Jake McDorman: “American Sniper is a Character Study on a Soldier, a Journey of a Man”
Clint Eastwood’s latest directorial project American Sniper has drawn a great deal of criticism surrounding the film’s controversial political implications of the Iraq War. The story spotlights Bradley Cooper’s character, the late Chris Kyle, a Navy SEAL and the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history. Based on Kyle’s memoir of the same name, the war drama depicts a journey throughout his four tours of duty in the Middle East, and the difficulties faced adapting to society back home. The film illustrates a dubious timeline of the U.S. march to war, jumping from the September 11th aftermath directly to the ground offensive in Iraq—implicitly connecting Saddam Hussein to the Al Qaeda-led attacks on the World Trade Center (a still common narrative espoused by the Bush administration, and one repudiated by history). Just days before the Oscars, Los Angeles-based actor Jake McDorman, who portrayed veteran Ryan Jobs alongside Cooper in the film, eloquently rebuffs political red flags as he discusses the movie’s intensions, the actors’ training process, and working under a living legend.
You portrayed U.S. Navy SEAL Ryan Job in the film. What was the preparation process?
It was very important for Bradley [Cooper] to have preparation to play Chris Kyle. I know he had spoke to him on the phone and met him once in person, and had all the time to put on the weight and really become him. But the rest of the cast was cast a lot later so it was kind of a crunch. Kevin Lacz, he was Dauber, was initially just on set to be a technical advisor but then Bradley suggested that he play himself in the movie. This was really beneficial to us because he knew all of Seal Team 3 and put me, and everybody else in the cast, in touch with the families of the people we were playing. That little bit of email correspondence with Ryan Job’s widow and family was a huge part of the preparation process. As for physical preparation, we had about eight hours a day, for five days, to train in Morocco to learn how to handle our weapons, how to do formations, and just really working as hard we could to make five days look like we have been doing this our entire lives.
The film renders themes of life and death, patriotism, bravery, and trauma. Was it an emotional roller coaster for you to play such an intense role?
The most emotionally complex aspect of American Sniper was that it was a true story. As an actor, having veterans there on set advising technically what to do and influencing the accuracy of what’s going on was a just a constant reminder that you are living in these shoes for a very short amount of time. It was a very delicate balance of artistic liberty and trying to really do your best job to represent these people. That was the endorsement that everyone was going for and I know that Bradley’s main goal was to really raise awareness about the veterans and the people who fought in this war.
The movie gives Americans a powerful, oftentimes troubling, glimpse into the Iraq war, as well as the post-traumatic stress veterans face at home. What would you like the audience to take away from the film?
We are a nation that has been at war for about fifteen years and after a while it is easy to get used to the idea of having it just be something that is perpetually reported on the news and somehow doesn’t feel real in day-to-day life. The best thing that they can take a way from it is the reality that these solders, in many cases, bring the war home with them and it affects the people that love them directly and indirectly. That was Chris Kyle’s passion, to provide some brotherhood and relief for people who were coming back and had to deal with those realities. My hope would be for the movie to be an extension of that aspect of his career. This is an accurate representation of that and hopefully it brings more awareness on the subject. That would be the greatest success of the film.
The film has been criticized for obscuring the historical record when it comes to the reasons for invading Iraq. As an actor, do the political implications of a film impact how you approach a role?
It really doesn’t. Depending on the film that could absolutely be true but this film has no political agenda or statement on why we invaded Iraq. It is a character study on a solider. It is told in his point of view and his point of view only, as the book was. It was a controversial war, and I have my own opinions about it, but this story is just about the journey of a man.
What was your impression of working with the legendary Clint Eastwood?
It was excellent. I can’t say enough good things about him. He is a living legend so you don’t know what to expect. He is an incredibly generous director and is a really funny guy, like his ring tone is the song from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
You’re well known for your television work on Greek and Shameless. For you, what’s the biggest difference between shooting movies and TV?
There are some obvious differences between the format. Depending on what TV show you’re working on and what genre it is, understanding and developing a character is a never-ending journey and it can go for seasons and seasons and episodes and episodes. Your character is constantly flowing, and changing, and digressing, and is kind of this this living breathing thing that is malleable. Where as a movie is a finite amount of time, a finite amount of film. It is usually a two-and-a-half hour experience to watch the beginning, middle and end of a person’s story. So obviously the commitment is more vague in television and a lot more ambiguous and, in some ways, is more creatively collaborative because the writers will oftentimes write towards the actors strengths. Choosing between the two shouldn’t be too different though and should just come to down to the quality of work.
What is your WILD Wish?
I hope we as a society can experience interplanetary travel before I am dead.