Lone Survivor: Training Actors as SEALs

To put the actors through their paces, the production assembled an elite team of SEALs and former SEALs, including associates of Luttrell who understood what it would take for the performances to look genuine.  The word “intense” was used over and over by the actors to describe the training regimen.  Not only were there physical workouts for the players, they were also trained in weapons, communications and learning to operate as a tactical team.

Luttrell proved to be the men’s greatest asset as they pulled together and trained.  “The details and the specifics from the event that Marcus was able to provide were great,” commends Berg.  “But, more than that, just having him on the set…I have never seen a film crew quite so motivated.  This was definitely more than a job.  People were working as hard as they could.  Everyone felt that Marcus had shown them what it means to work hard, have character and never quit.  These actors and our crew all wanted to show Marcus that they had something to give.”

Luttrell discusses what this abbreviated SEAL training looked like for the actors: “We put them through the ringer.  We beat them hard, and they came together as a team.  You could see it while we were putting them through this training that they just started to come together.  It was tactically sound the way they were moving and shooting and communicating.  They just did a good job.”

Wahlberg reflects that this was the most training he’s ever had to do to prepare for a film.  “I’ve done a lot of military stuff in the past.  I’ve played soldiers, but this was completely different,” he says.  “The SEALs that we had training us made damn sure that we were going to look real.  They didn’t let anybody cut corners, and by the time you finished the training you felt like you’d shot a big portion of the movie.  But we hadn’t even started.”

Kitsch, who was in Newfoundland for two months prior to the beginning of principal photography, began high-intensity workouts with body armor and long runs with a 40-lb. weighted vest.  “I thought I was trained,” laughs the performer, “then we got here the first day with these SEALs, and it was just another level.”  Discussing the sink-or-swim attitude that pervaded the training camp, Kitsch remembers: “Live fire the first three days; that was no joke.  It was so full on, and we were trying to assimilate as much as we could, as fast as we could.  The learning curve was intense.”

The performer appreciated seeing the SEAL ethos in action.  “These guys are never out of the fight, giving themselves for each other,” says Kitsch.  “Every one of these guys personifies that never-quit attitude, and Murph embodies that.  He literally gives himself up for these three guys to keep fighting.  As we trained with these men that knew him, I learned those nuances that Murph had.  The pieces of my character are very similar to who he was.”

The physical training ensured that the actors would come across as SEALs on film.  By putting them in situations to give them the feel for what it’s like in a gunfight and by making their responses in battle automatic, they were freed to focus on the other aspects of their characters.  Just being surrounded by SEALs on a daily basis brought home realizations about the men they were to portray…and the attitude required when you must fight for your life.

Explains Foster of the training regimen: “We were out in the gun range doing live fire, learning how to operate tactically as a unit.  I didn’t even know the names of the weapons when we started.  By the end, we were doing blind mag changes and engaging in live fire.”  Harder yet for the performer was understanding how to become Zen in the face of danger.  “The culture of the sniper is unique,” observes Foster.  “They’re very calm, patient.  It’s not my natural disposition.”

Foster reflects on what he witnessed of the SEALs’ training and character: “It has very little to do with being an elite warrior.  It’s about a gut check: How far can you dig, and are you going to come out on the other end?  Every possible moment they’re telling you that you can’t.  And the whole game is don’t quit.  Very few make it.  At the end of the day these guys are pushed through a very brutal sieve, and it’s a unique personality of can-do.”

Hirsch sums his fellow actors’ agreement that although this training program was the physically toughest thing they have ever done, it pales in comparison to the SEALs’ training.  “We trained mostly with M4 rifles,” he says.  “We learned how to fire at the SWAT range and at targets, moving in unison with real bullets.  It was dangerous, but it was also fun.  It was hard on the knees because they had us doing a lot of rolling and firing, but I had a great time with the guys.  You certainly learn to trust your fellow actors really quick.”  Hirsch pauses: “Even if I trained seven days a week, 24 hours a day, it wouldn’t be one one-hundredth of what the students go through at BUD/S.  The SEALs in training kept pushing us all to move out of our comfort zones.”

Not only did the performers of Lone Survivor need to act the part of SEALs, they had to look it.  The challenge for Amy Stofsky’s costume department was to make sure the military wardrobe reflected 2005, because what the troops wore then no longer exists.  This meant making all the uniforms for the key cast members and getting or manufacturing the correct patches and insignia for the time period.

A stickler for detail, Berg worked with Luttrell and Stofsky’s team to make sure that the clothing replicated the men’s injuries as faithfully as possible.  Indeed, he had asked to see the autopsy reports of those who had been killed in the line of duty in order to do their stories justice.  With four-time Emmy winner GREGORY NICOTERO and Oscar® winner HOWARD BERGER running special makeup effects, Berg knew that there would be as much reality as possible on set and that audiences would get a realistic glimpse into the sacrifices these SEALs made.