Bill Broyles interview

Interview with Bill Broyles

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Bill Broyles has one of the more diverse résumés that you are likely to find. He served in the Marines during the Vietnam War. He was once the editor of “Newsweek” magazine. Recently, he has dabbled in screenplays, and befriending Tom Hanks early on has proven to be rather fortuitous (he worked on “Apollo 13,” “Cast Away,” and “The Polar Express”). Now promoting the March 7 release of “Jarhead” on DVD, Broyles chatted with Bullz-Eye about the many war-themed projects he has done, the nonsensical ending to “Planet of the Apes,” and why people find “The Polar Express” so creepy.

Bullz-Eye: You seem to be the man who was born to adapt “Jarhead” into a screenplay, since you’re a former Marine yourself.

Bill Broyles: Well, it was definitely, when it came along, I didn’t want anybody else to do it.

BE: Is this the first war-related work you’ve done since “China Beach”? (Broyles was co-creator of the show)

BB: I did a screenplay for Tom Hanks about the battle of Khe Sanh in Vietnam…now you’re making me go through all my unmade scripts! There were a couple of others, a World War II one I did the first draft of called “Flags of our Fathers,” that’s coming out in November. (directed by Clint Eastwood, with screenplay credit given to “Crash”'s Paul Haggis)

BE: Was there a part of Anthony Swofford’s book that you really wanted to include in the screenplay but wound up getting cut?

BB: That’s an interesting question. I had tried to get more in about his life before he had joined the Marines, and his life afterward. But the war itself was so intense and so visual, so dramatically a piece, that those (other) sections, we wound up condensing into this very visual look. And there was one other piece that was actually in the DVD, where Sam Rockwell comes in and gives the young Swoff a talking-to after the bombing of Beirut. It’s a great piece of acting, but it just didn’t work, so I was sad to see that go. There’s always stuff on the (cutting room) floor that makes me say, “Oh, that hurts so much to see it there.”

BE: I read an interview where you mentioned that your son is in Iraq.

BB: Well, thankfully, he is no longer there. He did three tours. He was a Pararescue Jumper in the Air Force, kind of like a Navy SEAL. They do high altitude rescues and they go to Mt. McKinley…but he finished his third tour and came home the day “Jarhead” opened. He and his team went straight from the airport, with their duffel bags, to the movie theater to watch “Jarhead.”

BE: No kidding. So he was probably already (in Iraq) when you decided to adapt “Jarhead” into a screenplay?

BB: He was in the military. I don’t believe he had gone (to Iraq) yet. (Responds to a comment someone whispered in his ear) Oh, that’s right, he had, he had (been in Iraq). So that was part of our motivation. I had been in Vietnam, and Vietnam was a memory of Tony Swofford in “Jarhead,” and my son was in Iraq and the Gulf War, so it was like one generation to another. And I thought it was a great chance to show universal that small unit-family bonding thing that goes on.

BE: I see you’re following this with another somewhat war-related story, “Shadow Divers.”

BB: Correct!

BE: What is that about?

BB: It has a war resonance to it, but it’s really about a couple of working class divers from New Jersey. They hate each other, but together find this (German) World War II U-Boat off the coast of New Jersey that nobody knew was there. And they spend the next seven years of their lives trying to figure out which U-Boat it is, and who are the men buried in it. In the course of that, their marriages fall apart, and they finally bond together, they’re the only ones they have left. And then they go back to Germany and take some artifacts from the ship to the widows and the children of the men who had died there.

BE: That sounds so very Ridley Scott (the director of the movie).

BB: He originally was attached (to direct), and he may come back again, but he went off and made a movie in France with Russell Crowe (“A Good Year”), and I don’t believe that the studio wanted to wait. It’s one of those Hollywood things where the writer’s the last to know what’s really going on.

BE: We’ve only got a couple minutes left, and I know you’re here to primarily talk about “Jarhead,” but you’ve got so many interesting movies in your filmography that I was wondering if I could get you to chat a bit about each one of them.

BB: Whatever you want!

BE: All right, well, let’s start with “Apollo 13.”

BB: That movie, I call “Up, Then Down Again.” It’s one of my favorite films. It was the first one I did, and I think it shows an extraordinary collective spirit that I don’t think Americans feel much anymore. I loved doing that movie. Tom Hanks did a great job, and there’s something so pure about it, it just really came out well.

BE: “Entrapment.”

BB: Well, that was really fun too, because that was the only thriller, escapade, caper movie I ever did. It turned out to be much harder than it looks, the sustaining of suspense, and the crackle of romance, and all that. It’s not that easy.

BE: “Planet of the Apes.”

BB: Well, that was an experience that was sort of the opposite of “Apollo 13.” It didn’t turn out nearly like I hoped it would. I wasn’t really as much in sync with the director, Tim Burton, as I was with, say, Bob Zemeckis on “Cast Away” and Sam Mendes on “Jarhead.” “Planet of the Apes” just got away from what I thought it should be, and became something different. A lot of people liked it, but it’s not the top of my favorite ones.

BE: How many endings did they write for that movie? The one that ended up in the final cut –

BB: I don’t like the one that wound up in the final cut. I did not do that one. I don’t understand it, I have no idea what it means. You tell me, because it doesn’t make any sense to me.

BE: No, it doesn’t make any sense at all. That’s why I asked, I figured there were at least two, maybe three, maybe seven endings to that movie.

BB: I think any of those numbers can be argued convincingly. It might even be more, I don’t know. I just wrote one, but it’s not in the movie.

BE: Do you find it surprising that people are as divided as they are over “The Polar Express”? There’s a group of people who adore the movie, and another group that is freaked out by it.

BB: I find that very surprising. To me, it’s just this really sweet children’s movie with some deeper resonance, if you look for it. I made it almost more for me than for my kids, because it’s really about the sense of loss that children don’t feel – because they still live in that magical world – that a lot of grown-ups do. Some people’s reaction to it was just so vehement, I didn’t have any idea where that came from. It’s like getting really angry at Bambi. But I love it, my kids and I watch it every year. It was great for me, because it was a movie I could take all my kids to, my mother to…it’s one of my very favorites. It was probably the technique of it (that freaked people out). It’s so unusual and so unexpected. Either you bought into it, and went along for the ride, or you got turned off and you didn’t go along for the ride. But it did $300 million worldwide, and that’s not counting the DVD, so I think enough people liked it, so I can work again.

BE: Is there anything else you’re working on that’s not listed on IMDb?

BB: Not at the moment, I think I’m pretty much caught up. (Changing the subject back to his previous movies) “Cast Away” is one that’s really close to my heart, and I loved “Unfaithful.” Sort of like “Entrapment,” I’d never done a romantic thriller, and that was really fun to do.

BE: “Cast Away” was your only movie that wasn’t an adaptation, right?

BB: “Entrapment” was not…”Apollo 13,” actually that was kind of interesting. We were doing the movie at the same time they were doing the book. So it was officially an adaptation, but in reality, it was not. But yeah, adaptations tend to come my way, and there you have it.

BE: Well, I know we’re running out of time, but I appreciate you taking the time to talk with us.

BB: Well, I really enjoyed it, and I really want to plug the (“Jarhead”) DVD. It has some bonus features, Tony Swofford made a documentary called “Semper Fi,” about the men who came back from the Iraqi War, and it’s extraordinary. There’s an amazing documentary about the extras in the movie, many of them veterans themselves. To me, it’s a cut above what you get on a typical DVD.

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