12 STRONG Movie Insights from the Actors, Producers and Director

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Thanks to my partnership with Warner Bros. Pictures, I had the honor of attending the 12 STRONG (in theaters January 19) press junket with travel and accommodations provided.  What follows are my thoughts on this extraordinary film and 12 STRONG movie insights from the actors, producers and director of the film shared during the press conference. 

12 STRONG Movie Insights from the Actors, Producers and Director

Do you remember where you were when you first heard the news on September 11, 2001 (now known as 9/11)?

I was 6 month from my wedding, halfway between Atlanta and Marietta when the station was interrupted with the news.  The road lay motionless before me and I slowly realized I instinctively pulled over and stopped the car.  Stunned, shocked, terrified, grief – emotions spun like shimmering waves of heat under the hot Georgia sun.  I immediately dialed my husband’s cell phone.  We were not anywhere near ground zero, but my husband was working at the airport.

As all Americans can relate, this moment is frozen in time, forever changing all our lives in so many significant ways but none as profound as the loved ones we lost that day.  What happened after and the stories of the brave men and women – police, fire fighters, paramedics, and soldier – we are still uncovering their stories.

The new film, 12 STRONG, tells the story of a U.S. Special Forces team chosen to be the first U.S. troops sent into Afghanistan for an extremely dangerous mission.  The film is based on Doug Stanton’s best-selling book, “Horse Soldiers,” it is story of heroism based on true events that unfolded a world away in the aftermath of 9/11.

Though it has all the makings of one, this is not just another war story.  It’s a soulful exploration of a very difficult time in our American history where there were no clear lines of battle, but a definitive clear enemy.  It’s a film about the American dream and the people who are fighting to protect it.

12 Strong really touched me deeply, on a personal, emotional and even patriotic level. This is a film I think everyone should experience, certainly for the entertainment value (it’s well scripted, acted and executed) but more so for the thoughtfulness of its content and tribute to those who risked all at a time we desperately needed heroes.

Lately, in the US, we seem to have forgotten what it means to be a community, what the price of our freedom truly is, and how sometimes it is the huge sacrifices of a few that protect so many.  The soldiers portrayed in 12 STRONG remind us.

12 STRONG Movie Insights from the Actors, Producers and Director

12 STRONG Press Conference

During the press junket, I was able to attend a group session with Chris Hemsworth (Captain Mitch Nelson,) Trevante Rhodes (Sgt First Class Ben Milo), Geoff Stults (Sean Coffers), Navid Negahban (General Dostum), Nicolai Fuglsig (Director), Jerry Bruckheimer (Producer), Molly Smith (Producer), Thad Luckinbill (Producer) and Doug Stanton (Book Author.)  Below you will find their thoughts and insights on the film.  Please note there may be some spoilers on the film below.  If you haven’t seen the movie yet, consider bookmarking this page and return after you’ve had the chance to experience.

12 STRONG Movie Insights from the Actors, Producers and Director


Thoughts on…

Why Chris Hemsworth decided to take on the role of Captain Mitch Nelson in 12 STRONG:

As an actor steeped in the comic book and fantasy film genres, Chris Hemsworth was “desperately wanting to do something with some real heart and something more grounded.”  When the script was present to him, he was incredulous over the fact that the film is based on a true story.

“I knew about this conflict and this war, like a lot of people, but not about this mission,” said Hemsworth.  “I was sort of engrossed and shocked and fascinated by the details.”

After speaking with the real soldiers who completed the mission portrayed in the film, Hemsworth was awed by their honesty, openness and lack of ego.

“There is such a humility,” said Hemsworth. “They’re the real heroes, and to put themselves in these position and in harm’s way, with their safety in jeopardy, but for the rest of our safety, is something beyond admirable.”

He felt honored to be asked to play the main character in 12 STRONG and appreciated having the knowledge bank of the soldiers, cast, crew, producers and director involved with the film.

“I definitely felt the weight, that responsibility.  I think we all did, and was very thankful that we had the real guys there,” said Hemsworth. “It was an incredible experience and one that I’ll remember for a long, long time.”

For more insights from Chris Hemsworth, also see our 12 STRONG Exclusive Interview with Chris Hemsworth

12 STRONG Movie Insights from the Actors, Producers and Director

The difference between soldiers and warriors:

A key point in the film is the arc of the soldier turning into a warrior, not simply a soldier following orders but someone who is invested in fight heart and soul. The cast shared their take on the responsibility of showcasing fearlessness of character in a realistic portrayal.

TREVANTE RHODES: I think the difference between a warrior and a soldier is warriors lead with their heart, soldiers lead with their mind. I think it’s very valuable, to lead with your heart, because of that, at least in my opinion, that the only thing that’s the most truest and most honest form of reaction in any way.

JERRY BRUCKHEIMER: What makes this movie so fascinating, what they’ve done so brilliantly is really that these guys, the special forces soldiers, the diplomat on the ground, and so when you think about this movie and go home, you want to think about World War II, actually, and people drop behind enemy lines to foment resistance, so therefore the relationship that Chris has with Navid in the film is really a key, central, driving emotional point.

The movie is both filled with action, as you saw, and also really tries to drive home the fact that this is America working at its best to create social change, and using combat, if necessary, but also using the power of the mind, as Trevante said, almost like Jedi knights here, trying to do a mind meld with the culture that they’re engaging with and being very respectful of it. It’s a very interesting, complex movie in that way.

CHRIS HEMSWORTH:  The way they were able to adapt and evolve and embed themselves within this world and work with the local people, not against them, working with them and fighting a common enemy, and the brotherhood they formed with the local Afghan people among the soldiers was something that kept coming up in among all of the guys I spoke to in this experience.

The relationships they still keep, to this day, with one another is as strong as any family bond they’ve ever had, and that was something that was always, again, inspiring and pretty evident with their approach into why they did things.

GEOFF STULTS:  We had people there to make sure we didn’t screw it up, and that was important everybody. To the producers, to Jerry, when they developed this, to just be authentic and pay these guys the respect that they deserve and tell the story that should be told.

NAVID NEGAHBAN:  The most important thing, because I think this was the first film that truly shows the– what Afghans went through and how we united with them and to achieve our goal.

12 STRONG Movie Insights from the Actors, Producers and Director

What viewers may learn from the film: 

NAVID NEGAHBAN:  There is an expression that says “You can see the truth when you are blind and you can hear the truth when you are deaf.” So if you put all the differences aside and look at the person as who the person is, then you will see how similar we are, and then you will discover our similarities, not our differences, and that’s what the world is about.

It’s about us being the same. There’s no difference, except the color, who cares? Go inside. What you find inside you is pure white, and there is no difference between the white that is inside me or anybody else who is sitting here. All of us, we are the same.

GEOFF STULTS: To me, this is the thing to take away for me is that I think everybody that was old enough obviously remembers where they were at and the way they felt on 9/11. There are plenty of other stories, even at this time, there are other operations happening.

This one just happens to be written really well by Doug and it really shows the story, but these are 12 guys that made what ended up– what could have been– they chose to make what could have been the ultimate sacrifice because of what they believed in, what they believed America stood for and what they–they left their families behind. Some guys left their families behind and they knew that there was a chance that some, if not all of them, wouldn’t come back.

This is about a love for one another and a love for the ideal of what America is, and they believed that they were making a difference so that nothing like 9/11 would happen again.

THAD LUCKINBILL:  I think, for me, what stands out most is the bravery of these guys. Like you said, a lot of us in this room remember where we were and what we were thinking on 9/11 and just the fact that these guys were essentially the first guys in, didn’t really know how to do the job they were supposed to do. They learned on the fly and they did it without complaining. I’m sure they complained a little bit, but they did it through bravery and patriotism and the right way, and that was really neat to portray.

MOLLY SMITH:  There’s so many elements into this story, but I think something that people–we’ve seen people respond to when that they’ve screened the film is the sacrifice. There’s a line in the movie I love so much where it says–Michael Shannon says, “How do you love your family and leave them to go to war?”

And I think that’s such a poetic, beautiful line, because people do this every day, and they make sacrifices for their country, the camaraderie, the love, it’s their duty, and I think we really tried to capture the spirit of the military, all branches of the military, and soldiers in general. You know, by showing some of the layers and complexities of the home life and their families, and then, of course, seeing the scope of what these guys went to go do because they felt a sense of duty to fight for their country.

CHRIS HEMSWORTH:  A big thing that I took away from this experience, and this was definitely with the real guys themselves talking about how important it was for them, for their own survival first, first when they first got there to convince the local people they were fighting with that they weren’t there to occupy the country; they were there to chase the same enemy.

And, have Navid said, the local people that we have working with us from Afghanistan living in Albuquerque, a number of them came up and said, “Thank you for telling this story, because I was there. I fought with the Americans, but the whole world thinks I’m a terrorist.” And he said, “I think it’s so important that, you know, people know that we are on the same side, and the invading forces, the Taliban, the Al Qaeda, that they’re the ones who are coming in to take over and to restructure the place.

And so yes, as you say, a lot of them normally didn’t want to be involved in the films like this, but sort of couldn’t get there quick enough. So that meant a lot, I think, to all of us and, as I said, that was certainly something that the soldiers were very concerned with as well in this mission. I think that collaboration and the heart and the bond and the brotherhood that they shared.

JERRY BRUCKHEIMER:  I think that these men don’t see themselves as heroes. They’re just doing their jobs. That’s what they’re trained to do. They do it because they love their country, they love their families, and their professionals, and they’re highly trained, they’re highly intelligent and they’re deadly.

And the fact that they went into this country and bonded with the Afghan people, and you have to understand that there’s so many different tribes, and they all–they show it in the movie, where they all fight amongst each other, and the fact that this group of 12 men got in there and got them all to work together against a common foe, which is so interesting, and it all comes down to our military and how well-trained these men are, and they don’t see it as sacrifice.

They see it as something that that’s their job. That’s what they’re trained to do. And they’re so good at it, and we’re very fortunate that we could show their excellence in this movie. a

TREVANTE RHODES:  I hope that people take away the identity, that connectivity, love, camaraderie, brotherhood, sisterhood, you know? Just I guess basically to relay what everybody else was saying. Just loving and being open and connecting with people, and perspective and understanding.

Because my understanding of what anybody, in all honesty, from the Middle East, was after this event was anybody from the Middle East is bad, which is so ignorant, you know what I mean? So to have the opportunity to read this story and be a part of this story, that shows the truth. And yes, again, and it was amazing. Thank you, thank you, thank you. And that’s what I hope that people take away from the film.

NICOLAI FUGLSIG:  To sum up, I think it’s an homage to the human spirit, you know? I mean, both on the Afghan and American side, all these heroes were just ordinary people, and it could be a friend, your neighbor, and under extreme circumstances, they all rose to the extraordinary.

DOUG STANTON:  In some ways, to walk away from this movie is to also be aware of your own communities and what’s going on and the sacrifices these people are making. I think these guys succeeded because they weren’t afraid to fail, and we talk so much about success in this country, which is great, but the reality is the SF, Special Forces guys, are trained to learn how to fail.

12 STRONG Movie Insights from the Actors, Producers and Director

About 12 STRONG

Heart of a hero. Courage of a warrior. 12 Strong is in theaters January 19.

Chris Hemsworth (“Thor,” “The Avengers” films) and Oscar nominee Michael Shannon (“Revolutionary Road,” “Nocturnal Animals”) star in “12 Strong,” a powerful new war drama from Alcon Entertainment, Black Label Media, and Jerry Bruckheimer Films. Based on Doug Stanton’s best-selling book, “Horse Soldiers,” it is story of heroism based on true events that unfolded a world away in the aftermath of 9/11.

“12 Strong” is set in the harrowing days following 9/11 when a U.S. Special Forces team, led by their new Captain, Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth), is chosen to be the first U.S. troops sent into Afghanistan for an extremely dangerous mission. There, in the rugged mountains, they must convince Northern Alliance General Dostum (Navid Negahban) to join forces with them to fight their common adversary: the Taliban and their Al Qaeda allies. In addition to overcoming mutual distrust and a vast cultural divide, the Americans—accustomed to state-of-the-art warfare—must adopt the rudimentary tactics of the Afghani horse soldiers. But despite their uneasy bond, the new allies face overwhelming odds: outnumbered and outgunned by a ruthless enemy that does not take prisoners.

Rated R for war violence and language throughout.

For more information on the film,

Now that the embargo is lifted and I can share more about the film, I’m delighted! Because this really is a must-see film that offers amazing insight into what transpired on the battlefront after 9/11.  The movie may redefine or reinforce your notions of freedom but with certainty, it will give you pause for thought and truly touch your heart.

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Tags: military, movies
Barb Webb. Founder and Editor of Rural Mom, is an the author of "Getting Laid" and "Getting Baked". A sustainable living expert nesting in Appalachian Kentucky, wen she’s not chasing chickens around the farm or engaging in mock Jedi battles, she’s writing about country living and artisan culture.
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