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 first of two interviews, we chat to Ross McCall who portrayed Joseph Liebgott in the series.
How did you find yourself starring in a World War II history drama?
Well, I think everyone’s process was a little different. I got the phone call to go to London to meet the cast and agents so I did that and got told they wanted to come back and sit down with Tom [Hanks, producer]. For a young actor like me, that was a big, exciting day. Steven [Speilberg, director] was sick at this point so we had to wait for a little bit but then I got the call that they wanted me to portray Liebgott and research started. These were still the days of the library before Google was so easy access.
We researched everything we could, as we knew how important it was to portray these men and their legacy. Liebgott had passed away a long time before the show started, so I didn’t have much to go on. I got an envelope with a picture and a letter and that was it. Luckily, none of these veterans want to talk about themselves so they are always more than happy to talk about any of the other soldiers.
Joe was a complex character. He was one of the few Jewish members of Easy Company and spoke fluent German [note: the real Joseph Liebgott was an Austrian Catholic who was mistaken for a Jew by his comrades who mistook the Austrian dialect for Yiddish]. He had a strong opinion of the Germans and was known to be extremely violent with them. He was a skinny kid; I had to drop down 135 pounds. There were a lot of things I had to bring to the role.
How did it feel putting on the uniform?
Day one you go in and get fitted and you think ‘wow, I feel like a soldier!’ and let you look in the mirror and realise you look nothing like a soldier. That’s where boot camp came in. Boot camp was extremely helpful and was a genius stroke that the show made. A group of us were in a two-week camp and it was tough, it was hard. What it did was gel the fellas. We became brothers and we learned how to spit shine our shoes, rip down an M1 rifle and throw a hand grenade. So now, when we put on the uniforms, we felt like the men we were going to portray. We wore it with pride.
How keen were Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks to get this message across?
We all got a typed letter from Captain Dale Dye, who is an ex-marine who specialises in training young actors in military situations. Steven sat back and let us get on with it. Tom got more hands on.
How important is it to be here today commemorating the war?
Band Of Brothers opened up history to my generation. It’s very important and we shouldn’t forget. The amount of people who came up to me and said: “I had no idea, grandpa never told me this.” So Band Of Brothers gave people a licence to start talking about it.
Was there a particular scene where it all felt THIS is World War II?
From day one I had that! I was very lucky as my character was very prominent in the series so I had many of those moments of wow factor.
A big thank you to Wargaming for allowing us take part in this historic event.