I spoke with Ben Reed about his role as Wayne Kyle, Chris Kyle’s father, in American Sniper. American Sniper stars Bradley Cooper as Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle. Clint Eastwood directed the film. American Sniper opens in limited release on Christmas Day, and nationwide on January 16, 2015.
Lena: The film is based on Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, who is played by Bradley Cooper. You play his father Wayne Kyle. You drew inspiration for the role from your brother. Can you talk more about that and what it was like to bring Wayne to life?
Ben Reed: My brother was in the Special Forces and what really helped is when I talked to my father. My father was a lot like Mr. Kyle in the sense that they were pretty stern guys, very disciplined, and worked hard. I called my dad and asked him about what it was like when my brother first started going over to Iraq and Afghanistan on his tours. My dad doesn’t talk a lot, in the sense that he’s not a chit-chat guy, so it was nice to actually hear the words coming from him. My brother was very lucky because the only injuries that he got were by roadside bombs. He was in a Hummer and it came up through the floor. He was very lucky that he just got some shrapnel in him, but it didn’t debilitate him in any way. Just finding out how my father felt about all that and knowing that his son could die. I gathered a lot from that. I tried to have a meeting to talk to Mr. Kyle but we could never set it up.
Lena: I know that a lot of the reviews have been saying that this movie got it right where a lot of other films failed.
Ben Reed: My brother hasn’t seen the film yet but I sent him the script. The stuff about the friendships you gain in war and then they die right next to you, it hit home for him. He said that it was such a good script. “It’s a reality. There is no fake Hollywood stuff about it.”
Lena: I couldn’t imagine having to live with that.
Ben Reed: I know. The movie will knock your socks off. Bradley Cooper’s performance is so pure and so real. Mr. Eastwood did such a great job putting this together.
Lena: I was going to ask you about working with Clint Eastwood. I’ve always heard that actors usually make the best directors.
Ben Reed: He knows how to talk to you; he knows how to draw it out of you. He talks to you in that Clint Eastwood voice. At one point, I was looking over and they were changing the lens on the camera and all of a sudden it hits me—that’s Dirty Harry over there. [Laughing] We all grew up with him. He’s been in the business for 60 years. It was a great experience for me. I feel very, very fortunate.
Lena: I know that we touched on this, but what can you say about the film and how it’s different from other military films?
Ben Reed: I think it’s because they focus so much on the character Bradley Cooper is playing, Chris Kyle, and you see a lot of the war stuff but you don’t see the coming home and the going back and what it does to his family. There is a line in the movie that says, “You don’t think this is changing you do you? Well it is.” When you are living it I think you just don’t feel it as much but the people around you can see it and it really hits on the PTSD effect and what happens to soldiers. I think that they really knocked it out of the park showing the true effects of war.
Lena: As an actor, do you find that your approach is different when you are portraying someone who really exists?
Ben Reed: Absolutely because you want to hit all of the nuances of that man. Like I said, I didn’t get to spend time with Mr. Kyle. There wasn’t a great deal about him in the book, but I picked up bits and pieces and there was a lot of stuff after Chris was shot. He didn’t really give a lot of interviews so I tried to portray the sternness of how I grew up from my father as well. It was all about integrity and you’ll see when you see the movie. I give this one speech and when it does the flashbacks about me when he’s a 10-year-old boy, it shows how he got his discipline and how he gathered his values. Everything you see that is the two of us is me teaching him things like how to hunt. There are three different kinds of people in the world: sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. Sheep are followers and wolves prey on the weak. What he’s really pointing out is that the thing to be is a sheepdog because they protect the flock. That’s what you see as a comparison in the movie because as a sniper, he’s up on a building protecting the Marines that are coming in, so that’s his flock. That’s what the writer, who did an amazing job, is pointing out to the audience.
Lena: It’s a very different role from one of Bradley’s latest films, Guardians of the Galaxy. Did you see that film? I loved it.
Ben Reed: Yes, very different from Rocket the raccoon. Oh absolutely! One of my friends is Chris Pratt. The first movie we did together was when he met Rae Dawn Chong and she had a movie that he would be great in. She called me up and then we all went and shot this film and Chris just had something. I called him Golden Boy from the moment I met him. He had these blonde locks like a surfer kid. Still to this day when we talk I say, “What’s up Golden Boy.”
Lena: [Laughing] That’s fantastic! I thought Chris was great in the film.
Ben Reed: You know what, that’s just pure Chris Pratt. He’s that guy. He’s a fun-loving guy. He enjoys life. From the moment I met him he was just open and raw. It was really nice.
Lena: You also starred in and produced Starcrossed with Eric Roberts in it.
Ben Reed: I found this young male lead, Grant Harvey, who is amazing. Mischa Barton plays my young female lead and we have a love triangle. It’s a dramatic love story about these two young people who are kind of lost in their lives but they have this chance meeting and there is a chance that together they may have a future.I got the opportunity to produce it. Kristin Carey plays my wife and Eric Roberts plays my business partner. The movie is over the span of six or seven hours, so it’s one night in the lives of these people. It’s very dark and haunting. It’s a new writer and first-time director Chase Mohseni. It was one of the best experiences career wise that I’ve had in twenty years. I had Daniel Rojas compose original music and it’s almost like another character. He just did such a beautiful job and adds so much to the film. Arden Tse is my DP and he was amazing. His eye for some shots was just incredible.
Lena: Do you have a release date?
Ben Reed: I do not. Right now we are in the throes of selling and distribution and all this other stuff that my agent is handling. I’m just breathing for a couple of minutes while they try to figure all of that out. It will be coming.
Photo Credit: Bobby Quillard
American Sniper opens in limited release on Christmas Day, and nationwide on January 16, 2015.