Actor Martini finds his military voice in 'Captain Phillips'

"Captain Phillips," which documents the April 2009 hijacking of the Maersk Alabama off the coast of Somalia, utilized many active Navy personnel.


By J. TAYLOR RUSHING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 2, 2013

Actors sometimes struggle to “find their voice” when playing an unfamiliar role, especially for a film in which accuracy is sacred.

Actor Max Martini found his aboard the USS Truxtun in the Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by a group of Navy SEALs.

Martini, a longtime actor known for military roles in films and TV shows such as “Saving Private Ryan,” “The Great Raid” and “The Unit,” plays a SEAL commander in the new Tom Hanks film “Captain Phillips,” now playing in theaters stateside and on overseas bases.

The film documents the April 2009 hijacking of the Maersk Alabama, an American-registered ship sailing about 240 miles off the coast of Somalia. The hijacking ended with SEAL snipers killing three pirates holding Phillips hostage in a lifeboat on the open sea.

For Martini, though, “Captain Phillips” wasn’t just another military role. Unlike many of his past roles for which he was on a soundstage, this film put him aboard a guided missile destroyer off Virginia Beach with a full crew of active Navy personnel, many of whom were in the movie.

“It’s not every day you have Hollywood infiltrate your home and throw you in a movie,” Martini told Stars and Stripes by phone recently from Chicago, where he is filming a TV series. “But they were amazing, just incredible. They were unaffected by having a camera right in their face. They were very focused on the details and getting everything right. If I said something wrong, not having 20 years of experience as a SEAL, they were real good at correcting me and trying to stay as accurate as possible.”

The situation took adjusting for Martini as well. For all of the military films on his résumé, few of them have been leadership roles. Training with a small subgroup of three particular SEALs, he said he had to learn a different way of behaving and speaking.

He calls it the most difficult part of the experience — made even more so by director Peter Greengrass’s decision to forgo the script and improvise many scenes.

“It was foreign territory to me, and the fact that we improvised made it more difficult,” Martini said. “I’m still an actor, and I don’t have that kind of vocabulary to draw on. But I learned it’s about the feeling of stepping into a situation with a plan and executing it and knowing what needs to be done.”

Asked what the highlight was of the monthlong shoot off Virginia Beach, Martini said it actually came afterward, in moments such as when he returned to Virginia Beach and saw the finished film with a theater full of SEALs and Navy personnel. The theater erupted in cheers at the point in the film when the Navy appears, Martini recalled, and the Navy members applauded at the end and even stayed through the credits.

Martini said he is still very close to several of the SEALs with whom he trained.

“It’s a film that does the Navy proud,” he said. “War films are necessary, but they have to be done right. The director, writers and actors all have to do their homework. But when you get it right on-screen, and it represents (the military) honestly, you can see how it makes them proud. And hopefully this movie will reach people who don’t have a connection to the military, too, and remind them of the men and women who are making sacrifices for their country every day.”

Email: Rushing.jt@stripes.com Twitter: @jtr1

"Captain Phillips," directed by Paul Greengrass, made use of improvisation in many of its scenes, which was a challenge for some of the actors who were less used to this "off-script" technique.

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