featured Interview

Interview: Director Rod Lurie Talks ‘The Outpost’

July 21, 2020Ben MK

In the history of American cinema, there's perhaps no greater tradition than the war movie — but behind every epic on-screen battle, there's a real-life story of courage and sacrifice. That's something that holds true for such films as Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down, and it continues to hold true for The Outpost, which tells the story of the deadliest battle of the Afghanistan War — the Battle of Kamdesh, when hundreds of Taliban fighters descended upon the remote US military base known as Outpost Keating.

I caught up with director Rod Lurie to chat about The Outpost and how he drew upon his military background and his former career in investigative journalism to bring this story to the screen, as well as how some of the actual soldiers involved in the battle helped to make the movie as authentic as possible.

First of all, how have you been keeping busy during this pandemic, and how are you adjusting to the new normal?

Lurie: I don't know if it's the new normal yet. It's the new normal for now, and it's not a good new normal because nobody is filming anything. But there's three things that I've been doing during the pandemic. One is that I wrote a script which we're setting up right now — it's called Remember the Future. The second thing is I've been exercising a lot. My Elliptical is working into overtime. [laughs] Either my wife or I are on it at all times, so I've lost a couple of pounds. And the third thing is I have been watching classic movies that I've never seen — movies that I've been embarrassed to say, "I never saw that."

Speaking of movies, you've done a lot of films that were grounded in a true story, but The Outpost is actually based on real-life events. What was it that drew you to this story in particular?

Lurie: I'm a military guy; I graduated from the military academy at West Point in 1984. And everybody that's had any association with the military knows the story of the battle of Kamdesh. It is, within the military, completely part of our folklore. And it's by far the most heroic battle of the past 19 years. So when making a movie about this was offered to me, it was something that I found completely irresistible.

If I'm being very blunt, when I graduated from West Point I went into the peacetime army — so I fought in no battles, I never fired a weapon at an enemy, I never had a bullet whiz past me, and I got out of the army before any of that could happen. But a lot of my classmates did serve in battle, and it's humbling to go back to a reunion where you are among the people that have not risked their lives. And if I couldn't be with them on the battlefield, then I'm going to honor them. That's the best that I can do — the only thing that I can do.

Did you read Jake Tapper's book prior to filming? What kind of research did you do to prepare for your role as director?

Lurie: I had not read the book before it was offered to me, but the minute it was offered to me I read it. It takes a long time to read that book — it's a very hefty, very detailed, very beautifully written book. It's probably one of the best non-fiction military book that I've ever read about America at war, so the book, of course, is an important resource. And the writers of the initial draft of the screenplay had done a lot of research. But once I entered it in earnest, I began to go back and personally interview tons of the people that were in the battle to get new perspectives, new understandings, and much more detail. I used to be an investigative journalist a long time ago, so I was accustomed to this sort of interrogatories of the characters of my stories.

One of the soldiers involved in the actual events on which the film is based, Henry Hughes, is a co-producer. I'm sure his involvement helped keep the movie faithful to real life, but how did you go about bringing a sense of authenticity to the film, in general?

Lurie: Henry Hughes is more than just a producer — he was a lieutenant at the time, and he didn't serve in the battle but he was at that base. So he became an expert on Outpost Keating. And also, when he got out of the army, he went to the American Film Institute and made a short film that got nominated for an Academy Award. So he's got a very good filmmaking sense about him. And when he and I and a few other people went scouting, he was able to tell me not only if a place resembled Outpost Keating, he was also able to talk to me like a filmmaker about where we could put the camera. We discussed things like how the sun moves over the course of the day — when can I point the camera east, north, south or west when it was necessary to shoot that way. So he was really valuable.

Then we brought on Daniel Rodriguez, who plays himself in the movie. He was a soldier that fought in the battle itself, and he was able to give us unbelievable authenticity. In fact, he was able to recreate the death of his best friend for us, which was a moment of high trauma for him to do. And then, of course, we had Ty Carter, the Medal of Honor recipient played by Caleb Landry Jones in the film, who was on-set with us and was able to show us his side of the story with perfect detail. He was able to tell us exactly where he stood when he shot his first guy, which hand he used to open the door to get back into the Humvee — it was just amazing accuracy that we were able to get from him.

What did the actors — Scott Eastwood, Orlando Bloom, Caleb Landry Jones and the rest of the cast — bring to the film?

Lurie: The thing with the three leads — and, in fact, all the actors in the film — is that they became very, very invested in the film. Once they began researching it themselves and talking with their real-life counterparts, every one of these guys felt a personal desire to get this absolutely right. They would feel almost ashamed if they didn't bring as much accuracy as they could. Caleb, in particular, who's like Spicoli from Fast Times at Ridgemont High — sort of the opposite of a Medal of Honor recipient — couldn't get uninvested. A little known thing is that Caleb's brother is a Marine who lost both his legs in Iraq. And when his brother read the screenplay, he told Caleb, "You're playing this role. You're gonna do it right." His brother even showed up in Bulgaria to make sure that Caleb was getting it militarily correct.

What was the most memorable scene for you to shoot, personally?

Lurie: I think the most memorable scene to shoot was what I call the stretcher sequence, where Caleb Landry Jones and Henry Hughes are carrying the character Mace, played by Chris Born, on a stretcher across the entire outpost — and we did it all in one shot. And it's memorable to me for a couple reasons. One is the sheer difficulty of that shot and the athleticism that was required by everybody, especially our camera operator — a Canadian guy, by the way, named Sasha Proctor. And another thing was the acting. At the end of every run, Henry Hughes threw up. Literally, you can see it on-screen. He gave us three or four takes and he threw up every time — it was just unbelievable dedication in that sequence.

Last but not least, what do you want audiences to take away from the movie?

Lurie: What I want them to take away is that, right now, we're fighting. The reason the people in Afghanistan are fighting is for each other and to survive — and I'm not sure that's a great enough reason to be there, but it is why they're there. And this cuts across all nations and all soldiers, mostly — they're there to fight for and with one another.

The Outpost is available now on all digital platforms.

You May Also Like