There’s an old story about Dustin Hoffman and Laurence Olivier, two celebrated actors from different generations, and their contrasting approaches to the craft of acting.
They were filming Marathon Man, a 1976 action thriller, and Hoffman was telling his co-star about enduring a three-day stay-awake vigil so he could do a scene more authentically.
To which Olivier replied, “Why don’t you just try acting?”
Fast-forward to 2017 and the making of Six, a military combat drama about members of Navy SEAL Team Six. The series premieres at 9 p.m. Wednesday on History Channel.
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Two of the cast members of Six, Kyle Schmid and Edwin Hodge, say they were never given the option to “just try acting.” Instead, they were subjected to a body- and spirit-breaking crash course in what it takes to become a SEAL.
They were miserable at the time, but today they’re glad they were tested in this way.
The eight-episode first season, they say, is exponentially better as a result.
“We worked with veteran SEALs,” says Hodge, who portrays Robert Chase, the new guy on the team. “We did a four-day intensive SEALFIT boot camp where we got a taste of what it’s like to go through Hell Week, which is a six-month process for actual candidates becomes SEALs in reality.
“They worked us to the bone. They probably took us to the lowest levels we’ve ever experienced in our lives, only to move us back up and give us a new way of thinking, of knowing we can surpass a lot of brick walls.
“It was definitely grueling, but also probably the best and most humbling process that we could have gone through to prepare for this show.”
The experience turned the cast into a bona fide team. They’re hardly equipped to go on an actual mission, mind you. But they bonded in a way that made the show and onscreen chemistry better.
“It’s true,” says Schmid, who plays Alex Caulder, a freewheeling warrior-philosopher. “We learned a lot about ourselves, became very aware of our many little faults, and were able to move forward and become stronger.
“I think it really goes to show in our performances how much we can trust one another when we’ve laughed and we’ve cried with each other. There weren’t any egos coming into play. We were just a bunch of human beings trying to give the SEALs the respect they deserve with our performances.”
Six opens with the team on a mission in Afghanistan and troop leader Richard “Rip” Taggart (played by Walton Goggins, of Justified fame) making a questionable decision that will tear the men apart.
Two years later, Rip is captured by Boko Haram and it’s up to his former SEAL Team Six brothers to put their lives on hold and their differences aside to locate and rescue their former leader.
The show is wall-to-wall action, but there also are moments that explore the home and family lives of these warriors. Many times, their work takes a toll on their emotional well-being.
In a way, that might really be what the show is about.
“We’ve all watched the glamorized movies that Hollywood makes,” Schmid says, “but the most important thing for us was to keep some of the reality of these characters: their humility and their humanity, and what it’s like for them when they come home and try to deal with family and friends in a ‘normal’ life.”
Adds Hodge: “I’m the son of two Marines, so I grew up kind of experiencing what it’s like to live with a vet. I saw their struggles. I don’t think most of us really, truly understand the meaning of the kind of sacrifice they make.
“Mentally, it’s a lot. Once you’ve taken a life, how do you know how to deal with that? Well, they don’t deal with most of this stuff until they come home. And guess what? The wives have to deal with it. Their children have to deal with it. Their parents have to deal with it.
“I think we have to help them when they come back. We just have to do it. That’s our responsibility. They’re out there risking their lives. We can give some type of assistance: monetary, financial, emotional, physical. We have to do more. We just do.”
- 9 p.m. Wednesday