The Warner Bros. film 12 Strong: The Declassified True Story of the Horse Soldiers tells an incredible story that started just a few days after 9/11. The very brave men of the U.S. Army Special Forces, 12 Green Berets, were to go into a region that was held by the Taliban. But first they had to convince the Afghan Northern Alliance General Dostum and his men to join forces with them to fight their common enemies: the Taliban and the Al-Qaeda.
The U.S. Special forces unit, which is led by Captain Mitch Nelson (played by Chris Hemsworth) is chosen to be the first to respond to the 9/11 attacks. These 12 men were not ordered to go; they volunteered for the mission, leaving their families behind willing to face the unknown.
Aside from dealing with rugged landscapes and a vast cultural differences, they also had to take up completely contrasting tactics from what they were trained for, the same tactics that the Afghan horse soldiers had mastered in order to survive. That meant riding on horses and being able to shoot down the enemy at the same time.
Recently, we had the chance to attend the the 12 Strong press conference which featured cast members and producers: Chris Hemsworth, Trevante Rhodes, Geoff Stults, Navid Negahban, Nicolai Fuglsig (Director), Jerry Bruckheimer (Producer), Molly Smith (Producer), Thad Luckinbill (Producer) and Doug Stanton (Book Author).
When Hemsworth was approached to do this film a few years ago, he couldn’t believe it was a true story. The whole world knows about the events of 9/11, but this is the first time anyone heard about this mission. It was very fascinating to him, especially the details that were shared with him. Also speaking with the real men that went on this mission, Hemsworth got the impression that they had no ego while recounting these events.
“They are real heros that put themselves in this position, in harm’s way. Putting their safety in jeopardy, for the rest of our safety. It is something beyond admirable. Something that is inspiring and I felt an honor to be asked to play this character. Definitely felt the weight of responsibility, I think we all did, and was really thankful that we had the real guys there” shared Hemsworth.
In the movie, there was much discussion about the differences between soldiers and warriors. Actor Trevante Rhodes mentioned that the difference is “warriors do it with their heart, and soldiers do it with their mind. It’s very valuable to lead with your heart because that is the most honest form of reaction.”
The book’s author, Doug Stanton, also points out that ” this is America working at its best to create social change. Using combat if necessary, and using the power of the mind as Trevante said, you’re almost like Jedi knights here. Doing a mind melt with the culture you’re engaging with and being very respectful. It’s a very complex movie in that way.”
Hemsworth mentions how they were working with the local people and not against them. They were fighting the common enemy, and at the same time, formed a brotherhood with the local Afghan people. Some of these relationships are still kept to this day.
Geoff Stults recalls working with the real men of this mission and military advisors on how to properly hold the weapons. “Kenny Sheards, [who played Sergeant First Class Bill Bennett] is a former Navy seal so we had a lot of people with a lot of experience that we leaned on. By the end of it everyone was full on. If we made a move we’d turned to Kenny and made sure we didn’t screw it up. That was very important to Jerry [Bruckheimer] to be authentic and pay these guys the respect that they deserve and tell the story that should be told.”
Navid Negahban recalls what it was like on set having the actual guys that lived the experience tell them what it was like during the moments of tension and moments of action. “Taking Doug’s book and the script, put all these elements together, we were able to discover the truth. What was actually happening on the ground. Some of the Afghans that helped us on the set were actually involved in that incident. They were soldiers who are now refugees. They really helped us by telling us exactly how they were feeling. For me, it was crucial just to sit down and listen to them.”
Producer Thad Luckinbill mentioned how it was great to have Navid reach out to these communities and have the real people there on set, making the experience that much more authentic.
“This is the first film that shows what Afghans went through. And how we united with them to achieve our goal. Some families that I talked to didn’t want to be involved with the film, but when I told them what we are doing and what the film was about, the head of the families got together and all of a sudden we had 400 people lined up. Prior to this, no one wanted to participate. These older men were checking people in to sign up for the movie. We were very blessed to have them in the movie.”
12 Strong hits theaters Friday, January 19. Don’t miss it!