Making “The Pacific,” HBO’s 10-hour, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks-produced World War II epic, wasn’t easy – and it started with a 10-day boot camp before the stars even hit the Australian set.
“Tom Hanks showed up on the first day of boot camp and he gave a speech and to be honest with you, I can’t remember a word he said,” James Badge Dale, who plays Pfc. Robert Leckie, told Access Hollywood of the intense preparation for the project, which is Spielberg and Hanks’ follow-up to their previous HBO World War II production, the European-set “Band of Brothers.” “We were being yelled at, we had gotten up into this rainforest, we were trying to set up these hooch [tents]… I don’t know if you’ve ever seen 20 actors try to make a tent. It doesn’t work very well.”
He added that 10 days may not have been much time, but it was all that the production’s military advisor, Capt. Dale Dye, needed.
“These men in the Pacific, they were broken down physically, emotionally and spiritually and that was the purpose of the boot camp,” James said. “You’d be surprised at what you can do to a man in  days. Capt. Dale Dye is good at beating up actors. It was invaluable to the show.”
And Joe Mazzello, who plays Cpl. Eugene Sledge, called the production “the most physically exhausting experience” of his life.
“I’ve never done a job that was as difficult as this one,” he said. “I never will [again]. Ten days and I lost 12 pounds – I’m already 140, if that!”
While Joe acknowledged that they didn’t get the full experience of World War II Marines, they didn’t have it easy.
“We were dropped into that jungle, no running water, no bearings,” he said. “Just sleeping on the ground and digging ditches every day and carrying 40 pounds of equipment, running through the jungle. I forgot I was even making a movie.”
Jon Seda, who plays Gunnery Sgt. John Basilone, told Access the training helped them understand the “importance” of the project, which was based on real-life Marines and events.
“We could never truly exactly know what it was like for these men to be in those circumstances, but this gave us something to build on,” he said. “We had to learn all the weapons, all the ins and outs of those, we had to understand how to act in combat scenarios. There were days we’d spend hours and hours out there in terrible conditions and never come in contact with anyone. We had to know what we were going to do if we did get contact — in particular with me, how am I going to get those machine guns set up?”
So what was a typical day of training like? Access asked retired marine and “The Pacific” advisor Capt. Dye himself for an example.
“It’s 3 in the morning. We’re in a small plateau which serves as our command post for weapons company. We’re divided into three platoons,” he began. “We’re dug into holes that the kids had dug themselves, all around a perimeter. About 3 AM, my Japanese unit hits the line. They come in firing their Arisaka rifles and their Nambu machine guns, and my guys have got to fend them off. That lasts for maybe 30, 45 minutes, [then] the Japanese retreat.”
But, he added, there was more.
“Now we’ve got about an hour and a half until dawn,” he said. “At that point, everybody [gets] out of the holes and we’re about to commence physical training. They go through an intense set of calisthenics for about an hour and I put them all out on the road and they do a 4-5 mile run, where they’re chanting and singing, and get to feel the power of the unit, as opposed to the power of one guy. [Then] we bring them back and go immediately to the firing line.”
With their workout out of the way, the actors would then get to know their weapons.
“We learn to handle those as though we were born with them,” Capt. Dye continued. “That goes on for maybe a couple of hours. It’s getting to be around noon-ish, and I feed them one meal of two they’re going to get in the entire day. That’s just a ration meal, they’ve got to swallow it and get on.”
Following lunch was bayonet and close quarters fight training, then an afternoon spent chopping their way through the jungle up the hillside, where the stars in training would be attacked by another ambush of Japanese forces (themselves actors undergoing the boot camp).
“It’s all building confidence,” Capt. Dye said. “We’re doing things that are way out of their comfort zone. They’re building respect — respect for themselves, respect for the unit and respect for the people they’re portraying who went through all of this.”
“The Pacific” debuts on HBO on March 14.