Josh Kelly is a veteran who served three tours as an Army Ranger in Afghanistan and one in Iraq. He's also the star of Jarhead 2: Field of Fire, a new movie (out now on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital) that's a sequel-of-sorts to the 2005 movie that's grown in popularity since its initial release.
Kelly plays Marine Corporal Chris Merriman. Battle-scarred and disillusioned by the war, Merriman is put in charge of a unit whose next mission is to resupply a remote outpost on the edge of Taliban-controlled territory. While driving through the hostile Helmand province, a Navy SEAL (Cole Hauser, Olympus Has Fallen) flags down their convoy and enlists the unit on an operation of international importance: they must help an Afghan woman famous for her defiance of the Taliban escape the country. Without tanks or air support, Merriman and his team will need all the courage and firepower they can muster to fight their way across the war-torn country and shepherd the woman to safety.
Jarhead 2 also features Steven Lang (Avatar), Esai Morales (24, NYPD Blue, Criminal Minds) and Bokeem Woodbine (Sniper 2, The Rock). Directed by Don Michael Paul (who also directed Sniper: Legacy), the new movie takes all the Marine interpersonal smack talk and puts in a more action-packed story.
Josh Kelly has appeared in two Transformers movies and done stints on Army Wives and One Life to Live. Jarhead 2 is his biggest role to date. He talked to us about making the transition from the military to show business and his experiences on the film.
Give our readers a rundown on your military service.
Well, I joined pre-9/11. I didn’t want to go to college. I was planning on becoming an actor, but I really liked action movies, so I wanted to know if I could do it myself. I was gonna do BUD/S and be a SEAL, because my dad is a retired Navy commander. At the time he was still active duty and he told me, “Josh, you know you're good at swimming, but you really like playing in the woods. So if you want to join the military, maybe you want to be a Ranger?” And so then I signed up for becoming a Ranger.
I signed up for Ranger Battalion and eventually passed and became a Ranger and then 9/11 happened. And then we did the first couple of deployments, Afghanistan like a month after 9/11. I didn’t jump then, but a bunch of my buddies from my company jumped. I got bumped. I was actually in pre-Ranger school when we got deployed, so I got pulled out and I had been bumped from my squad, so it was kind of a sore subject, but it was fine. I ended up jumping into Iraq, so that was cool. I got my mustard stain.
I did the first couple deployments and I was a good soldier, but I was really good at skits. Something that happened in the first deployment really affirmed my belief in entertainment. We were living in holes and one of the tech guys hooked up a projector and we watched Night at the Roxbury. It was the best two hours because we hadn't seen TV or film in two months.
We'd watch it on loop. We could watch anything. And also I remember the contrast between when we would have time off in Basic. We would watch Hamburger Hill or Full Metal Jacket because we wanted to be in the military. But then when you're in the military, you watch Night at the Roxbury. It's kind of funny.
Once do decided to leave the Army, how did you go about launching your acting career?
Well, it was just like RIP. Well, now it's called RASP, Ranger Assessment Program. But going into RIP, the Ranger Indoctrination Program, you know there were 256 of us in our class and 21 of us graduated and went into Ranger Battalion. So it seemed impossible, but it wasn’t because all you had to do was not quit. And so I had already gone through that, so being in the military kind of gave me the belief in achieving seemingly impossible goals.
When I came out to Los Angeles and I started to go to acting, I kind of attacked it the same way you would take a military operation. I looked at what goals I wanted to do. I looked at the obstacles that I needed to overcome and I took it from a step by step approach and I got in the acting class first.
One of my really good friends, Jon Falcone, who was also a Ranger buddy of mine, he lived in Los Angeles and he gave me great advice: “Don’t burn any bridges because once they're done….if you're not good, you're not good. And once they're burned, you don’t get to go in again.”
So I studied for the first year I was in LA. I took acting classes and I took every conference. Just like in the military, you go through Basic Training and then I felt like I was ready to move to the next level.
I tried to get an agent. I sent out 120 packets with my headshot and resume. I lost weight because I was a little chubbier. I like being chubby, though. It's effective. And I got an agent and then you just audition. You just keep at it. All you have to do is – it's like G.I. Jane. All you have to do, really, is not ring the bell and you'll end up doing something.
A lot of actors who served in World War II went on to star in movies about that war, but I can’t really think of any other actors who’ve served in Iraq or Afghanistan who’ve gone on to star in movies about those conflicts. What was that like for you?
It was really, really cool. I really did love being in the military. I loved the sense of purpose, direction,and motivation. I would have stayed in the military if I didn’t want to be an actor.
Getting to play it again was really interesting. My brain started working like a team leader again. I started correcting all the actors on all sorts of stuff when maybe I shouldn’t have, but obviously it lends itself to the film. I joined the military to be a soldier and to have fun being a soldier. And I did. It's fun to play it again.
It was kind of like doing Transformers. Transformers was the same kind of deal. You're hanging out with a bunch of SEALs and Rangers and just shooting Decepticons. And this one was a very much more dramatic story, but at the same time it's good to feel frosty again.
I'm really proud of the Jarhead 2. It doesn’t glorify death at all. It’s pretty gritty and pretty real. I actually just watched it last night with one of my Ranger buddies and he agrees. He liked it.
It's a movie that I'm very proud of. I think everyone really stepped up, all the actors. I think having been in the military really helped. Stephen Lang came in and was super excited to do it. Esai Morales showed up and he thanked me for my service. And I said, “Listen, dude, I did that a long time ago, but thank you for thanking me, I guess.”
I broke my shoulder while we were filming and I kept working and everyone just kind of got the whole production kind of encapsulated the feel of a military operation. It was like, regardless, we're gonna keep going. We're gonna keep making this movie because we're a team.
You made this movie in Bulgaria. It seems like they’re making a lot of action pictures in Eastern Europe these days.
Their stunt people are the best because it's like old school rules. It's like football before the pads and they're down to do it. It's crazy.