Hollywood star Michelle Monaghan, of "Mission Impossible III" fame, joined soldiers, veterans and families in El Paso on Sunday to film several takes for the upcoming movie "Fort Bliss," about an Army medic who returns home from the war in Afghanistan.
"I am honored to play this role," said Monaghan, who wore a camouflage uniform and marched in step with servicemen and women at the Fort Bliss deployment center. "Everyone here has been very welcoming and helpful."
Besides playing the lead female role in the 2006 Tom Cruise movie, "Mission Impossible III," Monaghan has starred in the movies "Eagle Eye" and "Source Code," among others. She won the 2008 San Diego Film Critics Society's 2008 Best Actress Award (for "Trucker") and the 2009 Vail Film Festival Excellence in Acting Award.
The "Fort Bliss" movie also features other big names like Ron Livingston, whose credits include the movie "Office Space" and the TV series "Sex and the City," and Taye Diggs, of the TV series "Private Practice."
But on this day, everyone who turned out to help was a star. More than a 100 extras, all of them volunteers, played their part to lend realism to a homecoming ceremony to welcome the troops home.
With cameras rolling, the 1st Armored Division band served up the appropriate patriotic music on cue, and "families" cheered and waved greeting signs as the center's side gate opened so the soldiers could enter.
The troop formation, which included Monaghan, marched in between two rows of veterans from local American Legion posts who stood holding flags at their sides.
Capt. Arlyn Medendorp, an Army nurse stationed in El Paso, walked in the same formation with Monaghan. In the film, Medendorp plays an enlisted soldier.
"It's been great. I am thrilled to be able to do this," Medendorp said.
El Pasoan Clay "Gumby" Durbin, an Air Force veteran, rode in on motorcycle with other members of the American Legion Riders, Post 598.
"We heard through our coalition channels that they needed help with the movie, and we decided to come out and do our part," said Durbin, one of the extras.
Restless children, who had waited for several hours to play their bit parts, scurried about the center playing with balloons. Band members practiced on their instruments, while others filled out forms that the production staff passed out.
Army Spc. George Garcia, his wife Gabriela Garcia, and their 21-month-old daughter, Mia Garcia, were among the extras who were eager to rub shoulders with Hollywood legends. The couple got up early on Sunday to make it to the 8 a.m. casting call.
"We saw on an Army website that they were looking for movie extras, and we decided to come," Gabriela Garcia said.
"It's great to be a part of this," George Garcia said, "and to do it with the whole family."
The Garcias and the others got to see how filmmakers work behind the scenes.
Claudia Myers, the director, and Adam Silver, the producer, walked back and forth making sure that things came together as they should.
The welcome-home scene was repeated several times to get things right. Between takes, a makeup artist carrying a bag with cosmetics freshened up Monaghan's makeup.
Myers said the "Fort Bliss" project has been in the works for five years. The military liked the script so much that it decided to support it with expertise and use of the training facilities at the Army post, including the mock Afghan villages.
Myers, who is based in Washington, D.C., wrote "Kettle of Fish," which won her a Nickelodeon Screenwriting Award.
"You work on a film because you believe in it, and you hope it resonates with people," Myers said. "The military has been great about advising us on aspects of the military, so the movie can ring true. It's been a very gratifying process."
Louis A. Carter, commander of American Legion Post 832, brought several volunteers to the film set. The retired Army first sergeant oversees 21 American Legion posts in West Texas.
"I guess people come out to support something like this because they want to be a part of something that's going to be etched in stone," Carter said.
Maj. Joe Buccino, spokesman for the 1st Armored Division and Fort Bliss, said movie producers expect the movie to be ready in time for next year's circuit of film festivals.
"This is a movie about the toll of war on soldiers through the eyes of an Army medic who is a single mom, and is seeking to reunite with her young son," Buccino said. "It will be good to remind the American people that we still have soldiers in Afghanistan. Most of the movie is being filmed here."
Deaths of friends in the war, sexual harassment and sexual assault are part of the main character's experiences in the movie.
The filming of "Fort Bliss" continues this week on post. Producers did not have information on when the movie might play at local theaters.