Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper” is one of the more controversial movies nominated for best picture in the 87th Academy Awards, but it has special meaning for those closely involved in its production, including a veteran who served alongside the movie's protagonist.
The biopic about Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle (played by Bradley Cooper) recounts his humble beginnings in Texas and military career. The story includes his rough transition back to civilian life after multiple tours and his subsequent work with fellow veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. He was killed on a gun range on Feb. 2, 2013, by a fellow veteran as the movie based on his autobiography was in the early stages of production.
Kevin Lacz, a Navy SEAL who served with Kyle, was asked to join the production as a consultant, then was invited to play the character Dauber. In an interview with International Business Times, he discusses his first film, working with Bradley Cooper and what he hopes audiences will take from the film.
International Business Times: What was your role in bringing Chris Kyle’s story to the big screen?
Kevin Lacz: I started as a technical adviser while Chris was still alive. My wife reached out to Jason Hall after she found out he was writing the screenplay and Chris had sold the rights [to his book] to Warner Bros. She sent him this message that was like, “This is an amazing story, Chris is a great friend of ours, so get it right.” Jason emailed back pretty quickly. I went in with Chris on a technical level in 2012 for about four months.
When Chris was murdered, I called Jason to tell him what had happened. He came down to Dallas, and I invited him to meet more of the SEALs and Chris’ family more. He’d only met Chris once.
IBTimes: Right, because the movie hadn’t started production yet.
Lacz: Yeah, the script wasn’t even done until the day before Chris was murdered. I kind of liaisoned Jason into SEAL culture, that relationship blossomed and he revamped the script. Eventually, Clint Eastwood picked it up, and Jason kept promoting me, “I worked with Dauber the whole time.” I got a call from producers Andrew Lazar and Rob Lorenz, and they set up a training session with me and Bradley Cooper in February 2014. I was on the range with Bradley, and he asked me, do you ever think about playing the role yourself? I was caught off-guard. How often does that happen? And the focus was on Chris and to make sure his story is right. He said he’d make sure Clint hires me, “you gotta be in this movie.” I threw myself on tape, and the rest as they say is history.
IBTimes: Was there ever a time you had to course-correct the filmmakers on set?
Lacz: It’s a huge collaborative process. It’s not one of those my voice is louder than anyone else’s, but there were things they needed to get right, like when you’re addressing the SEAL teams and making sure Chris is depicted accurately just like SEALs in general. That’s brotherhood, and that’s the family I grew up in. They were very accommodating and receptive to any comments and criticisms.
IBTimes: Have you heard feedback from fellow SEALs?
Lacz: Yeah, some. It’s all been positive. It’s about Chris and Chris’ story, it’s not quite a memoir about the SEAL team, but it’s Chris’ story. A lot of people recognize that and appreciate that. We wish Chris could have been there to tell that, but I think we did a good job with what we had.
IBTimes: Well, you’ve seen the movie by now ...
Lacz: Like eight times! Everyone wants me to go see the movie with them. I’m like, yeah, I’ll tell you the story. I’m hiding behind that bush right there.
IBTimes: Was there a detail or moment you wished the filmmakers had kept in the movie?
Lacz: Jake McDorman’s character Biggles got to be a lot funnier in the initial version. Biggles was hilarious in general, and some of that got edited out. The SEAL teams are more raucous. There was a scene that had Chris wiping away green paint behind his ear. The scene before that showed us rushing Chris to his wedding, and I wish there was more of that there to foster that idea of the brotherhood a little bit more.
IBTimes: “American Sniper” also deals with PTSD among veterans. Were you familiar with Kyle’s rehab work before the movie?
Lacz: A little bit. I worked with Chris and we had a very good friendship. We talked quite frequently after the Navy, but most of his work with veterans was really a surprise. I didn’t find out until after Feb. 2. Chris wasn’t the first to go out to self-promote and beat his chest. He was a good, quiet professional. So there was stuff I learned about Chris in that regard.
IBTimes: What does the film mean to you?
Lacz: It means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. I don’t think it’s meant to have one meaning. That’s what makes it so appealing. I think it’s great because it’s a good character study. Bradley did an incredible job. I felt very privileged to help Bradley in a lot of those scenes. I think it does a great job telling what it’s like for a service member -- why you join the military, what goes on, how that affects you and your family. It’s spawned a lot of interest for people. It’s opened up their eyes to things they may not have seen as to what veterans actually go through. I find a lot more people saying, “I have a lot more respect for what you guys do.” It’s humbling to hear that because you never know how your work’s going to be perceived. I’m glad people are finding a personal story which we helped tell.
IBTimes: What do you hope audiences walk away with after watching “American Sniper”?
Lacz: When I got out of the military, everyone says “thank you for your service.” I love it when people go out of their way for that. I think this movie will spawn that “thank you for your service -- tell me about it." It opens your eyes to that story that’s below the surface. So when you go to a memorial and there’s a name on the wall or you see a veteran marching in a parade, it’s more than just a uniform. I think you can learn a lot just by asking them. I think you might be surprised by what you’ll hear.