US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Cole is the deputy director of the US Army film and television liaison office in Los Angeles, and has worked on Hollywood blockbusters such as Fury, Man of Steel and Godzilla

Lieutenant-Colonel Steven Cole occupies a unique spot at the intersection of two major American institutions: the military and the movies. The 42-year-old career soldier is the deputy director of the US Army film and television liaison office in Los Angeles. In other words, whenever a Hollywood studio wants to check the medal configuration on a general's uniform, or to borrow a tank from the country's largest military service, Lt-Col Cole is who they call.

During production of this summer's monster blockbuster Godzilla, for example, Cole and his colleagues organised for film-makers to record tank and machine-gun sounds at Fort Irwin in California. In one scene, following the titular lizard's rampage in Hawaii, real Army soldiers appear on screen offering first aid and shelter to survivors. "The Army doesn't enter into discussions about how many scales Godzilla has," Cole explains, "but we do advise the production company as to how the US military would respond, if there were giant radioactive reptiles roaming the Earth."

Some military audience members queried the realism of the sequence, though Cole says they were less concerned by the epic battle between two prehistoric monsters than they were by the soldiers' choice of outfit. "Somebody tweeted me to say, 'Why are they wearing that uniform in Godzilla? That's the one we wear in Afghanistan.' My response was: 'Because that's the approved uniform for fighting giant reptiles.'"

Cole grew up in a military family in Charlotte, North Carolina. He has been in the Army for 19 years, including serving as an armour officer in a tank unit and teaching history at the military academy. His fellow soldiers are envious of his current role – although, he insists, "My intersection with the beautiful people is pretty much none. I don't take lunches in Malibu."

Lieutenant-Colonel Steven Cole is the deputy director of the US Army film and television liaison office Lieutenant-Colonel Steven Cole is the deputy director of the US Army film and television liaison office
The function of the film liaison office is to manage the publicity that the movies offer the military, and also to ensure, where possible, that the Army is portrayed accurately on screen. "The reason we have an office in LA is so that people can learn a little about the army that their taxpayer dollars support," Cole says. "Not everybody is reading world news, but they will go and see Godzilla."

The relationship between Hollywood and the US Army stretches back to before the film industry even moved to California. As long ago as 1911, when the capital of the movies was still Edison, New Jersey, the Army helped to produce a silent short called The Military Air-Scout. And in 1927, when the First World War drama Wings became the first film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, the Army was again crucial, lending both troops and planes to the production.

The Army has even won three Oscars of its own, for the short documentaries Seeds of Destiny (1946), Toward Independence (1948) and Prelude to War (1942), the latter directed by Frank Capra, who served as a major in the Signal Corps during the Second World War. Originally conceived as a training documentary, Capra's was the first in a seven-film series entitled "Why We Fight".

Not every war movie earns the Army's support, however. A more recent Oscar winner, 2008's Iraq War thriller The Hurt Locker, was made without military backing because, Cole suggests, it was not a realistic depiction of Army life. "The Hurt Locker was about one man against the world, against the system," he says. "I understand that for a film the maverick archetype is easy to follow – but it's not really real. The Army is a team sport."

In 'Godzilla' soldiers wear 'the approved uniform for fighting giant reptiles' (Legendary Pictures) In 'Godzilla' soldiers wear 'the approved uniform for fighting giant reptiles' (Legendary Pictures)
Cole admits that the Army rarely participates in fictional films that present a negative portrayal of the military. "American taxpayers pay for the best and most powerful army the world has ever known. And to support a mo vie where we look incompetent is not in our interest."

The most common mistakes Lt-Col Cole spots on film are in the details of military uniforms – specifically, the configuration of soldiers' medal ribbons. "The military audience really, really cares about what order the ribbons are in," he says. "It's a matter of credibility. In a heavily military-themed film like Lone Survivor, for example, if you get a simple detail wrong, then a military audience is just going to switch off."

His own pet peeve is more general, though. "What drives me crazy is that your average American soldier was good enough to win two world wars and free the entire planet from tyranny, but somehow we're no longer special enough to be the lead in a movie," he says. "I understand why film-makers are attracted by the Special Forces. And it helps visually that they can grow beards and be distinguishable. I get that. But our regular young men and women out there are pretty incredible, too. I'd like to see Hollywood give more attention to the average soldier."

Earning his stripes: Lt-Col Cole's greatest hits

Fury

Due out later this year, 'Fury' stars Brad Pitt as the commander of a tank crew in the closing months of the Second World War. Lt-Col Cole's office organised for the cast to meet present-day tank crewmen at Fort Irwin. "The cast rolled into town late one evening. Brad Pitt went to get a six-pack of beer at the gas station, and the young lady behind the counter asked to see his ID. Pitt [who is 50] replied, 'Do you want to see it because you don't think I'm 21, or because you want to check who I am…?'"

42

The 2013 biopic '42' originally contained a real episode in which Jackie Robinson, the celebrated baseball player, who was also a lieutenant in the US Army, was arrested and court martialled for refusing to sit at the back of a bus in Texas. "We can't help what the US and the Army was like in 1942, but that's not the Army we are today, and we felt that the least we could do to honour Robinson's memory was to participate in this film." The scene they helped out on was cut from the finished film.

Lone Survivor

The 2013 film is based on the true story of four Navy Seals trapped in hostile Afghan territory after their mission is compromised.A US Army helicopter was shot down during an attempted rescue, and the film-makers borrowed Chinooks and Apache helicopters from Fort Hood in Texas to re-create the incident for the movie, which was shot in Albuquerque in neighbouring New Mexico.

Man of Steel

During last year's 'Superman' reboot 'Man of Steel', says Cole, some complained about a scene in which the film-makers plainly wished to show all their military hardware in a single frame. "There's enough combat power in one tiny spot in that scene to protect an entire air force base," Cole says. The shot also features a flying man wearing a blue rubber bodysuit and bright red cape, but apparently there were no quibbles about that.

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama

TV

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
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.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before