Devil Dogs Movie: Cast Q&A

In this Q&A we talk with the actors featured in the short action/war film Devil Dogs.

(Photojournalist "Riley")

Q: What attracted you to the project?

MICHAEL WORTH (Riley): This medium can sometimes be such a powerful thing that people walk away from the experience having been changed or emotionally touched. We have a finite amount of time on this earth and I am very aware of investing my time in films that mean something and have an impact.

War is such a potent topic. Most war films coming out of Hollywood are so agenda-driven it becomes all about “we’re going to make an issue about this”. Everybody knows that war is terrible – it’s an awful experience but sometimes it’s a necessary one. I felt DEVIL DOGS wasn’t trying to be pretentious one way or another. The script doesn’t go “war rah-rah-rah” and it doesn’t go “war bad, bad, bad”. The story says “Here’s an experience, and look what it does to people having this experience” and it presents characters who each experience war slightly differently. I liked that. The story allows the audience to just embrace what it is and take away what they get out of it.

My role of the photojournalist Riley is in a sense the eyes of the audience or the people “back home”. He’s thrown in with a group of Marines who each have their different perspective. Even though the story is such a short format, there was so much being told in that space of time without it being “let me jab you in the eye with my ideal of what I feel about war.” Reading that script was an emotional experience. It felt real to me and that was very attractive to me about the project. It felt like something from the heart as compared to a propaganda piece, and it ties into the type of projects I want to spend my time making so I felt connected to it.

Q: Are there any similarities between you and the character you played?

MICHAEL WORTH (Riley): It’s always nice when there is a role that is offered to you and it has some kind of direct tie to your life. Being a photographer, as the role of the photojournalist, I didn’t have to substitute a love for doing something else because I love looking through my lens. I could completely relate to that idea of trying to capture something with the lens and translate it back to whoever the audience is, in the case of Riley it would be his newspaper readers or his magazine readers.

Q: What do you think you brought to your character?

MICHAEL WORTH (Riley): I think I brought an insight into the connection between the Marine and the civilian. What I found very interesting is, these two characters – the Hicks character and the Riley character - come from opposite sides of the street. One guy is in the military, he’s gung-ho, he’s experienced, he’s on his second tour and ready to go. Then you have the other guy who’s been bopping around to different units, he’s seen some terrible stuff but he’s still behind the camera the whole time, he’s not behind a gun.

They actually have a connection to one another – Hicks is losing his “brothers” in war, and what I discovered in the character’s backstory is Riley actually has a brother he lost in Vietnam. It’s only through battle that these two men discover their connection to one another. At the core they’re the same. The storyline that they both have brothers may just be a metaphor for saying they both have hearts.

Q: How did you prepare for your role?

MICHAEL WORTH (Riley): After reading the script the first time, I chose not to read any of the material that happens prior to my character entering the story. I felt that my character should not come in really knowing what the Marines are going through. That would be true of Riley, he wouldn’t know what those guys had just experienced or what their feelings are. I wanted to come in with a slightly more objective, almost innocent, idea of what is going on in the situation so that by the end of story I could allow myself to feel perhaps what I wasn’t anticipating or expecting.

I did go online and look at images of news correspondents to ensure I was approaching my “look” correctly. I didn’t want to just deck out in military gear with a camera because I thought the idea of this was the filmmakers wanted to capture these two different perspectives [photographer and Marines]. I thought there should be a visual differential between Riley and the Marines. When I researched it I was surprised. Some of these camera guys are just walking around in their shirts and slacks or jeans and their T-shirts. Sometimes they had maybe a vest on or a helmet. I thought that was great because not only does it separate the character from the rest of the guys but it also makes him look more like he’s back home. It keeps him a civilian. I used my own clothes. I knew I would feel comfortable like that.

I would feel like it was me. And the morning the production started, I found a shirt I had with an image on it of a guy with a camera that reads “Shoot To Kill”. I also found an old Army wristband I wore, which is the character’s military connection, and some Buddhist beads, which I thought would represent his more peaceful and spiritual side.

Q: What was the experience on set and working with the other actors?

MICHAEL WORTH (Riley): We shot on an incredible set so it wasn’t hard to just be there and feel that experience. There were a few times that I definitely tapped into the idea of something being so lively one second and then being completely gone the next. As you get older, there is more awareness of the finiteness of life. There are times you may feel like someone’s life was cut short prematurely and other times you feel a person lived a long, fruitful existence. But either way – you realize it comes and it goes. It puts into perspective the idea of what we choose to do with our time here.

These Marines go into battle and they’re 18 and 19, and sometimes they’re not coming back or if they do come home they’re not the same person they were physically or psychologically. It was a very potent set to be on. It evoked the reality of what happened and what continues to happen. Being on set with the actors, it would be easy to take those actors and envision them as the real Marines. Each of those actors had a clone who served in a war somewhere and who were fighting and losing their lives.

(Marine "Hicks")

Q: What attracted you to the project?

GREG DUKE (Hicks): I loved being in the Marine Corps – if I hadn’t gotten hurt I would still be in the Marines. Anytime there is a movie that revolves around the military in a positive way I’m interested because I love the atmosphere, I love the people that it brings. There is a certain type of personality and a certain type of person attracted to those roles, who are very similar to the people who actually go into the service.

When Richard [Kerner], my manager, first brought DEVIL DOGS to me, I was interested because the role had to do with being a Marine and I wanted to read it. What I liked most about the script was the second version I read, because in the second version I didn’t die!

Going into the audition and meeting the writer/producer [Laura Cross] and the way she did the audition I really liked it [the filmmaker auditioned actors as a group performing an ensemble scene from the script, instead of auditioning actors individually]. It gave an immediate sense of camaraderie with everyone and you could see how different “units” [of actors] would start gelling right away. It was so much fun, I immediately believed it was going to be a fantastic project.

I was super excited when I was selected for the role of Hicks. The whole thing was really a win-win; it had to do with the Marine Corps, I really liked the script, the screenwriter did an excellent job capturing the reality of it, I really liked the filmmakers, and I liked the group/ensemble aspect.

Q: Are there any similarities between you and the character you played?

GREG DUKE (Hicks): I AM Hicks. When I was reading the script I just thought “Oh my God, this is fucking me”. It was funny. The way I viewed Hicks: he was a very alpha male, very confident, hardcore, balls-to-the-wall Marine who didn’t take shit from anyone, but knew when to give it and when not to, and knew who could give it and who could get it. He’s a guy’s guy who can joke and mess around and be funny one moment, but could then turn around and be serious because he understood he was there for a mission, and not just out there to fool around. To me, he was a silent leader. He led more by his actions than by ordering others to follow him. He would never have someone do something that he wouldn’t do himself. Hands down, the character I related to the most is Hicks. My personality is totally Hicks.

Q: What do you think you brought to your character?

GREG DUKE (Hicks): Laura did a phenomenal job writing the script - especially, not being in the military - she captures what it’s like perfectly. I’ve read quite a bit about military leaders, and they respect their opponent. They respect the way they think, the strategy that they use, how they prepare, and – exactly how the screenwriter wrote it - they respect the determination and the courage their opponents have in doing what they do because they believe they are doing the right thing.

I felt Laura captured that perfectly and that she understood it, especially the scene where Hicks is in the room in a kind of “trance” state talking about how the insurgents wait for hours in a room just to kill a Marine – it was so moving you could “feel” what she wrote. So my job was to take those words and bring them to life, and make the work mean something. When someone reads material, they interpret it how they view it, but when we watch something, we interpret it the way the actor portrays it.

I was able to reference my experience and understanding of respecting an opponent - I deliver the lines with reverence but also convey that my opponent better fear me because I am just as deadly as him. Whatever a viewer ultimately interprets from my interpretation of it, my job was to take it how I thought the writer wanted it portrayed, and make it my own and make it come to life.

Q: How did you prepare for your role?

GREG DUKE (Hicks): Hicks is very tight with his buddy Hernandez. As I was reading the script I recalled, when I was in the Marine Corps, being very tight with a Marine named Riddle. We were like brothers. Literally, everything we did - we did together. We were always neck-and-neck and in friendly competition on everything: who had the best PT score, who had the best marksmanship, who could outlast the other on an obstacle run. We pushed one another to be better. We were so close, like brothers. That is how I envisioned Hicks’s relationship with Hernandez.

It really is funny. In my Marine unit there was a guy who was exactly like the character Keller. He was quiet, he was philosophical, he had good energy, he was always reliable and I knew I could count on him. And there was a guy just like Juarez, a younger Marine who looked up to the older Marines. I already knew these guys who were in the script.

I had to learn a few lines of Spanish for the film. It was so funny, I would ask Andres, who plays Hernandez, “How do you pronounce this?”, and his response was “I don’t know, I don’t really speak Spanish.” It was hilarious. It was the director, Lindsay Holt, who had to help me out.

Q: What was the experience on set and working with the other actors?

GREG DUKE (Hicks): Being on set with everyone, it was so similar to being in the Marine Corps. There is a brotherhood that forms. There is one character who I absolutely love. The character is Juarez. Anything that would go wrong it would always start with him, and all the actors would just say, “Fucking Juarez”. It became this running joke – no matter what was happening on set, if something didn’t work out, or something malfunctioned, or something didn’t go right, it would always be “Fucking Juarez!”

It was exactly the way that guys would act in the Marine Corps – where you’re in a situation that is so intense, and so crazy, and everything has got to be perfect or someone could die, and yet you have so much fun in the moments that don’t need to be serious. It was the same experience on the set. When we were acting together during the shoot, we were really living it, we were in a situation where we were getting fired on, and it’s life and death – only we’re acting - but our brains are still feeling this experience. So in between scenes we’d joke with Juarez – and everyone did it, even the director got into it. The camaraderie between all the guys was so much fun. It definitely created a sense that these guys [the characters] had been together for a while.

I loved the transition that everybody made [into their characters] as we were on set. When I first met Andrew [who plays Keller] he was so nice, and I remembered him from the auditions and he was such a sweet guy, and then when we got on the set, he became such a jokester.

(Marine Sergeant "O'Brien")

Q: What attracted you to the project?

JOHN J. PISTONE (O’Brien): I was researching films that I want to be involved in. If you want to do this for a living, you have to be pro-active with your career. I came across DEVIL DOGS which was in development. I visited the website. It was something I felt passionate about. I wanted to help in any way I could because this is something that I had done in my own life as a veteran and combat cameraman. I’ve been in Iraq. I know what it’s like. I was fortunate that the filmmakers responded to my email. It was a one-in-a-million chance. Early on I came in as a military advisor for the shoot, and that eventually developed into a role.

Exposing people to what happens in combat is a fine line. There are things that go on that the public doesn’t necessarily need to see for various reasons – one is because we live in a society where they don’t have to experience it. At the same time, if you don’t tell these stories and people don’t understand what it’s like mentally and don’t understand what our servicemen who are in combat on a daily basis experience or don’t know about those who have made the ultimate sacrifice – then we tend to separate it and say “That’s something that never happens to us.” By telling these stories and showing the effects of combat it can give the general public a look behind the veil, and they can become more aware of what their family, friends, fellow members of society are going through when they return home.

Q: Are there any similarities between you and the character you played?

JOHN J. PISTONE (O’Brien): O’Brien is older than the other Marines. When I joined the military I was in my 30s, so I was much older than the guys I went to boot camp with. When you’re older you come with more life experiences to draw from and I think O’Brien is that kind of character. It was easy for me to relate to O’Brien.

Q: What do you think you brought to your character?

JOHN J. PISTONE (O’Brien): Hopefully, I brought a sense of realism to O’Brien that transcends the page because of my military experience. I know the way military men walk and talk is different [than non-military]. If you’ve never spent any time in the military you can take a script and try to prepare as much as possible, but when you’ve actually lived it you bring the real deal. It’s like being a professional football player – as a layman I can look at a professional football player and think I could do everything they do but I don’t really know what they know about what goes on within a professional football huddle or inside a locker room or how they relate to one another.

It all comes down to the script. You’re really only as good as the material you have to work with. If you have a good script and you can follow that, and you’ve done any kind of training as an actor, hopefully, you’ll do justice to what’s written.

Q: How did you prepare for your role?

JOHN J. PISTONE (O’Brien): I wasn’t initially cast as O’Brien. The first day I came on set, the actor who was hired to play “O’Brien” was fired and I stepped into the role at, literally, the last minute. Thankfully, I was ready when called upon. I believe that was due to my military training. It’s a lesson to anyone to always be prepared. Things can change on a dime. Ninety-nine percent of what happens in life is just showing up and being ready. I had studied the script, and I was able to take on the role of O’Brien when asked.

Q: What was the experience on set and working with the other actors?

JOHN J. PISTONE (O’Brien): The set layout and the architecture is exactly like you would find in any town in Iraq. It creates an accurate environment that puts an actor in a certain mood and tone even before you start shooting.

All the actors bonded very quickly with one another. Greg Duke had spent time in the Marine Corps prior to getting into acting and so he and I had that bond. We all formed a tight group and we all stay in contact with one another fairly regularly now. I think a lot of it had to do with the environment we were in, and the roles we were given to play. It’s just like the military. You’re thrown into a situation and you are forced to get along. You have to have a singularity of purpose about what you are there to accomplish. Everybody had that. They were all team players. They were all professionals who came ready to work.

Q: How did you approach your role as a military advisor for the film?

JOHN J. PISTONE (O’Brien): It’s always a fine line when you come from the military into a movie. A critic is always going to find something inaccurate. You have to consider that this is a story and not everything can be a 100% authentic because the filmmakers have to tell a story that keeps an audience engaged, and they have certain considerations and budgets to maintain. When we were in pre-production I showed how the military would do something, and then I’d show a variation that matched the filmmakers vision and was adapted to be more accurate. For this film, there were some things the filmmakers wanted to see that were not technically accurate but were necessary for the story. Even big studio films do this. For example, Black Hawk Down had to forego accuracy in the uniforms because Ridley Scott needed to have the names of the characters written on the helmets so the audience could tell who was who in the story. That would never happen in combat in real life - but it had to happen in that movie.

(Marine "Hernandez")

Q: What attracted you to the project?

ANDRES PEREZ-MOLINA (Hernandez): Number one: the story attracted me. I had watched the film Lone Survivor about a week prior to receiving the script for DEVIL DOGS, and that movie stuck with me. I had never seen a group of actors be so invested in their characters. The brutality in that movie was so intense, you almost have to look away at certain times. The brotherhood that they brought, the pride of the U.S. military – those elements stuck with me.

When I received the DEVIL DOGS script I felt it was a short film version of that experience. I felt that my character, Lance Corporal Hernandez, was - along with Hicks - the core of that experience. It would be like playing Mark Wahlberg and Taylor Kirtch’s parts in Lone Survivor – the two guys who were the core, who had been there and done it.

In the dialogue, Hicks is more the laid-back funny, charismatic kind of guy and also the leader, and my character was “say-less, do more”. He was the “old soul” of the group. I didn’t have as many lines, but my lines are impactful. My dialogue is more than just talking about the war and the mission. Hernandez questions what is going on, but he is fully committed to his country and his job. Hicks is lovable, he is in the moment. Hernandez is looking at the bigger picture.

Q: Are there any similarities between you and the character you played?

ANDRES PEREZ-MOLINA (Hernandez): I am naturally very protective of my family and close friends. Like Hernandez, I tell people what they need to hear not necessarily what they want to hear. It’s about caring versus taking the easy way out of a situation.

Q: What do you think you brought to your character?

ANDRES PEREZ-MOLINA (Hernandez): I think I brought an experience and confidence in who Hernandez is. My perspective was Hernandez had more questions than the other Marines. Whereas, Hicks was the one with the statements, and the orders, and the plan, very black and white – Hernandez was the one who felt there are some gray areas in the situation. There is something wrong here – there is something bigger going on than what we’re doing. Yet, his first commitment was to the mission.

I wanted to bring a big brother or father approach – let Hicks lead but Hernandez will be the backbone and ensure everyone is good-to-go. It was shown through actions, as well as through the dialogue that the character was almost questioning everything he was doing and yet still loved and respected what he was doing. He’s internally asking the question “What is the real meaning of why I’m doing this – are we eradicating the threat or increasing it?” That is the core of what he is about, and when I recognized that, it gave me a point of focus to bring him to life.

Q: How did you prepare for your role?

ANDRES PEREZ-MOLINA (Hernandez): I felt Hernandez’s character was so committed to his service that the Marines were almost his family. I naturally felt that Hernandez probably didn’t have a family. He had somehow lost his family. During rehearsal working with Greg we created a backstory that Hernandez has a sister who Hicks has been dating. That informed my performance – I thought it was perfect because now I know I’m the over-protective brother. I’m her only family – no wonder Hernandez is the way he is.

A week prior to shooting I told my family I was only going to email them. I didn’t communicate with them in any other way. I didn’t call. I didn’t want to hear their voices, because every time I did I felt I was right back home in Virginia with my extended family – talking with my young nieces and nephews, everyone laughing and happy, it would put me in a cheerful frame of mind. I didn’t want to feel that. I wanted to create a sense that I had no family. It brought a certain loneliness not having that contact, and it also made me appreciate more the Marine brotherhood.

Q: What was the experience on set and working with the other actors?

ANDRES PEREZ-MOLINA (Hernandez): The first day of table-reading we all just clicked. We all fit our roles. It was the perfect casting. Everyone became their character immediately. Nothing was forced. Everyone brought something to the table. Everyone knew where they stood. A natural trust formed between all of us. It made it easier to be Hernandez with all those other great actors.

(Marine "Keller")

Q: What attracted you to the project?

ANDREW ONOCHIE (Keller): My talent agency submitted me for the project and when I read the description for the character Keller I was immediately drawn to him. I’ve played a Marine in another film, and my brother serves in the Army. I was attracted to Keller – he’s a man who wants to make something of his life and do something positive. I loved that about him.

Q: Are there any similarities between you and the character you played?

ANDREW ONOCHIE (Keller): Keller’s background is one of poverty, he grew up in a suburb of Detroit, and coming from Nigeria and immigrating to Brooklyn, New York, that’s an experience I share with the character. He’s also an intellectual – and I always studied and loved education. I’m an avid reader. He has a great relationship with his pops as shown in the film, which I do as well. I felt like I could relate to him.

Q: What do you think you brought to your character?

ANDREW ONOCHIE (Keller): I felt I could bring a lot of authenticity to this character because we share a similar upbringing. I give a lot of credit to Laura [the writer], everything was really already on the page.

Q: How did you prepare for your role?

ANDREW ONOCHIE (Keller): My brother was the first call I made, and he just began sharing his own experiences in the military [U.S. Army]. He told me how to cut my hair, how to carry myself, how to speak. And the consultants on set were just incredible with insights on how to hold the weapons, how to move, the jargon, all the little technical details.

When I am hired for a role I begin keeping a diary of the character. And I literally start at the beginning: where I was born, what hospital I was born in, what time I was born, how I grew up, who are my parents and siblings. It was apparent that Keller is written as an intellectual and he reads a lot, so I assumed he would have eye problems and needed to wear glasses when he reads – so I showed up on set with a pair of eye glasses. I was able to incorporate little things like that into the character.

Q: What was the experience on set and working with the other actors?

ANDREW ONOCHIE (Keller): It was like love at first sight with the other actors… ha-ha. We became like brothers on the set. I had met Greg and Raihan at the auditions. I spoke with both of them at that time, and we connected immediately. Obviously, Greg has a lot of military background and he shared information with me before we even went into the audition room. I walked into the audition with a lot of confidence. I had never auditioned before as a group [the way the filmmakers conducted the auditions], and I have to say it was one of the best audition experiences I have ever had. I was so comfortable in the room with the other actors. The writer/producer made the whole process very comfortable. There was no feeling of pressure, and I bonded with the other guys. It was so easy and relaxed.

Everyone on set gave us incredible leeway to do things we wanted, to try things. It was an incredible collaboration with the director and the writer/producer. It was a great shoot. I had a lot of fun. It’s an experience I will carry with me for the rest of my life, and be appreciative of.

(Marine "Juarez")

Q: What attracted you to the project?

RAIHAN BAQUI (Juarez): My agent and manager submit me for projects that they feel is best for my career. The projects I submit myself for, like Devil Dogs, are the ones I usually book because I’m choosing them because I connect in some way with the character. Acting is a passion, but it’s also a channel for many other dreams of things I want to experience in my life. Through acting I can be a rock star, I can be a gymnast, I can be a Marine. Devil Dogs allowed me to have a military experience. Of course, as much as I try, I can’t even imagine what the real Marines had to go through. We were actors on a set that was designed to look like Iraq, in costumes meant to make us feel like we’re in the military, in extremely hot conditions in the middle of summer – but we had the privilege of going into an air-conditioned trailer – the real guys are not playing.

Q: Are there any similarities between you and the character you played?

RAIHAN BAQUI (Juarez): When I read Juarez, I said “This is me!” I felt I could play him. He was almost an alter-ego of myself in another universe. It gave me incredible confidence going into the audition. My similarities with Juarez is the eagerness and the optimism. All the rookie mistakes that Juarez makes – when I get excited, I’m like that.

Q: What do you think you brought to your character?

RAIHAN BAQUI (Juarez): The script and the character breakdown were both strong. I wouldn’t say that I added anything to Juarez, I more filled in the character in different spectrums - bringing parts of myself, both my conscious actions and subconscious actions.

Q: How did you prepare for your role?

RAIHAN BAQUI (Juarez): Growing up, I was always the smallest, weakest guy – and I would be picked on. I had a friend who joined the Marines, and he had this incredible confidence, and composure, and internal strength. I associated that with Juarez.

My preparation was mostly mental preparation. I went to the script and started personalizing everything Juarez was going through to make it resonate with my own life. I also researched the Fallujah battle and watched video footage on the Internet. Just viewing what these guys went through caused me incredible anxiety, and allowed me to understand somewhat, not just the physical aspect, but the mental preparation these Marines must have in that situation. My duty as an actor was to bring as much truth as possible to their story.

Q: What was the experience on set and working with the other actors?.

RAIHAN BAQUI (Juarez): On set, like Juarez looks up to the older Marines, I looked up to the other actors. The experience was incredible, I felt like I was finally considered a “brother”. The best part was, as actors we were fulfilling our characters’ needs on camera, and off-camera we were still those same characters with one another, we had that bond.
I was nervous to work with Eric Roberts because he is such an esteemed actor. That feeling I was experiencing in my scene with him [edited from the film] was the same as what the character Juarez is meant to feel meeting the Colonel, so it added to my performance in a way I hadn’t expected.

The filmmakers were so committed. There is a scene where my character is dragged on a dirt street and the camera angle is from Juarez’s point of view. One of the cameramen [Steve Carter] put on the military uniform and was dragged around through the dirt to get that shot.

Before Devil Dogs I considered myself an “aspiring” actor. I had never played a substantial character. This job allowed me to realize and say to myself “I am a professional actor.”