'The Pacific': Capt. Dale Dye, USMC (Ret.) Wants to Get War Right
Capt. Dale Dye is a Marine. Yes, he's now retired from the Corps, but as there is no such thing as an ex-Marine, his heart still lies with his comrades in arms.
The way he expresses that love these days is working to ensure that Hollywood comes to understand and accurately portray the members of the U.S. military.
(BTW, Dye's career is long, and he's played with some heavyweight actors and played at least one heavyweight historical figure. Highly recommend clicking on the links throughout for background and extra info.)
And, sometimes Dye's an actor. He played Army Col. Robert F. Sink (a promotion!) in the HBO World War II miniseries "Band of Brothers." Fans of NBC's "Chuck" saw him as General Stanfield (another promotion!), a k a "that NATO guy," in the pilot.
When he's not upping his rank on-camera, Dye works as a military adviser and has a California-based company called Warriors, Inc.. where he also has a blog.
His current project is HBO's new World War II miniseries "The Pacific," from the same production team -- including Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg (the picture above has Hanks on the left, Dye in the middle and Spielberg on the right) -- that produced "Band of Brothers." (Click here for my "Pacific" feature story.)
I recently sat down for lunch with Capt. Dye and we discussed many topics. Before the end of "The Pacific" -- which airs episode five of its 10 episodes on Sunday -- I hope to have another Dye post digging more into preparing the actors during his boot camp (the three lead actors discuss it a bit in my feature story) and his plans for the future, but for now, we'll start with Dye's first principles when it comes to portraying the military ...
Get it right. Tell it straight.
And that starts with the big-name producers, like Hanks and Spielberg.
Asked if he thinks working on "Band of Brothers" and "The Pacific" has affected their political outlook, Dye says, "I know it has, but it's less political. I can say, is it going to change what political candidate they back or what political party they belong to? No, because the veterans they meet have the same sort of political divisions that they do.
"What it changes -- and this is the cool thing -- is their view of who these people were and who these people are. One of the primary reasons I got into this is because I think Hollywood, for years and years, with a few notable exceptions, had a real crappy, substandard opinion of people in the military.
"There is such an elite -- or was, it's changing today -- there was such an elite snob mentality in Hollywood. 'Well, I would never go into the service with those stupid ...' It carried over into the depictions from the writing to the direction to the performance.
"My thought was, 'I'm just not going to have this.' I knew nothing about how show business works, but I'm a Marine. I don't take kindly to, 'You can't.' So I came out here -- broke, clueless -- and said, 'I've got to fix this. Somehow I'm going to find a way to fix it.'"
Dye was lucky enough to get involved in Oliver Stone's 1986 Vietnam War movie "Platoon" (Dye served there, BTW), playing Capt. Harris and also serving as technical adviser.
"Nothing succeeds like success in Hollywood," says Dye. "It was, 'I don't know who that guy is, but let's start listening to him.. I parlayed that into bigger and better things.
"In each case, my agenda was, 'I know we got warts. I know we screw up. I know we have some people who are a--holes, but that would be society at large. All I want is a fair shot, an even break. Where there are heroes, let there be heroes.'
"When I approached it that way, I was less threatening. I wasn't viewed as a propagandist."
Even though modern Hollywood does a lot of movies that cast a bad light on the military (not all, as evidenced by the most recent Best Picture winner, Kathryn Bigelow's Iraq War drama "The Hurt Locker"), many of those movies also happen to depict soldiers in combat.
Whatever the political slant of the film, Dye believes the war genre itself remains attractive to Hollywood.
"Let me tell you a secret," says Dye, "every actor in Hollywood, especially comedians, but including females, wants to do a war movie. I think that's great, and it reflects what I've always believed ... look, Hemingway was right, war is man's greatest adventure.
"It is the only story genre that I know of in which every conceivable human emotion, every conceivable human aspect, every conceivable human liability, is on display or will be shortly. That's why Hollywood keeps coming back to that well."
Of course, war movies aren't done like they used to be in the days of classic Hollywood, but Dye is fine with that.
"It shouldn't be done like it used to be done," he says. "That's not the way to do it. If you do it that way, you only get one aspect -- that's the heroic aspect. What about the other stuff? There's much more of that in war than there is heroism.
"If there wasn't, everybody in the world would be walking around wearing a Medal of Honor. In order to demonstrate the character, the commitment, the courage, you've got to see the other side of the coin. If you don't see the other side of the coin, there's no basis for comparison, and there's no reality, no truth.
"That's what I try to insert into the agenda.
"In other words, if I tell you a story like 'Tora! Tora! Tora!' or 'Midway,' I do all the sweeping brushstrokes and historical notes and get them all right. The documentary ends, and the historians love it. And then they nitpick it to death and so on and so forth.
"But the people I'm trying to reach, the people who need to understand this sort of thing, that's above their paygrade. They don't get it. However, if I take that battle, for instance, the Battle of Midway, and I focus on one, say, SPD torpedo-bomber crew -- two enlisted guys and one offcer -- folks can pick that up, and I have found the medium that's the right size and the right background. I can assimilate that. You can imagine yourself being one of those kids.
"If I can get there, if I can find that, we got it."