‘Pacific’ crew wanted to get ‘message right’

The HBO miniseries “The Pacific,” which follows a group of Marines across the Pacific Theater during World War II debuted March 14. But an Atlanta audience got a sneak peek in February.

Guests watched the premiere episode from the front lines at the Carter Center. Among the crowd was Dr. Sid Phillips, an 85-year-old WWII Marine vet portrayed in the 10-part tale by 32-year-old actor Ashton Holmes. Holmes, who sat by Phillips at the premiere, may be best known for his role in the 2005 film “A History of Violence.” But in a recent phone conversation with the AJC, the actor said his experience on “The Pacific” blows everything else out of the water.

Q: What was it like working with such an ensemble cast?

A: Most of my work has been with older people, and I’ve sort of been the younger guy. ... With “The Pacific,” you throw 30 young actors on a set, and it’s a little bit of a different dynamic. There are definitely egos and personalities that clash when you do something like that. But the one passion that we all shared was the idea that we needed to really tell this story the best we could. And we all had a big responsibility in getting that message right.

Q: You also had the responsibility of portraying a real person.

A: I was fortunate as one of the main guys in “The Pacific” that the guy I portrayed was still alive. ... So I got to talk and develop a relationship with [him]. And I think in some ways that intensified the pressure for me to get it right. ... He’s such a great guy and has such a wonderful outlook on life. And he was going to be watching what I was doing. So I knew if I sucked, he was going to be [disappointed]. ... As far as I can tell, he doesn’t think I sucked, and we still get along. ... And it’s so cool. ... It’s so rare as an actor that we get to tell a story like this. Most of my roles in the past have been a high school student, a college student, I get the girl or whatever. It’s not like I always get to [portray] a patron of this country. ... And the fact the character I portrayed is still alive makes it that much more great.

Q: The miniseries was shot in Australia. Explain the conditions.

A: Those Marines were really uncomfortable during their time spent on the Japanese islands. And we were pretty damn uncomfortable as actors. ... It was blazingly hot, like between 100- and 115-degree heat with humidity. It was awful. It was a really, really tough gig. But what are you going to do? It kind of helped us as actors because there was less acting involved. They put the cameras in front of us and the emotions were already there, because we were as hot and dirty as we seemed to be.

Q: “The Pacific” had been in the can since 2008. Why?

A: There are so many special effects on a miniseries like this. A lot of the explosions were actually happening. But when you see a shot of the ocean and you see all of the ships, most of those ships were superimposed. And shots like that take a lot of time and money. They only finished production on the show five months ago. This was like filming 10 movies back to back.

On TV

“The Pacific,” airs at 9 p.m. Sundays through May 16.