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A war movie’s secret weapon

Capt. Dale Dye

Military advisor, actor, writer, second unit director

Current Project: “Alexander”

Military career: Enlisted in the Marine Corps in January 1964; served in Vietnam in 1965 and ’67-'70. Survived 31 major combat operations, winning a Bronze Star for valor and three Purple Hearts for wounds suffered in combat. After 13 years as an enlisted Marine, he became a master sergeant. Dale was a captain by the time he was sent to Beirut in 1982 as part of the multinational peacekeeping force. He retired from the Marines in 1984.

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Credits: “Platoon,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Band of Brothers,” “Rules of Engagement”

Battle plan: “I run a company called Warriors Inc., and we have done about 45 or 50 films at this point. We go in [on a film] from the very outset. I work with writers to try to get the dialogue soldier-y. And frequently, I work with the writers and help them through holes, credibility gaps, that sort of thing. Then I slip over into the production side, and I begin to work with costumes and weapons, telling them what is required, what’s needed -- specifics of things I want to see in the film.”

A few good men: “I think the only way for an actor to truly portray a soldier is to walk a few miles in that soldier’s boots, so I design a period of full immersion in soldierly life. When I say that, that is precisely what I mean -- 24 hours a day, seven days a week for as long as it takes and for as long as I am allowed. He lives with me in complete isolation; no cellphones, no nothing. I want him to forget who he thought he was. He goes by his character’s name, and I never address him by his real name. He lives in a hole in the ground or under a piece of canvas. He eats only what I feed him. He learns what it is like to live that life of deprivation, that life of self-sacrifice. He learns that there are some things larger in his life than himself, and perhaps some of those things are worthy fighting for and dying for -- and that’s an alien concept for some actors.”

“Alexander” boot camp : “With Colin Farrell, we started [training] here in the United States. My staff started working with him. Then we picked up the entire staff and the entire retinue and we went to Morocco, where we lived under canvas on the western edge of the Sahara for three weeks. At one point we had 1,136 men on the field. It was amazing. We had 1,100 Moroccan soldiers who were going to play members of the grand phalanx, so once my actors and extras had a good feel for how a Macedonian soldier fought, we then picked them up and moved them over to train the Moroccans. So you had actors serving as officers, who were actually training other people.

“We focused on close combat, spears and edged weapons and hand-to-hand close-quarters battle, the coordination of the cavalry. I believe that a soldier under Alexander had the same spirit of the warrior, the same mentality as a kid serving in Iraq today.”

Fireside chat: “There is a Warriors Inc. tradition; it’s called ‘stand down.’ It happens after dark every evening. We find that folks who get themselves into this environment, who begin to understand a soldier’s life, have huge questions about it -- the whys and wherefores as well as technical things. We need a time for answers, so we usually provide an hour or two hours every evening where I teach. I talk to them about what happens in the mud and the blood and the beer and what goes on in your mind when you have killed a man. We find that is something that they really remember.”

Age: 60

Residence: San Fernando Valley

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Union or guild: “No -- nor is there any award, which upsets me sometimes. We have carved this niche and refined it.”

Salary: “I won’t tell you. There didn’t use to be good money, but now, since I have proven my worth and mettle, there is good money. You have to remember I do a lot of things: I am actor, director, writer.”

Operation Hollywood: “I had always been, during my military career, sort of a movie buff. I saw every military movie there was. The common thread was that seeing those movies in general ... they weren’t the military I knew, and so full of stereotypes and cliches and nonsense. I said, ‘How can this be? Isn’t there somebody there [in Hollywood] to tell them what’s right or wrong?’

So I came to Hollywood. It was 1985. I came out here with nothing more than a vague idea that somebody has got to get this squared away. I started banging on people’s doors and making phone calls, I started walking onto lots and trying to talk to people. I approached them like a Marine would, not a Hollywood sycophant. They would listen to me politely....

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“I got lucky. Oliver Stone, he himself was a combat veteran, got [what I wanted to do]. He said, ‘I don’t know you, but I like what you are telling me, so I am going to trust you.’ He did. He gave me all 30 of his actors, including Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Johnny Depp and Forest Whitaker.

I took them to the jungles of the Philippines for 2 1/2 weeks. Nobody saw them until I bought them down from those mountains. They were ready. They were truly Vietnam-style troopers.”

-- Susan King


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