For its first half hour alone, Saving Private Ryan will forever be remembered as the last great war movie of the twentieth century. A reenactment of the D-Day landings so devastating it reduced many a grown man to tears, Steven Spielberg used a sequence shorter in length than your average sitcom episode to remind the world that ‘war is hell’ isn’t a slogan, it’s a statement of fact.
There is of course more to Saving Private Ryan than its apocalyptic opening. The cast list runs like a Who’s Who of modern-day acting greats. Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, Tom Sizemore, Ted Danson, Paul Giamatti, Barry Pepper – there’s so much talent on show it’s easy to overlook such supporting actors as Adam Goldberg, Jeremy Davies and Mark Vincent, aka Vin Diesel.
With a CV consisting of just one feature film (Strays, which he also wrote and directed), the future star of the Fast And The Furious films landed the part of Private Caparzo courtesy of an extraordinary stroke of luck. As Diesel explains, “I made a short movie in 1995 called Multi-Facial which went down really well on the festival circuit. Then I read that Steven Spielberg was making a new movie, so I put a video tape of my movie in an envelope together with a letter saying what a big fan I was of Steven’s and how he’d inspired me to pursue a career in movies. The next thing I know, I’m being flown to Britain to make Saving Private Ryan.”
Largely made on an old aerodrome in Hatfield, Hertfordshire, Ryan might have represented a dream job for Diesel, but the shoot was far from a picnic. “Before we started filming, we did a two-week boot camp,” Vin recalls. “That was just brutal. Dale Dye, who’s in the movie, is a former Marine and he spent those two weeks putting us through hell. I mean, I like to workout but I’d never been pushed like that before. By the end of the day, they had to pour us into our beds. It was great as a teambuilding exercise, but it really took its toll.”
And then there was the British weather to contend with. “Man, it was freezing,” Diesel grimaces. “I’ve been to some cold places – we shot Pitch Black in the Australian desert where the temperature at night is like the Arctic – but I’ve never felt as cold as I did on Private Ryan. Nowadays, if I ever feel cold, I remind myself that I’m not as cold as I was on that aerodrome in Hatfield.”
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