By Fred Topel | Image property of respective holders.
HBO's documentary Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq let's veterans of the war take center stage. James Gandolfini interviews soldiers who returned from the war with lost limbs and other injuries. The actor wanted to give the veterans the spotlight in press for the documentary, but his role was significant.
Gandolfini Gives Troops Home from Iraq Center Stage
"I went to Iraq because I was playing this tough guy on TV and I guess I wanted to go meet a few real ones or something like that," said Gandolfini. "I was angry about the lack of attention that was being paid. I wanted to do something. There are plenty of people that have gone to Iraq. There are a lot of entertainers and various people that go. I thought if I could just go there, I asked them, 'Is this really something that the soldiers do want? I don't want to go for myself.' They said, 'Yeah, it takes their minds off of certain things. It breaks the monotony.' I thought it was the last I could do."
The series of 20-30 minute conversations with soldiers was simple, getting to the heart of the issue without huge production value. "I think one of the benefits was us not going to Walter Reed, was the fact that we didn't have a lot of time. It wasn't over-produced. I just read their stories and I sat down and asked them questions basically. Jon and Matt, the directors, helped me, guided sometimes. This isn't something I do for a living. I just asked their questions and these are all, as you can see, intelligent people who wanted to talk, who wanted to tell their story."
It was not invasive journalism either. "We didn't put anyone in a place to drag things out that they weren't ready to speak about. It was just a discussion. It's kind of like this. It was just to try to find out what was going on and get it out there a little bit because I don't think you see this a lot and that infuriates me."
The stories were such that even a tough guy got emotional. "There were a few times that it was very disturbing. It still is. How could you not. There are stories that make you angry. Of course I felt a lot of things. I'm not a trained interviewer. I'm not Barbara Walters. I don't know, maybe she cries. Of course I did, yes."