Fury (2014): Brad Pitt as Don (Wardaddy) Collier

Leading the men of the “Fury” is Don Collier – better known by his war name, Wardaddy.  The role is played by Brad Pitt.

“Wardaddy is representative of the backbone of the army – sergeants and NCOs really hold the army together,” director David Ayer says.  “He’s very no-nonsense, very practical and pragmatic – all he cares about is getting the mission done.”

But Ayer says that Wardaddy is also a man with a hidden past.  “He’s atoning for his history, through this incredible act of penance of fighting in this war and liberating Europe.  He has his own moral code, but it’s not your civilian moral code; it’s very reflective of the time.  He’s very stoic, but with life and humor and love for his men and a true hatred for the enemy.”

“When we first read the script, I was drawn to the unusual character arc of Wardaddy,” says producer Bill Block.  “When we meet him, three years into the war, he’s a committed and accomplished killer – and what happens to him, happens in a way we’ve never seen.  He becomes a compassioned hero, a leader to his other men, to complete his mission.”

“Wardaddy is an incredibly interesting character,” says producer John Lesher.  “These guys have been together, under his command, since the beginning of the war.  He’s a complicated, damaged soul and he’s intent on giving whatever wisdom he has to Norman.  It’s an original character that David has created, and I think a really compelling one – the likes of which we haven’t seen before.”

Shia LaBeouf

Shia LaBeouf takes on the role of Boyd Swan.  “He’s the gunner and basically the second-in-command of the Fury,” says the actor.  “He operates the main gun system, the seventy-six millimeter high-velocity cannon.  He’s a stone cold killer, but he’s also a man of faith – it’s interesting for me to explore how a man who reads scripture and has faith – a Christian – reconciles that with being in combat.”

To explore that dichotomy, LaBeouf drew on his experiences meeting military personnel who showed similar character traits.  For example, LaBeouf spent time with Don Evans, a veteran of the 2nd Armored Division during World War II.  “He’s a Christian man, a righteous man, who will tell you the difference between killing and murder – and there is a big difference.  Don drove that home,” says the actor.  “He lives his life by the book, but still will kill you if you are on the other side – and he’ll have no problems sleeping at night.  I guess God put certain people here to collect souls – the Grim Reaper for God.”

LaBeouf also drew on conversations with younger veterans. “I met a captain named Shane Yates – he’s a captain, but he’s also a minister and a preacher and a chaplain in the army, for the Forty-Second,” says LaBeouf.  “I got permission from them and from David to go live with them on a forward operating base and in the middle of their deployment.  I spent about a month and a half with the National Guard, then linked up with the rest of the boys and we went to another little boot camp at Fort Irwin.”

LaBeouf was also inspired by working with David Ayer.  “David has a wild history of his own, and he shares it with you and he listens.  He’s our Patton – he’s kind of crazy, which is perfect,” he says.

“Often in World War II movies, you’ll see these archetypal characters – but David takes those archetypes and uses them as inspiration for real, authentic characters,” notes John Lesher.  “Shia’s character, archetypically, is a guy who went to preacher school – we’ve seen that guy – but in David’s hands, he’s a man who believes in God, but loves killing, too.  Shia gives such a soulful and deep and penetrating performance; his commitment was unparalleled and impressive.”

The linchpin to the film, according to Lesher, is the character of Norman Ellison, played by Logan Lerman.  “Norman represents the audience in the film,” he says.  “He’s the new kid with almost no military training, and it’s through his eyes that we learn about the tank, the grammar and the story of the movie.  It’s his story of acceptance; his journey is the core of the film.”

Ayer says that in the closing days of World War II, it was not unusual for very young and very unprepared men to be thrust suddenly into battle on the front lines.  “After the Battle of the Bulge, the U.S. was short on manpower, so they’d give these guys sometimes as little as three or four weeks of combat training, and pack ‘em up and send ‘em into war,” he notes.  “Norman is very unprepared for what’s happening, and he becomes their hostage, in a way, as he’s thrown into this steel cage and dragged across the fields of Germany into combat.  Norman ends up in situations that he’s absolutely not equipped for, and it’s Wardaddy’s job to train him, to get him to overcome the civilian’s sense of rightand wrong.”

Logan Lerman

Logan Lerman plays the young soldier.  He says he was attracted to the role for its complexity.  “For actors of my age, there are a lot of simple characters out there,” he notes.  “Norman, on the other hand, was very complicated and stressful to think about.  It seemed like a challenge – it’s a great role, a great story, and I’d have the chance to work with a lot of people that I admire.”

Lerman was well-prepared for Ayer’s intense style of directing and followed the director – like a private following a general.  “David takes you on this insane, amazing journey,” he says.  “He scheduled a huge amount of prep time for us, the actors.  He introduced us to the world we’d be living in – it wasn’t an easy ride, but I was down for it, excited for it.  I like the challenge.  I gave myself over to it, and it was some of the most creatively satisfying work I’ve ever been fortunate enough to be a part of.”

As a result of all of that prep, Lerman says, Ayer was comfortable giving his actors the freedom to interpret the characters as they saw fit.  “We spent at least a month and a half, meeting every day – but really longer than that, meeting all the time – going over the script every time we would meet,” says Lerman.  “We got to the point that we knew the material so well – every little section, every piece – that we became comfortable.  We could play around, go in different directions – go ‘off book’ a little bit.”

After collaborating with actor Michael Peña on the film End of Watch, Ayer created the role of the tank’s driver, Trini Garcia, especially for Peña.  “I believe around 350,000 Mexican-Americans served in World War II, many of them as drivers in the Armored Corps,” Ayer notes.  “He’s a sophisticated guy, and back on the block, he’d be very much in charge – but in this situation, the exhaustion and the nerves and the stress, he’s turned to alcohol to try to solve it.  There was a lot of alcohol use in the army at that time, and he wouldn’t be the first tank driver to be drunk driving.”

“It’s cool, despite his idiosyncrasies, he’s paying homage to all of the Latinos that fought in World War II that were unacknowledged,” says Peña.  “My hat goes off to David Ayer – there were Latin guys who went to war and fought for their country, and it touched them, psychologically and physically.”

Jon Bernthal

Bernthal rounds out the crew of the Fury as Grady Travis.  “He crawled out of a swamp,” says Ayer.  “He’s the kind of guy who was a Depression-era child, grew up without shoes on his feet, working since the age of eight on farms – he’s just not equipped for the adventure he’s been forced into by circumstances.”

“If Wardaddy is the brains, Grady is the guts,” Ayer continues.  Ayer says that as the Loader, he has a “special relationship” with the gunner.  “He’s the guy shoveling coal into the furnace, the ammunition into this weapons system, and because of that they have a very close working relationship.”

It’s a relationship that goes beyond work, though.  “Grady thinks of Boyd as the ‘mother’ of the group,” says Bernthal.  “Grady has unbelievable respect for Boyd as the spiritual and ethical center of the group.  With Boyd, he keeps his connection to something higher and to God.  The loader/gunner relationship is incredibly interesting as they absolutely depend on each other.  You’d think there would be a split between them – one guy who’s very much about Christ and preaching and the Bible, and then the other who is all about killing and women.  But the two characters absolutely melded as one.  We’re just two sides of almost the same person.”