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Let’s get younger females to see a movie about war

Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite and producer Pete Shilaimon discuss Megan Leavey

Director of Photography Lorenzo Senatore and Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite on the set of Megan Leavey
Director of Photography Lorenzo Senatore and Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite on the set of Megan Leavey

Read the review and enjoy a few words about Megan Leavey (and Blackfish) from director Gabriela Cowperthwaite and producer Pete Shilaimon.

Scott Marks: You got a lot of nerve, sister, showing your face in this town after what you did to our beloved SeaWorld.

Gabriela Cowperthwaite (Laughing): I know! I know! I feel as if my face is on a target somewhere. I have got to be very careful.

SM: Seriously, you’re in town to celebrate the opening of the “Orca Encounter” Show.

GC (Laughing): Oh, my god. Stop it.

SM: I was there once. Two words: Penguin Auschwitz.

GC: Right? It strikes a nerve with some people very early on, and they just know it. Some people do not. They don’t get that cringe factor.

SM: Was this film made with the cooperation of the military?

GC: Actually, it was not. It’s very hard to that to happen these days, especially with the Marines. They don’t sort of help you make it or lend you things, but you have their blessing in the form of military consultants that come and help it stay as real as humanly possible. We had (these consultants) as well as canine units and military members all throughout the production.

SM: It’s been awhile since I’ve seen Blackfish, but if memory serves there’s not a drop of sentiment in it. Megan Leavey is quite the opposite. When it was over, I looked down and the floor was littered with Kleenex.

Video:

Megan Leavey trailer

GC: I wanted to avoid the cheesy saccharine qualities. There aren’t a lot of “Aww!” moments in the beginning. When you do see Rex and Megan bond…it’s like you’ve earned those moments. Sometimes I think they can be even more sentimental and emotionally strong when it’s not being handed to people right at the beginning. Our hope was to slowly make the audience feel compassionate towards the subject matter without trying to do it too hard. I felt the script lent itself to that. I hope it wins audiences in those sentimental ways without having led you by the nose.

SM: The way in which you brought the two soldiers together really worked for me. Yes, she had a fling with a two-legged Marine, but it didn’t get in the way. This is all about her love for Rex.

Movie

Megan Leavey ***

thumbnail

Based on the titular real life Wonder Woman who, together with her bomb-sniffing military dog, Rex, formed their own “hurt kennel” of sorts and helped save over 100 lives during their deployment in Iraq. The film unfolds almost religiously from Leavey’s (Kate Mara) point of view. Perfectly cast, the actress not only looks the part, she all but disappears inside the character. This is Gabriella Cowperthwaite’s second feature, the first since her scathing <em>Blackfish</em>, put a dent in local tourism. Can a vicious combat dog adjust to civilian life as a pet? (It’s sort of like asking if a killer whale can live their life as a captive circus clown.) That’s the question Leavey spends the last third of the picture trying to answer in her quest to give a fellow war hero a proper home. For a change the terms heartfelt and inspirational genuinely apply. This one got to me on many levels none more than its ability to hold its own as a polished, damn fine little combat picture. SPOILER ALERT: The dog doesn't die.

Find showtimes

GC: It was nice to have that Marine almost-love story there, because it’s so great when it ends up not being a love story. It was very deliberate. The last scene when I first got the script had them ending up together. It was the first thing I cast out. This isn’t a love story between Megan and Morales (Ramon Rodriguez), it’s between her and Rex. That’s the relationship that holds. This other Marine is a lovely, emotionally available guy but their timing is completely off. It’s more realistic. There’s a story discipline there. Pick your love story and stick with it.

SM: A question for Pete. You were one of the producers on Jackie. How did the project come your way, and would you share a little insight into Pablo Larraín’s directing style?

Pete Shilaimon: Pablo is very methodical. He’s very considerate. He doesn’t stick to script all the time. He has his ways…on the day of shooting he’ll decide to change things. But as a director he was wonderful to work with. A total auteur. And a wonderful person.

SM: For the second time you receive a second unit director’s credit on a film. (Anthropoid was the first.)

PS: That was basically Gabriela looking at me and saying, I trust you and I believe in you. Directors don’t do that very often. She basically looked at me one day she’s like, “Hey, go get that insert!” But that was all Gabriela. I was so grateful that she did that. It really helped me be a part of the movie in not just the producer-type way but also a little more on the creative side.

SM: Rex gives a terrific performance. Who trained him?

GC: Aargh! The trainer’s name is slipping me. [The end titles credit Irene Arenal, Thomas Gunderson, and April Mackin as animal trainers.] But I do remember the dog’s real name. It’s Varco. He and Luna and…

PS: Big Red.

GC: Big Red! There was Varco and two other dogs, so no one animal got to act very long. He’s just masterful. He’s incredible. He delivered on the first take. He’s a special beast. We had to have our act together as a crew to see to it that we were rolling because he always delivered gold.

SM: When was it decided that you’d go for a PG-13 rating instead on an R?

GC: The producers wanted that very early on. I’m not really a rating sort of…I was like, Let’s go! These guys are Marines. They should act like Marines and cuss. But there are clearly people who are smarter marketers than I am who were pushing for that rating, just to be able to expand the audience. I completely understand. I think it is a special opportunity to get some younger females in to see a movie about war. I don’t think movies like this are necessarily made for them — it’s not in their wheelhouse. But I think this is one that can be.

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Director of Photography Lorenzo Senatore and Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite on the set of Megan Leavey
Director of Photography Lorenzo Senatore and Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite on the set of Megan Leavey

Read the review and enjoy a few words about Megan Leavey (and Blackfish) from director Gabriela Cowperthwaite and producer Pete Shilaimon.

Scott Marks: You got a lot of nerve, sister, showing your face in this town after what you did to our beloved SeaWorld.

Gabriela Cowperthwaite (Laughing): I know! I know! I feel as if my face is on a target somewhere. I have got to be very careful.

SM: Seriously, you’re in town to celebrate the opening of the “Orca Encounter” Show.

GC (Laughing): Oh, my god. Stop it.

SM: I was there once. Two words: Penguin Auschwitz.

GC: Right? It strikes a nerve with some people very early on, and they just know it. Some people do not. They don’t get that cringe factor.

SM: Was this film made with the cooperation of the military?

GC: Actually, it was not. It’s very hard to that to happen these days, especially with the Marines. They don’t sort of help you make it or lend you things, but you have their blessing in the form of military consultants that come and help it stay as real as humanly possible. We had (these consultants) as well as canine units and military members all throughout the production.

SM: It’s been awhile since I’ve seen Blackfish, but if memory serves there’s not a drop of sentiment in it. Megan Leavey is quite the opposite. When it was over, I looked down and the floor was littered with Kleenex.

Video:

Megan Leavey trailer

GC: I wanted to avoid the cheesy saccharine qualities. There aren’t a lot of “Aww!” moments in the beginning. When you do see Rex and Megan bond…it’s like you’ve earned those moments. Sometimes I think they can be even more sentimental and emotionally strong when it’s not being handed to people right at the beginning. Our hope was to slowly make the audience feel compassionate towards the subject matter without trying to do it too hard. I felt the script lent itself to that. I hope it wins audiences in those sentimental ways without having led you by the nose.

SM: The way in which you brought the two soldiers together really worked for me. Yes, she had a fling with a two-legged Marine, but it didn’t get in the way. This is all about her love for Rex.

Movie

Megan Leavey ***

thumbnail

Based on the titular real life Wonder Woman who, together with her bomb-sniffing military dog, Rex, formed their own “hurt kennel” of sorts and helped save over 100 lives during their deployment in Iraq. The film unfolds almost religiously from Leavey’s (Kate Mara) point of view. Perfectly cast, the actress not only looks the part, she all but disappears inside the character. This is Gabriella Cowperthwaite’s second feature, the first since her scathing <em>Blackfish</em>, put a dent in local tourism. Can a vicious combat dog adjust to civilian life as a pet? (It’s sort of like asking if a killer whale can live their life as a captive circus clown.) That’s the question Leavey spends the last third of the picture trying to answer in her quest to give a fellow war hero a proper home. For a change the terms heartfelt and inspirational genuinely apply. This one got to me on many levels none more than its ability to hold its own as a polished, damn fine little combat picture. SPOILER ALERT: The dog doesn't die.

Find showtimes

GC: It was nice to have that Marine almost-love story there, because it’s so great when it ends up not being a love story. It was very deliberate. The last scene when I first got the script had them ending up together. It was the first thing I cast out. This isn’t a love story between Megan and Morales (Ramon Rodriguez), it’s between her and Rex. That’s the relationship that holds. This other Marine is a lovely, emotionally available guy but their timing is completely off. It’s more realistic. There’s a story discipline there. Pick your love story and stick with it.

SM: A question for Pete. You were one of the producers on Jackie. How did the project come your way, and would you share a little insight into Pablo Larraín’s directing style?

Pete Shilaimon: Pablo is very methodical. He’s very considerate. He doesn’t stick to script all the time. He has his ways…on the day of shooting he’ll decide to change things. But as a director he was wonderful to work with. A total auteur. And a wonderful person.

SM: For the second time you receive a second unit director’s credit on a film. (Anthropoid was the first.)

PS: That was basically Gabriela looking at me and saying, I trust you and I believe in you. Directors don’t do that very often. She basically looked at me one day she’s like, “Hey, go get that insert!” But that was all Gabriela. I was so grateful that she did that. It really helped me be a part of the movie in not just the producer-type way but also a little more on the creative side.

SM: Rex gives a terrific performance. Who trained him?

GC: Aargh! The trainer’s name is slipping me. [The end titles credit Irene Arenal, Thomas Gunderson, and April Mackin as animal trainers.] But I do remember the dog’s real name. It’s Varco. He and Luna and…

PS: Big Red.

GC: Big Red! There was Varco and two other dogs, so no one animal got to act very long. He’s just masterful. He’s incredible. He delivered on the first take. He’s a special beast. We had to have our act together as a crew to see to it that we were rolling because he always delivered gold.

SM: When was it decided that you’d go for a PG-13 rating instead on an R?

GC: The producers wanted that very early on. I’m not really a rating sort of…I was like, Let’s go! These guys are Marines. They should act like Marines and cuss. But there are clearly people who are smarter marketers than I am who were pushing for that rating, just to be able to expand the audience. I completely understand. I think it is a special opportunity to get some younger females in to see a movie about war. I don’t think movies like this are necessarily made for them — it’s not in their wheelhouse. But I think this is one that can be.

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