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Director Roland Emmerich’s Midway follows events from the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941 through the pivotal Battle of Midway in 1942, which proved to be a turning point in the Pacific Theater during World War II. The film tells its story through the eyes of the leaders and soldiers involved. Playing those leaders and soldiers is an all-star cast that includes, among others, Dennis Quaid and Patrick Wilson, who faced some very specific challenges during filming. In an exclusive interview with CinemaBlend at the Midway junket, the pair of actors spoke about the most challenging scenes they had to film for the war epic. Take a look.
Dealing with other people is truly life’s greatest challenge and as Patrick Wilson and Dennis Quaid joked here, the most challenging scenes to film in Midway were the ones with Woody Harrelson in them. Three-time Oscar nominee Woody Harrelson plays Admiral Chester W. Nimitz in the film, and his co-stars ribbed about the difficulties working with him, including a hilarious remark by Patrick Wilson that Woody Harrelson “smells of something.”
It’s a not-so-subtle reference to Woody Harrelson’s well-documented affinity for marijuana, a recreational substance that he gave up for a time, but recently went back to after hanging out with Willie Nelson (yup, I imagine that would do it). It would seem that smell could provide a unique set of challenges for filming a movie with Woody Harrelson.
Patrick Wilson and Dennis Quaid clearly had a lot of fun together working on the movie that landed in first place at the box office over Veterans Day weekend. After addressing the primary challenge to filming Midway, they eventually addressed to some others scenes that proved difficult, specifically any shot where they had to react to visual effects that they hadn’t seen.
As Patrick Wilson, who plays Edwin Layton in Midway, explained, having to react to something that you haven’t seen is particularly challenging. It requires you to use your imagination to paint a picture of what you are looking at and craft your performance accordingly.
And in a war epic like this, the majority of the battles obviously had to be done using visual effects. That meant that Patrick Wilson and Dennis Quaid had to react to planes flying, things blowing up and battles unfolding, using only their imaginations. That’s an extra layer of difficulty than it would be if you had the thing you were reacting to actually unfolding right in front of you.
This answer shows that as an actor, you aren’t just adopting a generic emotion or reaction to look surprised, sad, elated or whatever. Patrick Wilson wants to know what his character is physically looking at, which is a real challenge. He notes that it’s helpful when there is some pre-vis that he can look at to show him what will literally be happening in the film to help him paint that picture and guide his performance.
Dennis Quaid, who portrays William ‘Bull’ Halsey, also mentioned the infamous tennis balls on sticks that we often hear about from actors who are filming movies that require a lot of VFX and green screen work. Those tennis balls may help with your eyeline, but as Dennis Quaid said, it’s difficult to create the necessary emotion in your head when that is your reference point.
This isn’t the first time we have heard about the difficulty of working on VFX heavy films where the actors spend a lot of time in front of a green screen. In this computer-generated age, this practice is increasingly common, requiring today’s actors, or at least those acting in VFX-heavy blockbusters, to adapt. It’s basically a necessary skill to have at this point, but that doesn’t make it easy.