Under the Radar

Talking 'Sniper: Legacy' With Dennis Haysbert & Chad Michael Collins

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Sniper: Legacy brings back Tom Berenger's legendary Gunnery Sgt. Thomas Beckett character and reunites him with his sniper son Brandon in a new movie that ties their stories together and suggests that we may see more sequels in the future. The movie is out now on DVD and Digital.

Dennis Haysbert plays a mysterious character known only as The Colonel and Chad Michael Collins plays Gunnery Sgt. Brandon Beckett. Both of them talked with Military.com about their roles in the new film. %embed1%

Dennis Haysbert has a long career. Before he became the guy in the Allstate commercials that run during every single sports event shown on TV, he played the president in 24 and Army NCO Jonas Blane in The Unit tv series, as well as Pedro Cerrano in the Major League movies. Chad Michael Collins got his big break in Sniper: Reloaded and has a role in the upcoming CSI: Cyber TV series.

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First, we talked to Dennis Haysbert.

The “Sniper” movies are classic for a lot of guys who’ve served in the military. What was it like for you to join the series?

Well, it was kind of a throwback to The Unit, only I wasn’t so much in the field this time. I was the Colonel. So I was the controller and it was a very interesting perspective. I was itching to get back out in the field and crawl around in the dirt, but I had a lot of fun. I was reunited with my old friend from Major League, Tom Berenger, who originated the Thomas Beckett role in Sniper. It was good to see a veteran come back and work with the young recruits.

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You’ve played a lot of military roles in your career. What’s it like portraying those roles versus more mainstream drama films?

Well, the difference is this: I've had the honor and privilege and pleasure to meet a great many soldiers in my time. I've been through Iraq and Afghanistan five times to visit the troops. And you know they are unrecognized for the most part.

I like to go in and play these roles so people who aren’t in the military can get an understanding for what our men and women in uniform are going through. Hopefully, it will help them to figure out where, why, and when our troops should be used. I mean if they're needed to fight the good fight, hey, we know that we have the armed forces to handle that, and to handle that with honor and force, but it's all about when and why they go. That’s because they are our children, they're our brothers and sisters or cousins, and they need to be honored. So that’s why I do it: to honor them and to have audiences see what our troops do and what they go through.

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You bring up an interesting theme. There's a subtext to "Sniper: Legacy" that also plays through "24" and "The Unit": how do people in power decide to use men and women in battle and what are the consequences of the decisions for the people who actually had to carry out the mission?

Exactly, exactly. And I don’t like our soldiers being used as pawns. They're not pawns. They're real, living, breathing, beautiful, honorable people and they have taken a stand to defend this country at all costs. It’s up to our politicians and the people at large to really take that into consideration when they send our boys and ladies out to defend this country. I just want people to have some care in what they do and how they do it.

I was on the ground in 2005, when the war in Iraq was still raging. And I've seen the eyes of our troops and I've seen the eyes of our special forces. I’m just immensely proud of the way they handle their business and go out and defend this country and defended the Iraqis when I was there.

I saw teams before they went out on patrol and I saw teams when they came back, and I wish every person in the United States could see that. You know they walk into the valley of the shadow of death. There's some fear there, but there's also resolve when they go out. When they come back, man, you can see the joy on their faces. “I made it back. My boys, my buddies made it back.” That’s not lost on me.

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Back to “Sniper: Legacy.” You had some pretty spectacular filming locations for your role.

Man, I tell you there's no prettier place than Santorini, Greece. That was my only filming location. Greece was just breathtaking. It was gorgeous.

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The other characters were out getting shot at and living rough in the scenes shot in Bulgaria and the movie cuts back to your character living this fantastic life by the sea.

Well, I was where the decisions had to come from. We had to have a base of operations. It just happened to be one of the most beautiful places on Earth. And they made comment of that. You know, I said, “Hey, you know I've got to be where the movers and shakers are, and the movers and shakers are not gonna be on the battlefield. They're gonna be up and out of the way so they can do what they do.” But I made it clear to them, I said, “If need be, I'd be out there with my rifle at any moment. So don’t jump on my case too much, because I'd be out there if need be.” But somebody had to coordinate it, somebody had to get the funding, somebody had to rub shoulders with the politicos to give us a gateway and a bridge into where we need to go in order to take care of business.

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Next, we had a conversation with Chad Michael Collins.

Talk about creating the role of Beckett's son and what it was like to come back and work with Tom Berenger later.

It was really great. Originally, Tom did the first three movies and then the franchise just kind of sat for a while. We were in talks three years before we actually went and did Sniper: Reloaded. They were talking about doing an origin story, where I play young Tom Berenger in Vietnam, but that all got washed away and they opted for introducing the estranged son of Tom Berenger.

So Sniper: Reloaded was a blast. I had a great experience working with Billy Zane, who did the original Sniper with Tom. It was one of my favorite movies growing up. I'll never forget the scene where Tom, in the opening of the movie, rises out of the bush in the Ghillie Suit. You never knew anybody was there.

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I love the military roles. I love learning. We had great technical advisors on set. I took it very seriously. I knew there would be eyes on this movie with people just wanting your standard action movie, but also people who have gone out there and lived this life. So I took great responsibility to learn as much as I could and to work as closely as I could with the former soldiers and the armor and the military technical advisors we had on set. I learned a ton and had a lot of fun doing it.

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Fast forward to Sniper: Legacy. My character was a Marine grunt who eschewed the whole sniper thing because he didn’t have a good relationship with his dad. He's sick of hearing about his dad, this legendary Marine sniper, but in that movie he learned the way of the sniper. And then to take him maybe a year or two later, well, now he is a renowned sniper in his own right and now is reunited with his dad for the first time in who knows how long. That was really fun to take my character to those new levels, that next layer.

It was great to work with Tom. The guy has obviously done his lion's share of military movies. He knows his stuff. The guy can talk all day long about war and soldiers. He never served, but you wouldn’t be able to tell from talking to him.

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Have you had much encounter with the guys who do the real jobs since you took on the role for the last film?

On the film itself, our technical advisor was a really great guy named Patrick Garrity. He was a former Marine Scout Sniper, saw a lot of action in a lot of places and had a million and one stories but no ego. He was fantastic and I picked his brains for every day of the 25 days on that shoot, and I think the movie will hopefully reflect what I picked up from him.

The feedback has been good. You're always gonna have people who are just a bit of a hater just because it's a movie and it's not real and it's not exact and it's not 100 percent, but movies do the best they can to recreate and capture that.

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Mostly people watch the movie and say, “Hey, this is great and I love this and I really felt like I was there and it reminded me of this time or reminded me of why I signed up.” I always love getting those emails. I always take it very seriously to represent what these people do for a living as best as I can. People keep turning up to watch the movies, so we must be doing something right.

There's a scene in the movie with me and Tom where we're trying to bridge this gap that we've had in our father/son relationship. We're on a boat with a can of shaving cream and we're just trying to have that awkward conversation to find some common ground.

I got an email the other day from a writer friend who had seen a screener and she said, “My dad was a soldier and that scene really reminded me of him. He just passed and that whole shaving cream scene really touched me because it really reminded me of our relationship together.” That’s always nice to hear.

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November is Military Family Appreciation Month