March 11, 2008 - Fiercely passionate, Stop-Loss director Kimberly Peirce may be petite in size but she’s absolutely a filmmaking force to be reckoned with. Peirce’s first major film was the critically acclaimed drama Boys Don’t Cry, based on the true story of transgender teen Brandon Teena (Hilary Swank earned her first Oscar for playing Brandon). Now after an eight year gap in feature film directing, Peirce turns her attention to an equally emotional and hard-hitting story. Stop-Loss exposes a policy employed by the United States government to keep men and women whose tours of duty are over from leaving the military service. Starring two of Hollywood’s hottest young actors – Ryan Phillippe and Channing Tatum – Stop-Loss focuses on how being forced into another deployment in Iraq affects Sgt Brandon King (played by Phillippe).
Kimberly Peirce Interview
Did you have any interest in telling a military-based story prior to your brother joining the military?
“Oh yeah, always. My grandfather was in WWII, I’m very interested in violence, I’m very interested in masculinity, and I’m very interested in shaping a male identity. I mean those are all issues that I dealt with anyway, so the idea of a war movie or a soldier’s story was always compelling. Some of my favorite movies are Best Years of Our Lives, Platoon, Apocalypse Now, Coming Home, Deer Hunter, Patton, All Quiet on the Western Front. I could just go on and on. They’re inherently dramatic, you know what I mean? It’s a life and death situation. It’s passion; it’s like families being separated. I love telling stories about the American family. So it was in my future to write a story about war and soldiers. It came much sooner than I thought because of 9/11 and the conflicts that we got into.”
And that’s why your brother joined the military?
Because of 9/11. Was he satisfied with his military experience?
“That’s really interesting. First of all, because the movie is inspired by all these soldiers, I’ll just say I was in New York for 9/11, the towers went down, and I’m a long-time New Yorker and I was like everybody - I was devastated, like everybody. My friends and I went to the vigils for the victims of the attacks. So New York was in a state of mourning and then America was gone to war, so that was very tragic and intense. And I knew that we were in a midst of a seismic change. So at that point I started thinking, ‘Wow, who is this generation of boys who are signing up? What’s their experience and what’s it going to be like for them to come home?’ I wanted to know how is this like or not like World War II or Vietnam? What’s the difference of this kind of modern war, this modern experience? That’s when my brother signed up.”
“I asked him, ‘Are you signing up because of 9/11?’ He had an interesting response. Now the boys in my movie, they sign up because of 9/11. They wanted to protect their family, their country, their home. My brother didn’t necessarily buy into all of that. He understood it, but I think it was also the right of passage of being a man which is, ‘This is my opportunity to be in combat.’ He had gone to Valley Forge, I believe, I don’t want to get this wrong, but I know he went to military academy and excelled at it. He’s a strong, athletic kid and he goes well with the authority. I think some boys, they do very well with that. So when I was like, ‘Are you going because you’re a great patriot and you want to get the terrorists?’ He’s like, ‘Not particularly.’ He was like, ‘I want to fight. I want to be a professional soldier. I want to do that.’ That was very interesting to me. And that was definitely one point of view that I found among young men. Then there was more like the boys that we wrote about who were diehard, ‘This was what you do if you’ve grown up in military families.’ They were part of the military culture and this is what you do.”
Which did you find more of?
“I found more of what we wrote about. Because I feel like my brother is from an urban setting - he’s from New York - I think he has a different viewpoint than say the kids in the middle of the country, because he wasn’t raised with it. But he went there and those were the people that he connected to.”
“This is the most important thing that I learned, which is whether you sign up because you want the experience, whether you sign up to fight for your family, your home and your country, almost every soldier I interviewed said when you get over there it’s not about any of that. It’s about the guy to your left and the guy to your right. It’s all about the camaraderie. It’s literally, you go to combat with other people, particularly other men, that those are the most intense relationships of your entire life. So that was the big realization to me. The movie was about camaraderie.”
How easy was it for you to get these guys to open up about their experiences, particularly the ones who have now gone AWOL?
“Well, it was very easy getting people to open up, I think, and I think this is true of human nature. I think if you come to people without an agenda and you come with a true curiosity, I think so many people want to be heard and are not heard. I think people are not heard in their families and I think people are not heard in their job. I think people are not heard in their culture so I think if you come curious and openhearted, they talk.”
But you come from Hollywood…