'Act of Valor' Directors Talk Authentic Story & Casting Real Navy SEALs

'Act of Valor' Navy SEAL movie trailer

Using active-duty Navy SEALs combined with live gunfire, the new film Act of Valor tells the story of a group of soldiers trying to protect America from a series of terrorist attacks. In a recent interview, I talked to directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh about casting the SEALs, their mission in the film, and how they made it feel so authentic.

A-list stars are hard to come by in films today. Oftentimes, big stars wait for the right project to hit their desk before committing to a film. They want to work with the right director and the right script at the right time in their careers. Filmmakers have to be extremely lucky to get their preferred actors to perform in their films.

If that seems tough, it's probably nothing compared to casting a group of active-duty Navy SEALs to be in a movie about military operations. These men are used to covert missions and secretive operations. They are not accustomed to having their images projected across movie screens nationwide.

Act of Valor directors Mike McCoy and Scott Waugh were tasked with the difficult assignment of getting individual SEALs to say yes to starring in their film.  Although the Navy was cooperative in providing some equipment for the shoot, getting the SEALs to say yes was a different matter.

“All eight turned us down…we originally talked to them and they all turned us down,” Waugh said about the Navy SEALs he approached to be in the film. “I’m a Navy SEAL right now,” some of them said, rejecting the idea of telling their stories onscreen .

[caption id="attachment_119384" align="aligncenter" width="570" caption="Filming on the 'set' of 'Act of Valor'"][/caption]

But the filmmakers persisted for months as they became friends with the SEALs they were trying to recruit. Waugh eventually told the reluctant actors that, “this is an opportunity for you to paint... an accurate portrayal of who you guys are. If you’re in it, you’re gonna have a big hand in it.”

One by one, they SEALs started saying yes as they realized that the filmmakers' planned to honor-- not exploit-- the work they were trying to do.

The filmmakers wanted the movie to be authentic about showing who these men are, on and off the battleground. They noted that many movies project soldiers as Rambo-types, but that these real heroes are far more complicated than that.

“Hollywood’s misrepresented their community for so long it would be great to get their story authentically told,” Waugh said. He added that each SEAL is “a warrior on one side yet they’re literally one of us. They have the same problems we have as humans.”

McCoy added that when they connected with the families of the servicemen, they realized that “the only way to really do service to this, is with the real guys and the real scenerios. It has to be an authentic look.”

The Navy SEALS of 'Act of Valor'
Active-duty Navy SEALS in 'Act of Valor'

Although the story isn’t based on true events, much of what the characters do is based on anecdotes from real life.

As Waugh noted, the movie includes “five real acts of valor.” Although the directors wouldn’t go into detail about what those acts were, Waugh noted that “when you watch it and you see those certain things that seem implausible, we’re just saying, those have happened.”

One of the interesting aspects of this film-- as opposed to many of the war films that Hollywood releases today-- is that Act of Valor doesn’t have a political tone to it.

“There’s no policy in this movie,” McCoy said. “It’s simple. It’s about a threat to the homeland.”

Waugh added that eleven years after 9/11, some people say that threats to this country are gone. “That threat’s still there,” he said. “Thank God we have a fantastic military, that threat has been prevented from happening again.”

Act of Valor is now in theaters. Be sure to check out our official Screen Rant Act of Valor review.

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