Q: We've seen you take on a wide variety of roles, how was this one different?
It was an interesting road. When I was first interested in this project, I did it in tandem with Chris Kyle. He was very much alive and he had written an autobiography called American Sniper. I loved that war genre ever since I was a kid. I was sort of obsessed with it and I thought I hadn't really seen a character study lately within that genre and I thought he was such a dynamic and charismatic individual, ripe for cinema - as is Taya Kyle. We loved the idea of framing it in a western construct. There's another sniper, there's a sharp shooter and there's a showdown in the last act and we thought that would be an interesting movie. Then Feb. 2, 2013, he was brutally murdered two days after we had handed in the script. Everything changed after that day and Taya Kyle two weeks later said, "If you're going to make this movie make it now and do it right." Jason Hall went back and restructured the whole film. It became much more about the relationship between a serviceman, a soldier, a warrior and then being at home and that almost schizophrenic nature of having to jockey between both. Clint Eastwood and I just decided that we wanted to make this a pure character study and if we got it right to any degree, hopefully it could serve two purposes; one would be that those men and women that serve can relate to it and maybe not feel so alone by their plight, and the other would be for the 99 percent of America that have no idea what it's like or know anybody in the military to say, "Wow, maybe the person that passed me in the airport, I'm going to stop and not just say thank you for your service, which does mean a lot, but take it a step further," because our vets are coming home in greater numbers than ever before because of the advancements of medical technology and we have to take care of them.
Q: Given your level of involvement in what you had to do physically and mentally to prepare for this role, has that changed the way you look at the Navy?
It changed my relationship to food - 6,000 calories day. Navy SEALs come in all shapes and sizes that is what I did learn. There is no archetype and there is no formula for what makes a Navy SEAL. There are so many studies that have been done where they take world class athletes and put them through the training and that doesn't mean you're going to be a great SEAL or even make it as a SEAL. There's that X factor. We decided to focus on Chris and Chris just happened to be a huge mammoth of a man, a big Texan. I did the work to become him in terms of the size and the way he sounded because to us that was a vital part of his character. There was a lightness, there was a sensitivity, there was levity to him, but it only came through in an interesting way because on the surface, he was a very imposing individual and we thought that was a dynamic way to show it. Quite frankly, I had to believe I was him and there was no way at 185 from Philly was I going to ever believe that I was Chris Kyle the legend. I was just a ball of nerves the three or four months before we started shooting because I just didn't know if I could get there. I gave Wayne (Chris Kyle's father) my word that I would do everything that I could but I knew if I didn't show up that first day as Chris, I was going to tell Clint, "Let's not make the movie." Luckily, all that work was worth it and it was a tremendous amount of work and I felt like I had Chris with me the whole movie.