Wounded vet, nonprofit and puppies help actors create authentic characters for new NBC show
By MEREDITH TIBBETTS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 19, 2018
BOYDS, Md. — Puppies crawled over legs and laps, under chairs and knees, stretching to lick the faces of some of the cast and crew of the new NBC show “The Village” as they sat on the floor.
A small group from the show arrived at the headquarters of the nonprofit Warrior Canine Connection on Nov. 10 to get a better understanding of service dogs and their role in helping veterans.
The show, which will debut in early 2019, is set in Brooklyn and revolves around the lives of several people who live in the same apartment building. Two of them are veterans.
Nick, played by actor Warren Christie — currently on Fox’s “The Resident” — has just returned to the States after being deployed and lives in the city with his military dog, Jedi. Dominic Chianese -– “Junior” Soprano in “The Sopranos” and Johnny Ola in “The Godfather Part II” — plays another veteran, Enzo.
In order for actors Chianese and Christie to authentically portray veterans, NBC hired former Marine Cpl. Jamel Daniels.
All three visited the Warrior Canine Connection facility in Boyds, Md., where they talked with veterans and learned what it takes to train service dogs, including those in the “Liberty Litter” that greeted them.
WCC workers “take these dogs and raise them and get them prepared for veterans … (The dogs) help out a lot with stress that people deal with: PTSD, everyday things that you wouldn’t even think of,” Daniels, 39, said.
‘We want it real’
Daniels served from 2002-2006, deploying to Iraq for eight months and 11 days. Attached to Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 24thMarine Expeditionary Unit, he was on his last day of deployment when tragedy struck Jan. 31, 2005, in Babil province.
“We got hit with an IED, which blew up underneath my vehicle. I was the gunner on top of the turret in which our vehicle got hit. Three guys died in my vehicle. Just two of us survived,” Daniels said. Lance Cpl. Ronald Howard was also wounded and survived the attack.
Those killed were Lance Cpl. Jason C. Redifer, 19, of Virginia; Lance Cpl. Harry R. Swain IV, 21, of New Jersey; and Cpl. Christopher E. Zimny, 27, of Illinois.
Daniels was severely injured in the attack, and his left leg had to be amputated. After more than a year of physical rehabilitation and 11 months in a wheelchair, he had to come to terms with post-traumatic stress disorder and survivor’s guilt.
NBC is hoping to draw on Daniels’ military experience. But he also has a history in the entertainment business, working as a set dresser on “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Ocean's 8,” “Law and Order” and “Orange Is the New Black,” among others.
Daniels was the subject of a documentary series “Wounded: The Battle Back Home,” broadcast on MSNBC, in an episode titled “Jamel: Operation Honor.”
“They were looking for someone that was an amputee that could possibly help out with Warren’s character,” he said. “Basically, it would be helping them learn how to walk like an amputee, just to make it look real. Every day ins and outs of what you go through, just to get it so exact. We want it real.”
Daniels has been working with Christie “since day one” of the show.
“He’s also been very credible and forthcoming with his story and the different things he has gone through,” Christie, 43, said.
Christie has been doing a lot of research to bring the most to his character, Nick. NBC brought veterans and amputees to work on the show, and he talks to them as often as he can.
“Part of the thing that I am learning more and more … is the guilt that people come back with,” he said. “You would think that going and serving and coming back would be a great thing, but I think a lot of people carry guilt, especially when they have comrades who are lost.”
One veteran’s story stuck with him: A servicemember who deployed, pausing his old life in order to serve. He came back uninjured, but the strangest part for the servicemember was that no one else’s life paused. “And he was just feeling out of time with everything. And you don’t think about that. Coming back uninjured. … Too many times we expect our veterans to pick up right where they left off, and that’s not very possible,” Christie said.
He said the show plays to the strength of veterans and the challenges they face every day.
“Being a veteran and having lost a limb – it’s an aspect of (his character Nick). But we don’t want it to be this all-encompassing thing. Yes, he’s going to have to deal with things, because veterans do, but it’s also not just all of who he is. He’s just a man, and there’s love and loss and life, and all these different things are an aspect of it,” Christie said.
Warrior Canine Connection
Warrior Canine Connection has helped countless veterans with injuries and PTSD.
“I knew a little bit about dogs and the effects they can have, but to come here and see it … dogs are phenomenal,” Christie said. “It’s something that helps them cope, opposed to so many different pills and this or that or this other thing. Or self-medicating, which is also a big problem with veterans.
“You have these beautiful dogs that are loving unconditionally; it’s really an incredible thing to see.”
For more about Warrior Canine Connection: https://warriorcanineconnection.org/