Sienna Miller as Taya Kyle in "American Sniper."
American Sniper may tell the story of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle's legendary military service but it's also the first mainstream movie that really attempts to portray the challenges faced by military families during our modern wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Chris' widow Taya Kyle played a major role in developing the story after her husband's death and she's been out there talking about the movie.
Taya had a wide-ranging conversation with Military.com about how the film came together, what she's doing to help military families recover from the trials of war and offers up some thoughts about the roles of men and women in a successful marriage.
Taya & Chris Kyle (courtesy Taya Kyle)
Talk about what it's like to see a version of yourself up on a movie screen. How did you feel when you first saw the film?
You would think going in that it would be odd, but it honestly felt very natural. Bradley did such a great job bringing Chris to the screen and Sienna did such a good job in bringing my emotions to the screen. I don’t watch myself, so I don’t know how I look, but people I know who watched it tell me they felt like she just did an amazing job capturing some of my manners. It really feels like I'm just kind of watching a piece of our life.
Did you and Chris meet with Bradley Cooper when you sold the rights to the book? Talk about the decision to work with Bradley.
Jason Hall is the screenwriter, and he was the one who initially met Chris and then really wanted to do the movie. And then he took it to Bradley and then Bradley was very interested and took it to Warner Bros with Jason.
It was one of those things where Chris and I were kind of looking at what Bradley has done and obviously he could play a range of things, and sense of humor was important to us. As a person, he also had been supportive of the military, which is pretty cool. It wasn’t just going to be such a leap to have him understand that.
Then Chris talked to Bradley and he felt like it was going to be a good fit. At first, he was just his stoic self. The next time they talked Chris said just one thing, “I’m going to need you to come to Texas, tie you to the back of my truck, and knock some of the pretty off of you. Drag you down the street and knock some of the pretty off you.” And, of course, Bradley just laughed. It was good and Chris felt comfortable. I think that they were able to laugh together and it was just a very natural fit.
One of the really difficult parts is Chris had such a big presence in a room in such a disarming way, and I really wish that they could have hung out, but I feel like Bradley does know Chris very, very well, because he did so much research and he's read all the emails between Chris and me. Then he did a physical transformation and he got his dialect and met the family and the kids. I feel like he really gets it and he brought it to the screen so well.
The film really does a good job of capturing the family relationships and doesn’t just focus on the military angle.
I give a lot of credit to Jim DeFelice, who co-wrote the book. He’s the one who originally wanted to put my side of the story in there. Chris agreed because he's such a humble person and never really wanted the book to be about him.
He didn’t even want to do a book, actually, until he found out that other people were going to be writing a book about him. He really wanted to make sure that the story was right in giving credit to the guys that he served with. The people who worked on the movie emphasize that when Chris was killed and they met me and saw the eulogy, they realized that there's a lot more to this guy that we haven't seen and we want to see that guy too. In doing that, they learned more about our relationship. My opinion is that this story is really just about any service member probably anywhere in the world who feels very passionately about protecting their country and their loved ones.
When you really love someone, it's a humanity thing more than anything. I’s surviving the struggles that everybody goes through and trying to find your way back to each other when everything in the world is saying you wouldn’t be able to.
Towards the end of his life it seems that Chris had really found a role for himself helping people readjust to life after service. Have you been able to continue that work?
I feel like he's left us all with a lot to do. I hear from people often who say that knowing him even for a brief amount of time truly changed their life. So I do feel this compassion and this compulsion to take it forward.
We started the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation and that’s centered around God, country, and family. We're working specifically on the relationships and the marriages for veterans and first responders. Basically, those people who are out there fighting the evils of the world. We feel really strongly that we can help the core: you know in the Bible it says God first, marriage second, children third. When your marriage is strong, your children thrive.
I want to do anything that I can do in this lifetime to make a difference and help those people, our service members, and show them that they can not just survive it, but thrive and let their children see that you can have a strong loving relationship.
In my conversations with military families and first responder families, there's always a lot of love. These people have a ton of heart if they're going to be signing up in the first place. The problems that arrive for them are pretty similar across the board. There are specifics that are different, but the struggles are the same. There are just some very basic things that we can do to help get people back to one another while they're serving. If I could help even one person, I would feel like it mattered and that I was blessed to be able to help them.
We’ve got a lot of readers facing these kinds of issues. What do you recommend that people do to get started trying to solve these problems?
There are a couple things. One is keeping your eye on the long goal, surviving the whole thing, and being together at the end. The problem is when you're in the military you're usually not going to have a lot of money. The pay is decent. It's not that. It's just that you have this mix of the service member not being home all the time, and so when they are home, you want the family to be together as a unit. And there's less time for date nights or getaway weekends.
My mom once gifted Chris and me a weekend together. He was on a training trip and they had a weekend off that they didn’t expect and so she bought me a plane ticket to go out and see him and she took care of the kids. We just stayed in the hotel for the weekend. We had to force ourselves to go out and get lunch. We napped, we watched movies, we hung out. You know just that 48 hours together is one of my favorite memories because we were just us. That’s one of the gifts that we want to give people, like a staycation in their own town.
You go through these changes. The woman has to be in charge of everything when the man is gone. The way God created man and how he created woman is that the man is the head of the household. That sounds very archaic even when I say that, but I mean that the man needs respect and the woman needs to be cherished. There's a way to make that work pretty simply.
It's just that for service members and their family it's been a matter of the woman turning it on and off. When he's not there, she's in charge of everything. And when he's there, giving him the respect to make the decisions and go with it and let God lead him. It's a really big challenge and it's really hard to do, but I've I've recommended the book to a lot of women. I cried my way through it because it was difficult.
That book, it tells it in real life, real stories. The beauty of it is that the books say that women are capable of ruling the world. It's not “you can't do it because I'm the head and you're incapable.” It's quite the opposite. It's your absolutely capable, but we can make this really simple.
At home, if she happily says it and truly means it, not just goes through the actions, but truly says, “I’d like you to lead and you do it and I'm here to be with you.” Then he all of the sudden just wants to cherish her that much more because there's only one place in the world that he gets the nurturing and love.
For a man, they certainly don’t get that in their jobs if they're in service-related fields. You know it's very masculine, but they come home and they get that softness. When the woman can say, “Okay, I'm not in charge now, you are, and I'm here to nurture you and love you and be here for you.”
The man could say, “I think it's probably best that you have a job and work” and then you do. You know it's not like you stay home and be barefoot and pregnant. It's quite the opposite. It's respecting the strength of what she's been given by God and what he's been given by God.
I just thought it was amazing. We hope to be able to present stuff like that to people and give them the opportunity because every couple I've seen that’s tried this, their marriage has changed for the better within 48 hours. They weren't in terrible trouble. They were just struggling a little bit.
A lot of service members marry really strong women. And they have to. You have to be strong to be a military wife. Then how do you take that strong woman and keep a marriage in a really soft, loving way?
We’ve been covering the Jesse Ventura lawsuit. A lot of our readers have expressed support for you and what your family have been going through. Can you comment on what happens next?
I really appreciate the compassion and sympathy, because the situation is kind of mindboggling, honestly, on so many levels. I'm in the process of an appeal, so I'm not really supposed to talk about it too much, but I will say that it is something that’s been mind-blowing. I would love to talk to you about it when it's settled and like give you more of the back-story because it's jaw-droppingly odd, every part of how it unfolded.