberg had wanted for the filming of the Omaha Beach landings [the D-Day landings which Spielberg re-creates in Saving Private Ryan. That terrible day in June 1944 had been particularly grey and drizzly].

At the location I was ushered through a field laid out with row upon row of false limbs and mangled bodies soaked in blood. These were to be used in the D-Day landing scenes, which were still being filmed on the beaches nearby. Apparently Spielberg was hiring amputees for added realism. I thought back to the whimsical ET from the night before and wondered whether this could possibly be the same director.

It was taking much longer than expected to film the D-Day landing scenes, so three days later - and after witnessing some of those spectacular scenes in action - I was sent home to await further instruction.

My eventual call came a month later - two days filming at a location in Hertfordshire. On arrival, I seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time in wardrobe with two Second World War experts who knew everything from the correct tightness of ankle garters (until you lose the feeling in your legs!) to the exact angle of a gun holster. Everything had to be just so.

My scene involved warning Hanks and his battalion of men not to venture any further behind enemy lines. Hanks and Tom Sizemore improvised a discussion about death, and whether or not there was a heaven. The others joined in. I watched in awe. Keen on improvisation, Spielberg recorded it all for possible use as dialogue.

Then we read the scene, but because of their amazing, naturalistic style of acting, I did not even know they had started. It is hard to tell where reality ends and the acting begins. As an English actor, when I am told to start acting I mean start "acting". These guys just live it. The script is flexible, too. If you do not like a word or phrase, Spielberg allows you to experiment - a rare luxury. He will, however, argue his case forcefully if he thinks you are wrong, and he draws from his own vast catalogue of work to back himself up. For instance, when Tom Sizemore showed reservations as to why six guys would be travelling through a war zone in only a jeep with no roof for protection, Spielberg told him to think back to the famous "We're gonna need a bigger boat!" scene in Jaws. In other words, that was the whole point.

We were now ready to shoot the scene. I had problems getting my American salute right, much to the annoyance of "Mr Vietnam".

While we were waiting to roll, Hanks movingly described his thoughts on the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, which he had attended with Spielberg and Tom Cruise the day before. And with Spielberg still coming to terms with the death of his close friend Gianni Versace, the fashion designer, and the fear of being stalked by a fanatical rapist who was still at large, there was a real sense of gloom and unease in the air.

The scene went well and Spielberg added a couple of badly needed lines to my part. Hanks seemed stressed and tired, not surprisingly. He was in the last few days of the shoot and with so much death around, the strain was beginning to show. There was a feeling, though, among everybody involved in the film, that this was going to be no ordinary war movie, but a testament to the reality, horror and bravery of that day in June 1944.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Strictly Come Dancing 2014 contestants and their professional dance partners open the twelfth run of the celebrity ballroom contest

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin teaches Clara to shoot an arrow
doctor who
Arts and Entertainment
Queen Christina left the judges baffled with her audition
X Factor
Arts and Entertainment
The Vienna State Opera
opera
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'
musicLilly Wood and Robin Schulz bag number one single
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week
    The fall of Rome? Cash-strapped Italy accused of selling its soul to the highest bidder

    The fall of Rome?

    Italy's fears that corporate-sponsored restoration projects will lead to the Disneyfication of its cultural heritage
    Glasgow girl made good

    Glasgow girl made good

    Kelly Macdonald was a waitress when she made Trainspotting. Now she’s taking Manhattan
    Sequins ahoy as Strictly Come Dancing takes to the floor once more

    Sequins ahoy as Strictly takes to the floor once more

    Judy Murray, Frankie Bridge and co paired with dance partners
    Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

    Wearable trainers and other sporty looks

    Alexander Wang pumps it up at New York Fashion Week
    The landscape of my imagination

    The landscape of my imagination

    Author Kate Mosse on the place that taught her to tell stories