I always enjoy interviewing actors who are clearly excited and proud of their film, and that was very obvious when I spoke to Ed Skrein and Luke Kleintank for MIDWAY. Their performances paid tribute to real heroes Dick Best and Clarence Dickinson who fought in the Pacific during WWII. The actors’ dedication to portraying the story and characters as accurately as possible really shined through.
MIDWAY meant so much to the actors, Skrein took it upon himself to visit his character Dick Best’s grave at Arlington National Cemetery while he was in town. “When you’re playing a real life character, the sense of responsibility and duty is unparalleled. Even when I’m playing fictional characters, I think as actors we feel a certain amount of responsibility to that profession or country or region or time, but this is another level. Therefore, in terms of connection to the character, I’ve never experienced anything like it. To be there and see Best’s grave, as much as it was profound it was surreal. It was an emotional, powerful, poignant experience to come full circle. Certainly every time I come back to DC I am going to go see Dick Best’s grave.”
Spanning the first six months of WWII and the U.S. Pacific campaign against the Japanese, the film covers the attack on Pearl Harbor through the lynchpin Battle of Midway. It follows several characters, most of whom are pilots stationed on the USS Enterprise.
The actors felt a responsibility to ensure they depicted the real heroes as accurately as possible. Skrein elaborated, “We did a lot of research, but we had a lot of support. We had a military historian on set every day. He was so informative. The first day I got there, I said ‘listen, I am not sensitive. I want to get this right. If I do anything wrong with my salutes, how I’m standing… you let me know.’ There was one scene where I walked out in the pilot ready room and it felt so right to walk out with my hands in my pockets and kind of be resigned. He said you can’t do that. And I [agreed]. They also had Japanese military historians for the Japanese side. It was very important for us as a cast, crew, and director that [the film] be historically accurate.”
The actors filmed for three weeks in Hawaii, mainly on Ford Island in the center of Pearl Harbor. And in our discussion, it was clear how powerful it was to film in the place where it all happened. “We were able to go on a destroyer and meet all of those guys and shake their hands. They were telling us their stories and you could see it was the same kind of fraternity with all of these women and men and we got it right.” Then, believe it or not, they moved to Montreal on a soundstage. “They built about 1/3 of the USS Enterprise on set,” Kleintank said. Ed Skrein continued, “You didn’t need to use your imagination. Maybe 270 people were running around as deck hands. Some days on set it was like Where’s Waldo. It was amazing.”
What I really found interesting was that Luke Kleintank also stars in THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE, an Amazon original TV series that centers around what would have happened if the Axis powers won WWII. I wanted to get his perspective on the experience of playing both roles, one of a real WWII hero and the other a fictional man living in a alternate reality. Kleintank joked, “I think I did it backward. I should’ve done this movie first, then that show. It’s interesting because we are playing real people in MIDWAY. And in THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE, if the war would have gone a different way, it could have been similar to that with the Japanese occupying the West Coast. It’s interesting that I’m doing the TV show and film. Maybe I’m just stuck in this weird Philip K. Dick alternate reality myself.”
Hopefully MIDWAY will spark a new generation to explore the incredible true story of one of the most important naval battles in U.S. military history. And thanks to the spectacular heroes played by Ed Skrein and Luke Kleintank, we will never have to worry about this alternate WWII timeline; it can live through our television screens.