Ben Reed in American Sniper
American Sniper **
Director Clint Eastwood continues his quiet critique of the moviegoer's deep delight in cinematic violence. In this case, that means great swaths of gripping, based-on-a-true-story wartime action centered around Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper in full strong-silent-Texan mode), a good ol' boy who becomes a great old sniper for the Navy SEALs. (He's so good, in fact, that he becomes a target: as he hunts, so is he hunted.) But while Kyle adopts the unorthodox practice of keeping both eyes open as he peers into his scope, he seems not to notice much beyond the scope of the mission. Or if he does notice, he doesn't let himself get distracted. When his fellow soldiers start to crack under the strain of war, when his wife starts to crack under the strain of his absence, even when his lethal celebrity endangers the lives of his team — none of it is enough to give him pause. And Eastwood is always quick to take us back to the battlefield, where all those nagging questions become moot. Eventually, of course, the soldier must come home and face the struggles of peacetime living in the aftermath of wartime destruction. But that's a less thrilling battle to portray, and may result in a less glorious conclusion.
Matthew Lickona: In the film, you play Wayne Kyle, father to the deadliest sniper in American history.
Ben Reed: It was a great opportunity for me because it kind of sets the tone for who Bradley Cooper’s character is. Why is he a good shooter? Because his father took him hunting when he was young. But he also had this gift to shoot anyway. And then just teaching him values, what kind of man he should be. I’m telling him there’s three different kinds of people in the world: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. Sheep are followers, and wolves prey on the weak, and sheepdogs protect the flock, and that’s what, as a sniper, that’s what he does.
ML: It’s interesting you mention both the training and the gift, because I was wondering during the film how much was parental training and how much was the gift. You tell him, “I’m not going to raise any sheep, and I’ll beat you if you act like a wolf,” but you also say that sheepdogs are blessed with a certain temperament.
ML: “This overwhelming need to protect the flock.”
BR: Some people have...I played college football, and I saw it at an early age: some people just have a gift of aggression. Does the training help and enhance that? Absolutely. Without somebody molding us, we’re all in trouble.
ML: The press release mentioned that you drew some inspiration from your own brother. Can you talk specifically about what that meant for you?
BR: My brother is in the Army Special Forces. He went on five tours himself, and I called him up, and he never talks about anything. I would ask him, “What went on there?” and he was, like, “No, nothing.” But I said, “Listen, I just got this film. Clint Eastwood’s directing,” and that perked his interest because he loves Clint Eastwood. I said, “I need to ask you, for my character, what it was like, dealing with...” — because he had buddies that got shot right next to him as well. So I just went through that with him. And it was good for me to know that, because I also called my father up and said, “Dad, what’s it like sending your son over to war, with the chance that he might get killed?” And none of the Reeds, except for myself, are very chit-chat guys, and so I had to draw that out of my father, too. But he was very up front with me; he felt that my brother wanted to do this and knew he needed to do this. And as a parent, as you know, once your children get to be adults, you just have to go with what they are, what they want to do. I have five kids, and the oldest is 26. I’ve been through the whole gamut.
ML: Can you talk at all about working with Clint Eastwood as a director?
BR: First of all, he came right up to me on my first day on the set. He was very kind; he said, “Thank you for coming. I loved your audition.” And we just sat and bs’d at our first meeting on the set. Then everybody had to go do their jobs, and I had to get in character. The good thing about Clint is, obviously, he’s an actor’s director. So you’ll start a scene, and he’ll let you do your stuff. Whatever you’ve prepared, he lets you do it. And then afterward he comes over and says, “Yeah, I really liked that.” And he does talk like Clint Eastwood. And then he gives you suggestions. “Ah...hey, why don’t we try this? Keep doing what you’re doing, but...” And he’ll give you actions to do as you’re doing your lines. “When you say that, I want you to look really hard at the youngest son and then look back at the older...” Just giving you direction, because he knows what the camera is doing and where it needs to be at that moment. He’s seeing how it’s going to be edited while he’s shooting it. He’s actually what you’re hoping he would be. Sometimes, you don’t want to meet your heroes, because you find they’re just like you. But he was perfect. And a lot of people on the set had worked with him for 20, 25 years. They knew what he was expecting. So it’s pretty damn smooth. And what I also found is that his set is very quiet. Everybody does their business, and it’s not loud. It was interesting.
ML: My ears always perk up at church scenes in movies. Can you talk about, for your character, the significance of being in a church and hearing that particular sermon on Paul and the way life unfolds?
BR: The scene was much longer when we shot it. We spent half a day shooting, and they only gave us, what, 15 or 20 seconds? But a lot of the stuff in the early going of the film is foreseeing the future for Chris. Everything was pointing toward how his actions need to be later, when he’s a soldier. I just think it hit home.
ML: I wanted to ask about building a Hollywood career from San Diego.
BR: When I first got into L.A., I was probably there seven years. I met my wife up there, who lived in San Diego, and she had a boy. And so the thought of taking him away from his cousins and his grandma and grandpa... I decided that we would stay down here, and I would just commute up. And let me tell you, it’s not easy. But everybody seems very happy down here and I didn’t want to uproot the family. I’ve always wanted to wake up with my family and go to bed with my family, so sometimes I’ll go up and do my meeting and come straight back. I’ve been doing it for 16 years, though, and it’s been working. Thank God for the Toyota Prius.
ML: Have you ever felt like it limited you?
BR: Oh, absolutely it does. As in any business, the networking aspects are important — being at the right place at the right time. I know that earlier in my career, I got opportunities just because people met me at this or that engagement and said, “You know what? I think you’d be right for this.” And obviously, I don’t get that down in San Diego. If they were doing a movie on bioscience, I could probably get it down here....