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Ten-Hut! Meet The Man The A-Listers Call Sir

Fall in line, maggots, and stand at attention as we talk with Hollywood's number one military advisor, Dale Dye.

A hardcore film buff can rattle off a list of their favorite cinematographers, maybe even editors or production designers.  But when it comes to "military advisors" there is only one:  Dale Dye.
He pretty much invented the role of current military advisor for films, and his list of credits is a mile long.  He's also wound up before the cameras, acting first in walk-ons and is a regular on the forthcoming Falling Skies.  We spoke with the man about his career starting with Platoon (coming to Blu-ray for an anniversary edition this Tuesday,) the actors he's trained and what he's got coming up next.
Jordan Hoffman: Did you invent this job? Are there other people out there doing it now?

Dale Dye: Yeah, ever since my role in motion pictures as a military advisor has gotten some publicity, there are a number of guys who have come around, . Some are good, some of them last for one film and then decide this is stupid and melt away.
I get floods of emails from young men and women, former military, who want to do what I do. Some of them I give a chance and some of them I don’t, it depends on the workload that we’re facing. So that’s the answer to Dye-clones. Yeah, they’re out there.
The other answer is, and I have to be a bit humble to avoid hubris here - I certainly did not invent the business of being a military technical advisor. They’ve had them certainly since the dawn of military films. But they had been shallow and superficial. Hollywood, in its own version of hubris, has said, “Look. You don’t know anything about drama, you don’t know anything about storytelling, you’re just a military guy. Sit over here in this chair and we’ll ask you questions about which side the ribbons go on.” And that, in large measure, was how the whole thing was treated.
When I began this there was the big problem. Military life, and the way we think and act, is virtually antithical to the way showbiz sees things. If you expect a really in-depth and nuanced performance, you can’t take a young man or woman out and say, “Here’s how you hold a weapon, here’s how you wear your uniform, now walk over there and do what the director tells you.” That’s going to give you a shallow performance because there’s no understanding the philosophy that says there’s something more important than me and what’s going on in the scene. So I invented this way of fully immersing people. And I’m not talking about a couple of hours a day, I’m talking about 24/7 having to live rough and rely on each other, and that has given an insight to good young actors who can take it and meld it into their performance.
Jordan Hoffman: Have there been times when the producers shy away from having the full experience?

Dale Dye: Early on, there was. “We can’t afford that,” or “We don’t really need that, do we?” There wasn’t enough cheese to go with all the whine.
Part of getting this done is being able to sell people on the philosophic value of it. Directors, for the most part, get it instantly. I have two options: I can say it’s going to be garbage and walk away, or I can weasel my way into this and get a grip on it. I generally don’t walk away. If I’m interested in the project, generally because I think it’s something that needs to be done, then I won’t walk away. I’ll infiltrate and try and turn it around to my way of thinking as we go along.

Jordan Hoffman: Platoon was really a game-changer in terms of our culture relating to Vietnam and Vietnam vets, but also the way war was shown on film. And it was also your first big credit.  What was it like when you had to start from scratch?

Dale Dye: It was interesting. When Oliver [Stone] and I finally got together, we discovered we we’re political opposites. On the set, they’d call Oliver Ho Chi Minh, and they’d call me John Wayne.  But Oliver and I absolutely saw eye to eye in one of the best 20 minute introductory meetings I’ve ever had in my life, because Oliver himself had been in combat in Vietnam. He got it. He also got that most war films didn’t get it. And I said, “If we’re going to do a big one about Vietnam, written by a guy who’s been there, done that, we’ve got to get it right.” And to get it right we’ve got to take these kids out to the edge. The interesting thing was that we only had 5 million dollars, so we had to make this thing work.

Jordan Hoffman: So how does your advising differ from film to film?  Is it props? Movement? Dialogue?

Dale Dye: Well, I’ve done everything from Alexander which reaches back into pre-history, to Starship Troopers which projects into the future. With everything that we do, for the period and the force involved, requires an enormous amount of research and study and preparation to get ready. But in the case of Platoon I didn’t have to do a great deal because Oliver, as a veteran, his dialogue just sang. Now, I can’t say that in other things. I do a huge amount of work with writers to get the dialogue right and correct scenarios that never happen and offer them options. With Oliver, he had it all there. It was pulled so much from his personal experience. What we did argue about, and at that point we had become close personal friends, I’d just look him in his beady eyes and say, “Look. You know that didn’t happen. We can’t do that.” And, for the most part I would win those.

Jordan Hoffman: As a combat veteran yourself, do you have a switch to decide which films are more serious than others? Platoon and Saving Private Ryan are important films that show the horror of war.  Under Siege 2 can make combat seem, for lack of a better word, fun.
Dale Dye: It depends on which hat I’m wearing. If I’m wearing my actor hat, which has become more and more common these days, then I can have fun with it. If I’m wearing my military advisor hat, then I get a little more serious about it. But, as an actor, I have kind of a bottom line. My agenda, regardless of which hat I am wearing, is to shed some positive light on men and women in uniform, regardless of the period. Because I think they’re underappreciated and underrepresented properly in the popular media. As long as I’m not being a complete idiot, or doing something that couldn’t conceivably happen in the military, I’ll have fun with it.

Jordan Hoffman: Who are some of the actors and actress that you’ve worked with really sunk their teeth into the training? 
Dale Dye: There’s been a bunch of them, and there are even some surprising names. For instance, Dustin Hoffman, that I did Outbreak with. I used to call him my little maggot. Dustin was very anxious to get his role as a military doctor right. He really got his teeth into it. Tom Hanks. He chases down a role, and had training twice. Once for Forrest Gump and once for Saving Private Ryan, and he gets immersed. There’s hundreds more that you’d be surprised that really get into it. Tom Cruise took a big bite out of the Ron Kovic character from Born on the Fourth of July. Young actors in Band of Brothers, Damien Lewis. The Pacific.

Jordan Hoffman: What do they come to you looking for?

Dale Dye: I train them specifically for what they need: their weapons, their movements, tactical stuff. And every training session I have a thing called "stand down," before we go over into night activities, where they can ask me these specific questions. During the filming, because I’m hands-on, they’ll whisper in my ear, “What am I thinking here,” and usually I can remind them of something that happened in training.

Jordan Hoffman: When are you going to direct your own project?

Dale Dye: It’s coming up. I wrote a WWII film that we will begin either late this summer or this fall called No Better Place to Die. I’m going to direct it, and I’ve got producers looking at it and they love it. They think that a guy like me can bring something special to it. Of course, when you’ve gone to school at the elbow of guys like Spielberg and Hanks and Frankenheimer and Stone, those guys taught me how to tell a story in the visual medium, so I think it’s a natural step for me.