The war drama 12 Strong is unique in that it tells a true story not many Americans know about and presents a perspective of the Afghan people fighting the Taliban on their own front.
The film centers on the immediate aftermath of 9/11, and how a Special Forces team, captained by Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth), is deployed to Afghanistan to retaliate against the Taliban. Dropped into the country’s legendary and unforgiving mountains, the team is thrown into the mix and must team up with Afghan warlord General Dostrum (Navid Negahban), who has been engaging in guerrilla warfare with the Taliban for years. While the Afghan army uses rudimentary weaponry and travels mostly by horseback, the Special Forces team are there to just provide air support in bombing the Taliban factions, but of course get personally involved in the fray.
While the fighting and action sequences in 12 Strong keep to a familiar war-like scenario, the true story is fascinating in that no one knew what these guys did because their mission was top secret. Author Doug Stanton uncovered the story and was able to research and write his book Horse Soldiers, which the film is based on, to show how the US went in right away and was successful in damaging the Taliban strongholds in the Afghan mountains.
At the recent press conference, We Live Entertainment got to hear from several of the key players who worked on the film, including Chris Hemsworth (“Mitch Nelson”), Navid Negahban (“General Dostrum”), Geoff Stults (“Sean Coffers”), Trevante Rhodes (“Ben Milo”), Nicolai Fuglsig (Director), Jerry Bruckheimer (Producer) and Doug Stanton.
Here are six things that we learned from them about the making of 12 Strong:
On playing a true hero:
Chris Hemsworth: I have done a lot of stuff in the comic-book world, fantasy-based heroes and so on. It has been a lot of fun but desperately wanted to do something with some real heart and something more grounded. This script came around a few years ago. My first reaction was I couldn’t believe it was a true story. I knew about this conflict and this war like a lot of people but not about this mission. I was engrossed, fascinated and shocked by the details.
Then speaking with the guys about the process – a real honesty and openness and lack of dramatization and ego as they recounted these events. Such a humility and like you said, they are real heroes. To put themselves in these positions, in harm’s way. With their safety in jeopardy for the rest of our safety is something beyond admirable. Inspiring, and I was honored to be asked to play this character and to be part of this story, but definitely felt the weight of that responsibility. I think we all did. Real thankful we had the real guys there, cast, crew, Doug [Stanton], who was an incredible resource at our fingertips. It was an incredible experience and one I’ll remember for a long, long time.
Jerry Bruckheimer: I don’t think these men see themselves as heroes. They are just doing their job that they are trained to do. They do it because they love their country, they love their families – and they are professionals. They are highly trained, highly intelligent and deadly. And the fact they went into this county and bonded with the Afghan people. You have to understand that there are all these different tribes, they show it in the movie. And they all fight amongst each other, and the fact these 12 men went in and got them all to work together against a common foe is so interesting. So they don’t see it as a sacrifice as much as they see it as their job. We are so fortunate that we could show their excellence in this movie.
On differences between warriors and soldiers:
Trevante Rhodes: I think the difference between a warrior and a soldier is–warriors do it with their heart, soldiers with their mind. I think it’s very valuable to lead with your heart. At least, in my opinion, it’s the only thing that’s the truest, the most honest form of reaction in any way. When we think and lead with our minds, we make mistakes. It was just an honor to embody someone I really think is a warrior in the best light.
Hemsworth: The way [the Special Forces team] were able to adapt and evolve and embed themselves within this world was amazing. To work with the local people, not against them and fighting a common enemy. And form a brotherhood with the Afghan people but also amongst the soldiers, something that kept coming up in the guys I spoke to and the relationships they still have together to this day. It’s as strong of a bond that they’ve ever had, like family. Again, inspiring and evident in their approach to how they did things.
On making the mission look authentic:
Geoff Stults: Like we’ve said, we had some of the real guys this book was based on and military advisors there. One of the actual actors, Kenny Sheard [who played Bill Bennett], was a former Navy SEAL. We had a lot of people with a lot of experience that we leaned on. Whenever we made a move or held a gun, we kinda turned to Kenny and he’d [tell them they didn’t look right]. So we had people there to make sure we didn’t screw it up. That was very important to everyone… that this was authentic. To pay these guys the respect they deserved and tell the story the right way.
On training and those horses:
Hemsworth: We did three or four weeks of military training, weapons training, and for me, the most important thing was the chemistry and bond we formed. Of course, the technical side of things was an absolute must, but it was tricky to link all those connections to the story together. The little moments and jokes and beats in between the bigger scenes were because of all the contribution of the guys and our friendship we formed in that training.
Navid Negahban: I ride horses, but the first week we were there, I forgot how old I am. I was riding and my horse went into a gallop. The trainer was like “Don’t gallop!” and I’m turning around to talk to him and all of the sudden, the horse is up in the air, jumping over the bush. I didn’t know what to do. For two weeks after, I was walking like this [wincing]. When we were shooting the movie, the guys had to help me get off and on the horse.
On telling the real Afghan story:
Nicolai Fuglsig: I think because we [had some of the real people] who were there on the ground. They told exactly what was happening on the ground [at that time]. With the script and Doug’s book, putting all these elements together, we were able to discover the truth. Even some of the Afghans who helped us on the movie set were actually involved in that incident. They were refugees who live in Albuquerque, New Mexico [where the film was shot]. They really helped us by telling us how they were feeling. For me, it was crucial to just sit down and listen to them.
Negahban: One of the most important things is this is really one of the first films that truly shows what Afghans went through [at that time]. And how we united with them to achieve our goal. Some of the families I talked to didn’t want to be involved in the film. We couldn’t find any Afghan actors to work with. When I told them what we were doing and what this film was about, the heads of the families got together and all of a sudden, we had 400 people lined up, from all different Afghan families and cultures. There was one main head of the families, checking everyone in. They’d come up, kiss his hand and walk in. We were really blessed to have them in the movie.
On what they hope audience will take away:
Hemsworth: A big thing that I took away from this experience, in talking with the real guys, was how important it was for them, for their own survival, to convince the Afghans they were fighting with that they weren’t there to occupy their country. They were there to hunt down the same enemy. As Navid said, the Afghan people we had working with us on the film came up and thanked us for telling their story. They’d say, “I was there fighting with the Americans but the whole world thinks I’m a terrorist. I think it’s so important that the world knows we are on the same side. And that the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, there is the infection coming over to take over and restructure the place.” That meant a lot to all of us. The collaboration, heart, and bond that they all shared.
Rhodes: Just to relay what everyone is saying… the love, connectivity. Being open to people and the understanding. Because, in all honesty, everyone’s understanding [at that time] was anyone from the Middle East was bad, which is so ignorant. So to have the opportunity to read this story and be a part of this story, to know the truth, it’s amazing.
Negahban: There’s an expression that says, “When you can see the truth when you’re blind and can hear the truth when you’re deaf.” So if you put all the differences aside and see the person as who he/she is, then you will see how similar we are. Then you will discover our similarities and not our differences. That’s what the world is about, us being the same. There’s no difference except the color. Who cares? Go inside and what you find inside you is pure white. And there’s no difference between the white that is inside me with anyone else who is sitting here. We are the same.