In "Lone Survivor," Mark Wahlberg plays the only Navy SEAL to survive a deadly gunfight with the Taliban, but Marcus Luttrell is the man who actually lived through the battle that claimed the lives of all of his teammates.
Luttrell's book about his real-life ordeal is now a nail-bitingly tense film, directed by Peter Berg, and co-starring Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, and Ben Foster as the other members of the ill-fated four-man team assigned to take out a high-ranking Taliban member. It's incredible that Luttrell survived, and, even more so, that he says he'd do it all over again in a heartbeat.
As he got on the phone to talk about the movie, Luttrell sounded tired. When I said he must be worn out from all the interviews, he answered with characteristic humor in his friendly Texas drawl, "No, c'mon. I'm a Navy SEAL. What are you talkin' about?"
Moviefone: For most people seeing this movie, it's just a movie, no matter how affected we are by it. But it was your life. Have you seen the movie?
Marcus Luttrell: Yes, ma'am.
How tough was it to sit through?
Oh man, easy day. I went through it in real life, so everything you see on a screen is all Hollywood. I mean, it was true to form, the reenactment. I think about it every day in my head. It was like just watchin' it in my mind. The only thing that I would do is, in certain situations, I would remember that, when it happened in real life, like when one of my guys got shot, their facial expressions, as opposed to the facial expressions that the actors were making. You know, stuff like that. And I remember being in that situation and how bad it hurt. I remember, "That's where I hurt my back. That's where I got shot. That's where Danny got shot." And then I remember the fall, vaguely.
Peter said you couldn't be on set when they were filming those scenes.
He wouldn't let me. Don't let him lie to ya. He made me leave.
Do you think it was because it would have clouded his ability to tell the story?
Yeah. He was worried about me freakin' out or... I don't know what the deal was. I didn't argue with him. I was just like, "Roger that." I was ready to go home and get some rest anyways.
Did you have any say in having Mark Wahlberg play you?
No, ma'am. I like Mark. I think he's a great actor. It was a privilege to have him on set and be a part of it.
How weird is it to see someone playing you on the big screen?
Well, that's not the way I look at it. I just step back and let Mark do his thing. If he had some questions for me, I was right there for him, but in all truth, ma'am, I just let him play it out like he thought it should be played out. I think the one discussion that we did have was the fact that I was from the South and he was from the North and Yankees cannot imitate a Southern accent. I was like, "Why don't you just stick to that Boston accent of yours, pal. Hopefully we'll get through this pretty good." [Laughs]
There was a line in the movie right before the gunfight where he goes, "We're about fixin' to get into a pretty good gunfight." I about lost my cheese. I was like, "It's just 'fixin'!" I gave him a hard time about it, but he's such a good actor that it's hard to find situations to bust his chops on. Because that's the way we are. I didn't have any juice on him, so that was the only thing I could bring to the table. Other than that, he listened to everything we said, from his training all the way through the film.
He's been around since we saw him runnin' around in his underwear in "Good Vibrations." I mean, the guy knows the business. Who am I to go in and tell him how to do his job? As a Navy SEAL, I'm kind of a realist and an in-your-face kind of guy, and I understand when I'm not the resident expert and when the resident expert is in the room, I step back and open my ears and shut my mouth.
So did he and the three other main actors make convincing Navy SEALs?
The film dramatizes your three teammates' deaths, but you didn't actually see your teammates die.
No ma'am. That was right over the peak. By that time we had fallen down the mountain a couple thousand feet or whatever it was, and I didn't see it. I learned about it when the Taliban had me.
Given that some of that was based on guesswork, do you think those scenes did justice to them?
I don't know if that's the right word, "justice," in their deaths. When you watch the movie and you see the guys getting shot, that's right from the autopsy reports. It's as authentic as he could possibly make it. You gotta keep it real. These guys were shot multiple times and we all kept goin.'
I haven't read the book, but what was the extent of your injuries?
I had to have my hand reconstructed. My back's been reconstructed. Multiple back surgeries. My knees are blown out, my pelvis is cracked, I had maxillofacial damage, I bit my tongue in half... you want me to keep goin''?
I got shot-fragged by RPGs and grenades, eleven through-and-throughs in my quads and calves, shrapnel stickin' out of my legs and everywhere. All the skin off my back and the back of my legs was gone.
It's a miracle that you survived.
If the villagers hadn't found me, if the Taliban didn't kill me, then I would have died of my injuries out on the mountain.
The closing narration is your words that you do feel like you died on the mountain a little bit.
Part of me. Each time one of my brothers dies, a part of every SEAL dies. That's how close we are.
You named your son Axe after Matthew Axelson. Would you want him to be a SEAL when he grows up?
I wouldn't push it on him. If you walk into my house, there's no proof that I was ever in the military. I'm not a flashy guy, I don't show medals or anything like that. Obviously, one day, he's going to see the movie and hear the stories about his dad and his uncle and his teammates and their brothers. I always say, I don't expect him to fill my shoes, but they'll aways be there for him to walk around in if he needs it. I just want to love him and raise him to be a good man. If he decides to go down that road, then I'll accept that. I'll have that discussion with his mother. She ultimately has the go/no-go answer. Right now, we're workin' on the alphabet.
So Red Wing was your final mission?
Oh, no, ma'am. I was in the hospital for about a year doing physical therapy and surgeries putting myself back together. And then I platooned back up and went to Iraq and Ramadi in '06 and '07. Then I got my knees blown out, that's what ultimately cost me my career.
Would you do it all over again?
Sure, absolutely. I have no regrets whatsoever. Even if I go back, which I can't, and I don't think like that, because you can't go back, if you had got ahold of me right out of college and told me this is what I was going to happen to me, I would have said, "Okay, that's part of the job."
Why was it important for you to tell this story, first in the book and now in a film?
It keeps the memory of my teammates alive forever. It's forever immortalized in writing, and now in a movie. It'll be around for well after you and I are gone, I would imagine. You can't ask for anything more than that. It's not a recruiting movie or anything like that. I would like people to take from it that the bond that we have is unbreakable and that we're willing to die for each other in any circumstance at any time.
If you're going to come up against us, you better come with everything you got, because you're going to have to kill us to stop us. That's why we're able to do the things that we do, because we do not care about our own lives, we care about the guys that we're out there with. That's what I miss about being in the community; I can't be with my guys every day. It affects me. It's the one thing that does.
"Lone Survivor" opens in limited release on Christmas day, and opens nationwide January 10.