“Act of Valor,” a new film about the lives and sacrifices of Navy SEALs, was originally to star all actors. But co-directors Mike “Mouse” McCoy and Scott Waugh soon realized if they wanted to accurately portray this elite special force, and be true to who these soldiers are, they’d need the real deal — real SEALs.
They’d been hanging with SEALs for months, researching that world. So they asked.
Every SEAL said no.
After much convincing, nine finally agreed to appear in the film, alongside a handful of actors cast in non-SEAL roles, like “Without a Trace” star Roselyn Sanchez, who plays a CIA agent.
“Valor” is the first of its kind — a fictional feature film, starring active-duty military personnel, depicting actual tactics and assets (including a real nuclear submarine), using live ammo (standard procedure for SEALs, but not done in film since the 1920s) and vetted by the U.S. Navy.
The government and filmmakers have taken pains not to reveal SEALs’ identities, or tactics or technology that could threaten national security.
Sanchez, who lives in Los Angeles and recently gave birth to a baby girl, Sabella Rose, chatted by phone:
Q: What did you think when you first heard about a film … starring real Navy SEALs?
A: It sounded … weird. I was like, “Whaddya mean — I’m not gonna do a movie without actors.” But once I read it, and met the directors, I thought it was fantastic.
Q: The SEALs may be outside their comfort zone … but I guess they’ve seen a lot worse.
A: Exactly. In the film, I get beat up, and have to wear all these prosthetics on my face. I was extremely uncomfortable. I had a bit of a situation one day — it was hot, my face was melting, it was taking forever and I was in a bad mood. They saw me … acting up a bit. (She laughs.) They’re looking at me, going, “What are you complaining about?” I felt bad. I’m like, “Ohhh, I’m an actress, guys, sorry.” (She laughs again.) I’d be called at five in the morning, and at eight at night I’d still have that stuff all over my face. In Mississippi, where we shot. In the summer. I decided to just use my bad mood. Because my character goes through hell.
Q: Did you get a sense of what these guys are like?
A: They’re normal. But serious. I have incredible respect for them. They know they can die at any moment. They risk their lives every day, and don’t tell their families about missions. It’s an incredible world. Some of them came from Afghanistan — shot the movie — and went back.
Q: It must be brutal for family members.
A: I can’t imagine. There’s that scene where the guys leave home — and you see all the wives and kids? Those are real wives and kids. I remember the girls asking the director, “What are we supposed to do?” And he said, “Well, what do you do when you have to say goodbye?” And they were like, “We just try to keep it together because we don’t want to show that we’re dying inside.” So that’s what they do. Then they go home and they’re … hysterical. It was intense.
Q: You think kids may watch the action sequences and just get off on the adrenaline?
A: It could happen. But I think the idea is for kids to see this movie and go, “I would love to be a Navy SEAL.” They save lives. Hopefully there’ll be something positive and kids won’t just concentrate on all the toys.
Q: So what about that live ammo flying overhead? Were you freaked out?
A: Can I tell you something? I didn’t know it was live ammo.
A: No! Maybe they told me and I didn’t pay attention. I don’t remember. I heard about it afterward and I was like, “Whaaaa?” I’m glad I didn’t know.
Q: I guess it’ll be a letdown to go back to work on … a regular show.
A: I took some time off for the baby. I just wanted to enjoy the pregnancy and this time. We’re blessed. I’m so lucky. Now it’s pilot season. So I’m looking forward to see what’s next. But as of now … I’m mom. (She laughs.) And that’s good.
Q: What happens if Sabella grows up and wants to be a Navy SEAL? Y’know, in these days, women can …
A: Oh, no. (She laughs again.) I’d rather she be a figure skater.