In June 2015, History of War were lucky enough to have the chance to attend the 71st anniversary of D-Day in Normandy. After visiting the sites that made Operation Overlord such a poignant moment in history, we were given the chance to interview members of the HBO series Band of Brothers, which focuses on the efforts of Easy Company from the US 101st Airborne Division during the Allied invasion of France.
In the second of two interviews, we chat to James Madio who portrayed Frank Perconte in the series.
What got you into the mindset to play Frank Perconte?
You knew as soon as you auditioned that it was going to be something incredible and unique. But I didn’t think that 15 years later I’d be in Normandy doing this. It’s definitely a job that keeps on giving.
I read the book, had the audition and watched a lot of movies from the era. After I got the role I was given a leaflet from HBO with details on my character. I learned more about Frank and wrote him a letter. I wanted to make sure everything was correct and tribute him in the best way. Our job was to put egos aside and become these men. We had to make sure we didn’t [screw] up.
I was so afraid to call Frank that I wrote him a letter. I put my number on the bottom and he called me. What I realised was if you wanted information about these guys, you had to talk to the soldier to the left or right of him as they never talked about themselves; they always talked about each other. Frank was very warm and gave me a lot of information about who he was. I got to know him really well and he became a dear friend of mine until we lost him in October 2013. He was a really good man and I mean that.
How did it feel to get into character? Was it humbling or an honour?
It was both. It’s every emotion you could possibly think of. We knew the weight of this project; we knew it would be something special. We just didn’t know that it was going to be a life-changing educational process, and what the show teaches the young kids. It was great to know you were going to work with Steven [Spielberg] and Tom [Hanks] for HBO, but you didn’t know you were going to meet these incredibly unique men and women who have fought and sacrificed.
How important is it to be here today commemorating the war?
That’s what the World War II Foundation does very well. It educates and tells the stories to the youth. You cannot forget this generation. Every time I come here I get the chills on my back. I’m in a place where many people don’t understand the weight of it. You speak to the locals and they say: “My grandfather had a bakery and you guys fell from the skies and liberated us. We were occupied and you gave my grandfather back his bakery.”
They are true heroes and it means a lot, as long as that message is being pushed forward to the younger generation.
How keen were Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks to get this message across?
You saw the show right? It speaks for itself. They made it very clear that you are portraying this group of unique and elite men. Don’t [screw] this up. We didn’t want to do that, for a lot of reasons. Easy Company is only one story though. There are so many men who did exactly the same.
Was there a particular scene where it all felt THIS is World War II?
You don’t even have to finish that question – I know the answer. The concentration camps in Episode 9 ‘Why We Fight’. I remember going on set and they didn’t tell us what we were about to see. They set it up with the extras so a lot of what you see is natural reaction. I remember seeing that set and seeing those guys and saying “This is why we’re here.” This episode, for me, changed everything.
A big thank you to Wargaming for allowing us take part in this historic event.